Day 31: Dr. Hawa Abdi

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.

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Dr. Abdi, with daughters  Dr. Deqo Adan and Dr. Amina Adan

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.” 

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Day 23: Henry Cadbury

Born to a prominent Quaker family in Philadelphia, Henry Cadbury (1883-1974) was a biblical scholar, Quaker historian, writer and non-profit administrator. Although he was a Quaker throughout his life, he was essentially an agnostic. He was forced out of his teaching position at Haverford for writing an anti-war letter in 1918. This experience was a milestone for him, leading him to service beyond the Religious Society of Friends. He was a founding member of the American Friends Service Committee in 1917 and its chairman from 1928-34 and again from 1944-60.  He received a Ph.D. from Harvard, but initially rejected its oath because of the Quaker insistence that truth should always be told. He organized Friends from various branches to discuss the issue of how to deal with the draft and through that created an organization that would later help to rebuild Europe twice.

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In 1947, AFSC and British Friends Service Committee accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Religious Society of Friends. Cadbury delivered the Nobel lecture on behalf of AFSC.  From his lecture:

“The common people of all nations want peace. In the presence of great impersonal forces they feel individually helpless to promote it. You are saying to them here today that common folk, not statesmen, nor generals nor great men of affairs, but just simple plain men and women like the few thousand Quakers and their friends, if they devote themselves to resolute insistence on goodwill in place of force, even in the face of great disaster past or threatened, can do something to build a better, peaceful world. The future hope of peace lies with such personal sacrificial service. To this ideal humble persons everywhere may contribute.”

Day 22: Aung San Suu Kyi

Born in 1945, Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, the founding father of the Burmese national army and the negotiator of Burma’s independence from Britain. He was assassinated in 1947, just six months before independence. Her family remained in Burma even after her father’s assassination. Aung San Suu Kyi eventually left for education in India and at Oxford, and then lived in New York City while working for the UN. She returned to Burma in 1988 to attend to her ailing mother. After Burma (also known as Myanmar) fell under the rule of a military junta, she became involved and eventually led the democratic movement in Burma, suffering severe oppression, house arrests (for 15 of the 21 years since her return), and forced separation from her husband, scholar Michael Aris and their children. When he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 1997, he was not granted a visa to visit her and she was afraid to leave the country for fear she would be denied re-entry. He died in 1999; the last time they had seen each other was 1995, despite pleas from UN General Secretary Kofi Annan and Pope John Paul II.

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Aung San Suu Kyi has remained faithful to the achievement of her goals by peaceful means in the face of other violent democratic movements. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. To this day, she still has hopes of leading a free Myanmar, despite the hardships and challenges. In her honor, today take a minute to reflect on her words:

“Are we not still guilty, if to a less violent degree, of recklessness, of improvidence with regard to our future and our humanity? War is not the only arena where peace is done to death. Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages.”

Day 19: Bertha Von Suttner

Bertha Von Suttner (1843-1921) was an Austrian pacifist and novelist. In 1905 she was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (and the second female Nobel laureate after Marie Curie’s 1903 award). Born in an impoverished family in which her father died before she was born, she was still able to learn several languages, develop an interest in music, and travel. She worked as a governess and, after a two week stay as secretary-housekeeper for Alfred Nobel in Paris, returned to Austria to secretly marry Arthur Suttner for whose family she had been a governess. His family disapproving of the marriage, Arthur was disinherited; he and Bertha left Austria for Soviet Georgia where they lived under difficult conditions in Tbilisi and earned their living by writing journalism.

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After a family reconciliation they returned to Austria, where Bertha became active in peace and conflict studies and writing. Her novel “Lay Down Your Arms” made her one of the leading figures of the Austrian peace movement. In 1897 she presented Emperor Franz Joseph I with a list of signatures urging the establishment of an International Court of Justice and took part in the organization of the First Hague Conventions. It is believed that, because of her continued correspondence with Alfred Nobel until his death in 1896, she was a major influence in his decision to include a peace prize among those prizes provided in his will.

For today, consider the words of this tireless pacifist: “The adherents of the old order have a powerful ally in the natural law of inertia inherent to humanity, which is, as it were, a natural defense against change…The advocates of pacifism are well aware how meager are their resources… They know that they are still few in number and weak in authority, but when they realistically consider themselves and the ideal they serve, they see themselves as the servants of the greatest of all causes.”