Yesterday an interesting chat had sprung up around the dinner table. It was not your standard fare. My son asked the following question “How does one keep peace when everyone else is at war?” My youngest piped up “Obviously, you will help the others hurt by the fighting.”
That dialog led to the selection of today’s Everyday Hero: Dr. Hawa Abdi -a life saver and peacemaker extraordinaire.
According to Glamour Magazine, Dr. Hawa Abdi is a combination between Mother Theresa and Rambo. Dr. Hawa Abdi or Mama Hawa as she is referred to in Somalia was born into a privileged family in Mogadishu, Somalia on May 17, 1947.
Mama Hawa’s mother died in childbirth when Mama Hawa was but twelve years old. Her father took on the task of raising her and seeing to it that she was able to enroll in medical school. She became the first woman doctor specializing in gynecology in the Muslim country of Somalia.
I was working in a tough situation, very dangerous, and when I saw people who needed me I was staying to help because I [could] do something for them…
~ Dr. Hawa Abdi
When civil war broke out in 1983 in Somalia, Mama Hawa had the option to leave the country. Instead, she chose to stay. Using all of her family’s money, she built a 400 bed hospital. Her patients were primarily women and children.
Seven years into the war and with no end in sight, Mama Hawa came to the realization that many needed to be kept safe – not just mended. She then opened up her family farm to receive the many women and children who were fleeing their villages.
By 2000, her community housed 90,000 refugees and had expanded to include a school for 800 children, and adult classes in nutritious cooking, farming, sewing and fishing. Mama Hawa’s community thrives on two rules:
- The community will not tolerate political talks.
- If a man beats his wife, he is placed in a make shift jail till the police arrive.
It was a great shock for Mama Hawa to see that war had found her camp and reached her and her people. The year was 2010. The terror was palpable as 750 fighters opened fire using their automatic rifles. Clearly outnumbered, Mama Hawa still stood her ground as her hospital was completely ransacked.
Mama Hawa remembered one extremist thug shouting;
“Why are you running this hospital? You are old. You are a woman”.
The then 64 year old replied “Yes, you are young, and you are a man. But what have you done for your society?… I am not leaving my hospital. If I die, I die with my people and my dignity.”
We are not just helpless victims of Civil War-We are the leaders…We make peace. We are the hope of the future generations…We can do everything.
~ Dr. Hawa Abdi
Two significant political events happened next:
- The powerful clan leader unanimously agreed that Dr. Hawa Abdi was very much needed in Somalia and had to be saved. They denounced the work of that rebel group and threatened them to stand down.
- The Muslim women refugees banded with Mama Hawa and risked their lives to keep her safe. They too denounced and shamed the rebel group.
Dr. Hawa Abdi along with her daughters have since been dubbed the “Saints of Somalia”. In 2011, they joined TED to give a brief talk of their work. The video is linked below. In 2012, Dr. Hawa Abdi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
To find out more about Mama Hawa, please visit the following sites:
- Mother and daughter doctor-heroes: Hawa Abdi + Deqo Mohamed (ted.com)
- International Women’s Day (neemam.wordpress.com)