A Woman of Courage and Determination

May 2, 2013 by  


By Ayub Khan, TMO

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Dr. Deqo Waqaf (left), Hawa Abdi’s daughter, who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation. Dr. Hawa Abdi (right).

In a world full of hopelessness and despair here is something to cheer about. There are still people whose selfless work raises the seemingly impossible expectation that things can turn around for the better even under the worst of circumstances.  Dr. Hawa Abdi is one such person who has risen above the conflict and turmoil to offer a ray of hope to thousands of people.

I met her during a busy Toronto stop of her North American tour. Despite everything she has seen in her sixty five years Dr. Abdi is an embodiment of calm and serenity as she recounted her life and work. Born in 1947 in Mogadishu to parents of modest means she assumed responsibility early. Her mother died when she was very young and the responsibility fell on her to raise her four sisters under financially dire circumstances.

But she never lost sight of her aspirations and continued on with the help of her supporting father whom she describes as “educated man who made sure that I become a doctor.”  Because of her stellar academic record she obtained a scholarship to study medicine at Kiev in the then Soviet Union.  Despite not knowing Russian she mastered the language quickly and was able to communicate within three months.

When she returned to Somalia after seven years of rigorous studies she was the country’s first female gynaecologist. She has reportedly worked in every single hospital that was ever established in Somalia.  She was soon married and juggled a busy life balancing family with work. But she was distraught with the inequalities in her surrounding and thought that the best way to tackle them was to become a lawyer. She completed her law course by enrolling in evening classes.  “Through medicine your protect life and through law you protect rights,” she says of her motivation.

Troubled by the lack of health care in the country she opened a clinic on her family’s ancestral land in the Afgoyee Corridor, located about twenty five kilometers from Mogadishu.  It soon became a 400 bed hospital. With the descent of Somalia into civil war in 1991 Dr. Hawa began housing her employees on her land. Soon their friends and relatives also sought shelter. With the escalation in conflict the numbers kept on increasing. As of 2012 Dr. Hawa’s land housed more than 90,000 refugees, most of whom are women and children.

Her humanitarian work initially attracted many enemies and continues to face. The militias looted her hospital, beat the nurses, and at one point killed the guards. On one occasion they even tried to kidnap her.  But she continued on serving one and all irrespective of their clan/tribe/group linkage.  At many a times even the family members of these rival clans/militias were treated by her earning their gratitude.

The young militia members are impossible to talk to and argue with, she says. They have absolutely no understanding of the nuances of the religion and have a very narrow vision where even talking to an old woman is anathema.

But she is unrelenting in her work. Fear is an indicator of weak faith, says her daughter Dr. Deqo Waqaf who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation.  Far from being scared Dr. Hawa Abdi and her two daughters are fearless in their humanitarian work. It their Islamic faith which gives them the strength they say.

She hopes that a time will come when Somalia will finally escape its clannish and militia led wars and turns itself into a peaceful society. And in this the mothers have a major role to play. She exhorts mothers everywhere to instill a strong sense of justice and respect for humanity in their children.  In the meantime she will continue to do her work come what may.

She also appeals to the North American Muslim community to generously donate for her village which among many other things boasts the only source of free fresh water in the region and also has a ‘smart farming’ agriculture program in place.

To donate and for more info on the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation visit: http://www.dhaf.org     Her memoir, Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman—90,000 Lives Changed, can be ordered through Amazon.

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