Although Dr. Abdi left planet earth in the year 2000, her seeds in the sands of time damning the dangers and risking her life for the vulnerable during the civil war, forever remain.
Dubbed ‘equal parts Mother Teresa and Rambo’ by Glamour Magazine, a kind heart with open arms for all, internationally renowned humanitarian and foremost Somalian gynecologist Dr. Hawa Abdi, founder of the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation, affectionately known as Mama Hawa, during her lifetime was well renowned for her humanitarian efforts during the civil war.
She established the Abdi Center in 1983, a 400-bed hospital in her home country of Somalia, where she wholeheartedly catered to the internally displaced, saving tens of thousands of lives. The Abdi Centre which was started as a one-room clinic before the civil war broke (1991) on her family’s farm along the Afgooye corridor, on the outskirts of Mogadishu was established to provide free medical care for rural women, later widening its reach to house anyone seeking refuge and notably taking more than 90,000 refugees, mostly women and children under its wings in 2012. With the help of her two daughters, Dr. Deqo Mohamed and Dr. Amina Mohamed, at the height of the bombing, the hospital saw 500 patients per day.
“During those dark days of 1992, starvation set in and I sold my family’s gold to buy enough food to sustain the vulnerable children and give the gravediggers enough strength to work. Even when we were burying 50 people per day, I was still able to provide free land, security, and medical treatment. We clung to one another and we survived, but the fighting continued. Now, again, we see famine—not caused by drought alone, but by the conflict that continues to ravage Somalia,” she said in an interview.
The outreach center today has spread its wings containing an IDP camp for the displaced, the Waqaf-Dhiblawe primary school, Hawa Abdi High School, and a hospital. Dr. Hawa and her family later renamed the community the Dr. Hawa Abdi Hope Village.
Although Abdi’s work earned high praise for most people, a minute few were rather angered. In 2010, al Shabaab ambushed the camp and tried to get Abdi to shut it down but she stood face to face unintimidated, thankfully she was able to get through to the United Nations and other rights groups, together with pressure mounted by the locals, they forced the militia out of the clinic, even sending an apology. But that was not the last she heard from them. Although other attempts were made, the centre still stands today.
Although still passionate, in 2008, Dr. Hawa retired from running Hope Village and her daughter, Dr. Deqo Mohamed, took over.
The centre applies by just two rules:
“First rule: there is no clan distinguished and no political division in Somali society. Whoever makes those rules we throw out. The second: no man can beat his wife. If he [does], we put him in jail,” Abdi said at her TED talk session.
A fearless activist who stood her ground even in the face of death, putting the lives of the vulnerable first, her contributions towards uplifting Somalians during her career which spanned three decades, the same period the civil war lasted, earned her many awards including being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, being honoured with the Women of Impact Award from the WITW Foundation; BET’s Social Humanitarian Award; John Jay Medal for Justice in 2012. In 2014, she received the Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award: Freedom from Want as well as was honoured with a Doctor of Law degree from Harvard University.
A pioneer, Dr. Abdi apart from her legacies in humanitarian efforts would also be remembered in the Somalian history books as arguably the first female gynecologist in Somalia, having studied medicine on scholarship in the former Soviet Union, Dr. Abdi was one of the first Somali women ever to do so. She also earned a law degree from Somali National University.
Dr. Abdi died on August 5, 2020, in Mogadishu, at the age of 73, her legacy still lives on.