SOMALIA: Hawa Abdi Keeping hope alive in Somalia

“The Quran says that God knows what’s in your heart. Everything is from your heart,” writes Dr Hawa Abdi, a Somali doctor, lawyer and philanthropist who has been dubbed the “Mother Theresa of Somalia”.

Dr Hawa witnessed her country’s peace times after it attained independence.

She saw the optimism of Somalis, many like herself, had returned from abroad where she had attained a medical degree in the Soviet Union.

They dreamt of building a Somalia better than they inherited from the British and Italian colonists.

In a change of fortunes, everything changed when leaders became paraniod, petty, and violent – fighting clan against another to show superiority.

As a respected doctor who had built a successful private practice located on a farm land measuring 1,300 acres outside Mogadishu, Dr Hawa was the go-to-person when violence replaced the law in the governance of Somalia.

She did per part, treating the wounded and sick without discriminating anyone.

Neutrality was the rule.

She joined efforts to build peace, and when relative calm returned in 2000 when the government of President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan was formed, she was appointed assistant minister in the Labour and Sports ministry and later to the Health docket.


Dr Hawa is, however, not known for her political work, rather, it is the humanitarian courage she exhibited as a tireless and fearless protector of more than 90,000 people who took refuge at her farm and medical facility that has shown her star.

Today, this village is known as Hawa Abdi, after her.

Keeping Hope Alive: how one Somali woman changed 90,000 lives, is a memoir that details this story of a woman who loved her medical profession, and whose vision led her to purchase the land that became a refuge camp for more than 20 years.

It also details her family struggles and how she raised her children, who eventually became doctors and proved indespendable in her work.

The book published this year by Virago is an honest look at a woman in the eye of the storm, who was once kidnapped by militias but stood her ground to not give up her land and medical facility.

A woman who face family injustices with the same courage she faced government officials and irrational warlords.

Dr Hawa Abdi’s struggles are interwoven with the history of post independence Somalia, which makes the book a must-read for anyone who wants to understand that history.

It is a story of when and how the rain started beating Somalia.

The 239 page memoir tells of the cost Hawa Abdi has paid for choosing to remain in Somalia all these years in her efforts to defend the voiceless poor.

The memoir co-written with journalist Sarah J. Robbins, raises among other issues the relevancy of religion, causes of domestic violence, challenges of parenthood in a wartorn country, marriage, injustices in the male dominated Muslim society, the cost of environmental degradation, women and land ownership, and dangers of female circumcision.

The memoir is an honest work of self-reflection, searching for the soul of her family, her community and her country.

“Fighting by clan is low class,” she writes, taking us back to when Somalia was a peaceful and confident country.

The values that drove the society then, like reconciliation, hard work, honesty, respect and protection for women, children and the elderly are all lost when fighting starts.

Somalia today is a shadow of its former self.

Much as Dr Hawa is internationally acclaimed together with her daughters; but she is now frail and worn physically after many years of stress, worrying for many people and running up and down in pursuit of a more peaceful country.

The doctor brings faith and hope to humanity that love can triumph over hatred.

How an ordinary woman in a country of radical warlords and plagued by war, disease and hunger, managed to protect and change lives of more than 90,000 people – only God knows.

With her energy and dedication, may be – Hawa could have been one of the most successful medical practitioners of her time.

She chose to risk her life, to save the children and mothers who didn’t have anyone to defend them against rapists, robbers and killers – who did so in the name of God and their clan.

Dr Hawa and her two daughters Amina and Deqo are heroines not just of today’s woman, but, of all people who believe in human beings right to health, safety and care.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here