Somalia’s phenomenal human rights activist, a philanthropist Dr Hawa Abdi has died in Mogadishu after a short illness, her daughter confirmed on Wednesday.
Dr Hawa Abdi’s foundation has been providing support to internally displaced people (IDP) in Somalia.
When Hawa Abdi was just 12 years old her mother died due to complications associated with childbirth. Distraught and determined to understand why her mother had died, Hawa Abdi studied medicine and, in 1971, obtained a medical degree. The following year, in the wake of her grandmother’s death, Dr. Abdi learned that Somali laws prevented female relatives, even close ones, from inheriting land or other possessions. She promptly took up legal studies and, working as a physician during the day and studying law at night, obtained a law degree from Mogadishu’s Somali National University in 1979.
After working in Mogadishu for a number of years Dr. Abdi decided to purchase a farm outside of the city. She quickly realized that many rural women found it challenging to travel to Mogadishu and that they desired a medical facility closer to where they lived. To meet their needs, Dr Abdi opened a small clinic on her farm in August 1983. Due to civil unrest, Dr Abdi found her clinic overwhelmed with patients within five years. By 1991, she was providing healthcare to some 800 displaced families, representing over 4,000 people that were camping out in makeshift homes neighbouring her clinic and a nearby Red Cross feeding station.
By 1992, most people with the means to flee Somalia had done so, but Dr Hawa Abdi had not, because so many were relying on her for their healthcare. Families continued to move onto the land surrounding Dr Abdi’s clinic such that, by 2006, there were some 50,000 people. In 2007 Dr Abdi was named ‘Person of the Year’ by a US-based Somali news agency in recognition of her work.
By 2009, around 90,000 people were being assisted by Dr Abdi and more and more people outside of Somalia were becoming aware of her amazing work. Swiss associates inspired by Dr Abdi established the Association Suisse Hawa Abdi that enabled Dr Abdi to open a Women’s Education Center at her clinic. Nicholas Kristof wrote about Dr Abdi’s effortsin the New York Times in 2010, and more donations flowed in. What began as a small clinic has grown into a 400-bed hospital, an accompanying school, and nutrition centre. Approximately two million people have been assisted by Dr Abdi’s facilities since 1983.