Dr. Hawa Abdi was born in Mogadishu, South-central Somalia on the 17th of May 1947. When Dr. Hawa was 12 years old, her mother passed away and being the eldest, she had to take on the family chores, including raising her 4 sisters.
Despite the responsibilities at home, she did well in school and was eventually awarded a scholarship to study medicine at Kiev Medical Institute in Russia. Dr. Hawa became Somalia’s first female gynaecologist when she graduated in 1971. She continued her academic pursue by studying Law at the newly opened Somali National University. During this period, she would practice medicine in the morning and work toward her Law degree in her spare time. Eventually earning her degree in 1979.
Four years later, Dr. Hawa opened a clinic on her family land in Southern Somalia. It started as a one-room clinic providing free obstetrician services which grew into a 400-bed hospital. When civil war broke out in 1991, her services became more crucial as most government institutions, including healthcare, disintegrated.
While many were fleeing the country to escape the civil unrest, Dr. Hawa stayed behind at the behest of her grandmother, who had advised her to use her qualifications to assist the vulnerable. The people had nowhere to go and Dr. Hawa’s facility were their only hope.
The facility subsequently grew to include a new clinic and school for the displaced and orphans. In 2007, the facility was renamed - Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation (DHAF) and expanded to accommodate a relief camp.
In 2010, Militant Islamist laid siege to the entire compound and took Dr. Hawa and her staff hostage. She stood her ground and refused to be intimidated by them. Eventually the rebels were forced out by pressure from residents, and everyone was released without harm.
Dr. Hawa’s story was picked up by Glamour Magazine and in partnership with Vital Voices, named her and her daughters as Women of the Year in 2010. They wrote of Dr. Hawa, “They are fearless. Their life’s purpose is to be of service to Somali refugees, and their unwavering fortitude in the face of insurmountable obstacles is a testament to the warrior spirit of women.”
Although Dr. Hawa had passed away in 2020, her legacy still lives on.
Photo credit: Vital Voices