Some of the most hard-working, selfless individuals I’ve known in my life happen to be Somali women. In my personal life, I’ve always been surrounded by women who go above and beyond for their families, community and who proudly uphold the beauty of our traditions and customs. In general, women play a huge role within our community; they’re essentially the backbone of Somali culture.
In this blog post, I would like to highlight the notable achievements and legacy of two women in particular; Dr Hawa Abdi and Hodan Nalayeh. Both of these women have had a tremendously positive impact on the lives of countless people and in their own way changed Somalia for the better. Their legacy has had a trickle-down effect as they both have paved the way for many Somalis.
Dr Hawa Abdi was an accomplished, patriotic, selfless individual who dedicated her life to helping displaced people in Somalia. In her lifetime, she wore many different hats and has played a key role in re-developing Somalia. Dr Hawa was beloved by everyone and was even nicknamed Hooyo (mother) Hawa. As such, many people, especially Somalis both local and abroad deeply mourned her sudden death in 2020. Immediately after the news was released, messages of love and appreciation came pouring in from all corners of the world.
Dr Hawa Abdi, was the first female obstetrician in Somalia and many people remember her for the help she provided to people during the civil war and the years to follow. In this regard, she has also paved the way for other women to study and practice in the field, including her two daughters who both became physicians. She helped wounded civilians, trained doctors, performed surgeries and delivered babies. Dr Hawa was also a lawyer, working as a human rights advocate. She was a humanitarian Physician of Somali as well as a founder of Dr Hawa Abdi Foundation. All of these different roles speak volumes on the kind of person she was. Her dedication, self-discipline and diligent work ethic is admirable, to say the least. Dr Hawa acquired countless accolades for her professional work from world-renowned institutions like Harvard University and was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She received many other well-earned international awards and nominations for her achievements and contributions to Somalia.
Dr Hawa came from humble beginnings. She had been working closely with local communities and promoting health and wellness in Somalia since the 80s. She opened the Rural Health Development Foundation in 1983 where she provided obstetrician services to the local women. Since then, the foundation which has been renamed (the Dr Hawa Foundation) has grown to house hundreds of displayed individuals. To this day, the foundation helps vulnerable people access necessary health resources to meet their basic needs.
Dr Hawa stands out to me because during the civil war, while many of the country’s greatest minds fled, she chose to stay and use her skills and knowledge to help people. Her bravery and selfless nature enabled her to transform her small clinic into a huge foundation that over the years has maintained its values and integrity. Most importantly, she remained independent, not affiliating her work with any political party and instead, she focused on providing free services to all Somali people. What an incredible achievement.
She was loved by countless people and her contribution and legacy with the foundation will continue to thrive and live on through her daughters. I’m sure her spirit will continue to live on in the hearts of all the people she was able to help in her lifetime. May she be rewarded the highest level of Jannah.
Like many others, I was first introduced to Hodan Nalayeh through Integration Tv on YouTube. She was a Canadian-Somali travelling through the motherland in search of her roots. She radiated light and her charming personality soon captured the hearts of many. At a time when Somalia was plagued with depressing images of war, famine and poverty, Hodan presented an opportunity for the world to see a more a vibrant and thriving side of the country. With knowledge and experience in marketing, communications, journalism and media production, she established and became the host of Integration TV. She used her platform to highlight the beauty of Somalia and in doing so slowly shifted the mindsets of young Somalis living in the diaspora, encouraging them to see Somalia in a positive light.
Through Integration Tv, she travelled to multiple regions of the country and in an authentic manner told the stories and lives of the local citizens. For the Somalis living abroad, Hodan inspired them to reconnect with their culture. Personally, she solidified for me the true meaning of the proverb “dal walba dadkiisaa dhisa” (every country is built by its people). She planted a seed in my mind that in the future there’s an opportunity for me and every young Somali professional to return to the motherland and use the skills and knowledge we’ve acquired from faraway lands to help contribute to the development of Somalia. The experience doesn’t have to be grim either, a simple change of attitude and mindset has me on a different path.
Hodan’s death after an extremist attack in Somalia came as a shock to everyone and was devastating for the whole community. However big or small, Hodan Nalayeh has undoubtedly made a difference in the lives of people and her legacy will continue to live on. May her soul rest in peace and may she be granted the highest level of Jannah.
A few things that stood out to me with Hawa and Hodan is that both women lived a fruitful life, helping others and being of service. They weren’t motivated by money or accolades but rather they dedicated their lives to giving back to their community and making a difference. This is precisely why they’ve had a huge impact on people’s lives, so much so that even after their death, people continue to talk about their legacy. Also, neither of them confined themselves into one role. Instead, they took on multiple roles and let their dreams flourish.
Often times, there’s this misconception that we can only pursue one career path in life. As someone who has multiple dreams that I want to accomplish in my lifetime (InshaAllah) both Hawa and Hodan inspire me to live life dancing to the beat of my own drum. We place so many restrictions and modify our dreams to fit the conventional standards of society when in our short lifetime, we should be dreaming as big as we can. Both women have shown me that if you’re going to dream big then you owe it to yourself to live a life worth remembering. Once we pass on from this life, we live on in the memories of others which is why a person should always be conscious and responsible for how others remember them. Just like Hawa and Hodan, regardless of where life leads me, I wish to one day be remembered as a woman of substance.
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