Great African Leader - Hawa Abdi
By Afi Akolly Posted On 21 Dec, 2012
In a country bruised by two-decade civil wars, Somalia is still in the throes of its worst humanitarian crisis. According to the UN Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit, more than 2 million Somalis are still living in the crisis and dependent on humanitarian aid to survive. In a country moving from chaos to peace and stability, Dr. Hawa Abdi remains a symbol of hope.

Born in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1947, her mother died in childbirth when she was 12. Her father supported her to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. At 17, she won a scholarship to study gynecology in Kiev, Ukraine during the 1960s. After completing her studies, Dr. Hawa Abdi returned to Somalia in 1971.

In 1983, Dr. Abdi opened up a one-room clinic on her family farm. As the government collapsed, and the Somali Civil War began, she has dedicated herself to providing help for people whose lives have been shattered by violence and poverty.

Dr. Abdi‘s one room clinic has grown into what is called today, the Hawa Abdi Foundation (DHAF). Today, just outside the capital Mogadishu, Dr. Hawa Abdi and her two daughters – Amina and Dego Mohamed – all trained in obstetrics and gynecology – care for 90,000 displaced persons, mostly women and children who fled the violence or were abandoned by male family members who joined the fighting nearly two decades ago. The foundation encompasses a hospital with three operating theaters, six doctors, 43 nurses, and 400 beds and an 850- student school and adult education center.

Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation (DHAF) has dedicated itself to providing healthcare, food and shelter to Somalis fleeing the violence of the civil war. Literacy and health education classes are also offered, including curriculum on risks of female genital mutilation, a practice is still routine among 98 percent of the female population in Somalia, but forbidden inside the camp.

During the crisis in Somalia, the foundation served as a place of refuge in a chaotic country. Outside the walls of the clinic, a protracted civil war simmered , and camp refugees often heard gunfire in the distance. Inside the walls, small miracles occurred every day. Price of admittance to the clinic has two simple rules—first, no one is allowed to talk about clan or family, the most divisive issue in Somalia. Second, men are not allowed to beat their wives—another widespread practice in Somalia.

In May 2010, militant Islamist warlords attacked her camp, threatening to destroy her life’s work citing religious decrees that women should stay home out of the public eye and land issues. When a negotiated takeover failed, the militants later returned with a vengeance, killing two camp refugees who tried to intervene, destroying the hospital, spraying her residence with bullets, and detaining Dr. Abdi herself. Dr. Abdi refusal to give up and the intervention of the international community made the militants retreat and subsequently issue an apology to Dr. Abdi.

In 2011, during the drought and subsequent famine in East Africa, Dr. Abdi responded to the emergency by feeding over 100,000 individuals across 17,000 families , of which over 68,000 were children and 26,000 were women.

Word of Dr. Abdi’s courageous defense of her camp quickly spread through the international community, catching the attention of many. In 2010, Glamour Magazine named Dr. Abdi and her two daughters “Women of the year”. In 2012, Dr. Abdi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her decades of humanitarian service, peace building work most recently famine induced by the recent drought, the worst in 60 years. She is also a recipient of the Social Humanitarian Award from Black Girls Rock and the John Jay Medal for Justice. Dr. Abdi’s memoir, Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman – 90,000 Lives Changed chronicles her inspiring work to keep 90,000 of Somalis safe, healthy and educated for over 20 years in Somalia.

“We are not only doctors that treat the people. We are healers of society and work to educate the people, to feed them,  and to care about all of them “said Dr. Abdi.

Even with all the recognition for her work, Dr. Abdi continues to face numerous battles. Recently, the military confiscated part of the land surrounding the camp. Dr Abdi appealed to a higher court for a reversal and still awaiting a decision.

As the first woman to run and operate a private clinic in Somalia, Dr. Abdi’s inexorably serves as an example of a great leader, a courageous woman, and a source of hope and inspiration. There is something to learn from her extraordinary strength, courage,  and tenacity that has created a safe haven for thousands of internal refugees


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