Dr. Hawa Abdi is a human rights activist and physician in Somalia. She was born in Mogadishu in 1947. After her mother died when she was 12, she took on family chores as he eldest child. Her father was an educated professional. Abdi was able to continue her schooling, attending local elementary school and intermediate and secondary academies. In 1964 she received a scholarship from the Women’s Committee of the Soviet Union, allowing her to study at a Kiev institution. In 1972, a year after graduating, she began law studies at Somali National University. The next year, she got married and in 1975 gave birth to her first child. She would practice medicine in the morning and work towards her law degree in her spare time, which she got in 1979.
In 1983, Abdi opened the Rural Health Development Organisation (RHDO) on family-owned land. The one-room clinic offering free obstetrician services evolved into a 400-bed hospital. During the Somali civil war in the 1990’s, Abdi stayed in the region at the behest of her grandmother to continue to assist the vulnerable. She subsequently established a new clinic and school for the displaced and orphans. In 2005, rebels made attempts to shut down her clinic. She stood her ground and the rebels left, with the help of pressure from local residents, the UN and other advocacy groups. In 2012, militants again stormed the clinic, temporarily shutting it down until their eventual departure.
In 2007, RHDO was renamed the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation (DHAF) which is now run by her and her two physician daughters. The DHAF compound includes a hospital, school and nutrition center that provides shelter and care to mostly women and children. Since its founding, it has served an estimated 2 million people, all free of charge. Several fishing and agricultural projects are also run on the compound to instill self-sufficiency. Funding for this work comes from Somali ex-pats as well as the international donor community. For her efforts on women’s rights and women’s health, she has received numerous recognitions including the Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award (2014), Hiraan Online’s Person of the Year (2007), and, along with her daughters, among the list of 2010 Glamour magazine’s “Women of the Year.” She was also nominated for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, and received BET’s Social Humanitarian Award.
For today, take a moment to read about the critical moment in Abdi’s life that has led her to making this amazing impact in the world: “When I decided to become a doctor, I was very, very young, when my mother was pregnant with her seventh child, and she was feeling terrible pain, and I did not know how to help her. And my mother died in front of my eyes, without knowing why, which diagnosis. So I decided to be a doctor.”