Saturday, April 06, 2013
The collapse and rebirth of rebirth of Somalia have been a long
battle, and women like Dr. Hawa Abdi have been on the front lines. Back
in 1991, when the Somalian government collapsed, Abdi was a young doctor
operating a small clinic on her farm with her family south of
Mogadishu. As the conflict raged on, Abdi's clinic grew into a 400-bed
hospital — and ultimately, a refugee camp. At the height of the war,
90,000 displaced Somalis made their home around Abdi's hospital.
Abdi, who has been nicknamed "the Mother Teresa of Somalia," has a new memoir called Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman, 90,000 Lives Changed.
As she told NPR's Audie Cornish, her camp and hospital — dubbed Hawa
Village — became an island of peace she defended from militants, and an
oasis she fought to maintain for people who had lost everything.
are very angry and mentally not [there] when they are coming to you,"
Abdi says of the refugees. "Their parents or their brothers, their
wives, their fathers were killed in front of them. They're coming to me.
There is no government. The whole society became violent."
did Abdi keep the peace? With the help of the community of refugees
that embraced her philosophy of equality above clan loyalty. Today, the
camp and hospital are run by her daughter, Deqo Mohamed, who also became
a doctor — she trained in both Russia and the United States.
war has stopped in Somalia," Mohamed says, adding that for the past six
months, she hasn't heard any gunshots at night. "You can sleep
peacefully. And we're getting back to life in our village." Still,
Mohamed's days are full: "At 6 [a.m.] we do the hospital rounds,
inpatient, you know, I run all the errands in the hospital, and I do
managing of the camp and farm and everything else from 7 to 10. Then 10
to noon I do take care of gynecology, because I'm the only female doctor
now in the hospital. ... You do work 24 hours."
Abdi says she
is satisfied that her daughter is carrying on her legacy — but notes
that at the height of the conflict in the early 1990s, her own days
looked much different.
"At night, each clan was going to
another clan's people They were attacking — some people were dying,"
Abdi says. "Others were wounded. I was trying to give first aid, to talk
with them, just mentally to comfort. ... Even seeing their face was
very painful. That moment was very difficult for me."
Abdi's camp took in refugees from clans that were at war with one
another, Abdi kept the feuds at bay by forbidding any sort of clan
"Necessity is mother of invention," Abdi says. "So when they come, we
were informing them, if you use the clan division, or you say 'I am
that clan,' you cannot stay here. You will be Somali. And you will see,
we will welcome you." And, she says, the people she took in began to see
how destructive those divisions were.
Mohamed, who came to the
U.S. as a refugee and studied medicine during the conflict, admits that
there were moments when she didn't want to return to Somalia. But a
sense of responsibility drew her back.
"I was very passionate
when I was in medical school [that] I need to do this in my country. ...
When you're in school and you see the patient in the emergency room,
they have every specialist, they have every equipment. And I wish we
could have this thing in my country ... I went back because they needed
me. Because I have to be there."
A generation of young people
has come of age in Hawa Village. Though the camp has been a place of
refuge from a collapsed society, Mohamed says she's ready for its
residents to move on — and rebuild what's fallen apart.
them to take part of society, to be part of society, not only in this
village," she says. "My mom created a beautiful camp and village, but
they're kind of isolated [from the] rest of the country. Because they
get used to this peace and comfort, whenever they try to go out, they
come back. Or they get 100 percent corrupted — we had young people, we
lost them to the war and they become war soldiers. So for one hand, it's
very difficult to move on. It was good for temporary. Now you have to