A New Hope

In Somalia, one of the poorest countries in the world, there is a relief camp known as Camp Hawa Abdi Village. It consists of a hospital, school and nutrition centre that provides shelter, water and medical care to predominantly women and children. Dr. Hawa Abdi Dhiblawe faced many challenges as she attempted to build support facilities for the community during the civil war in Somalia which included the open oppression of women.

Dr. Dhiblawe, a human rights activist and physician born in south-central Somalia, founded the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation, a non-profit organisation that has helped to expand the relief camp over the years.

When she was 12, Dr. Dhiblawe lost her mother, and as the eldest sibling in the family, she was required to maintain the household. Following her secondary education, she was awarded a scholarship from the Women’s Committee of the Soviet Union and used the scholarship to study medicine. After Dr. Dhiblawe graduated from medical school, she went on to study law at Mogadishu’s Somali National University. Showing great determination and drive, working around her life as a wife and mother, she would practice medicine in the morning and work towards finishing her law degree during her free time, obtaining the degree in 1979.

Four years later, Dr. Dhiblawe opened the Rural Health Development Organisation in the Lower Shebelle region. What began as a one room clinic offering free obstetric services has expanded into a hospital housing 400 beds.

During the 1990’s, civil war broke out in Somalia and Dr. Dhiblawe chose to stay and provide support to the vulnerable and those most in need.  As a result of her courage and will power, Dr. Dhiblawe managed to retain control of the relief camp at the height of the Islamic insurgency. Despite the uncertainty of not knowing whether the relief camp would be safe from outside threats, Dr. Dhiblawe always remained keen to rebuild and bring the community together.

The Rural Health Development Organisation is now known as the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation. The organisation has helped expand the clinic into a camp with a hospital, school, nutrition services, and has been known to house more than 90,000 vulnerable people, predominantly women and children. The foundation is run by Dr. Dhiblawe and her two daughters, Dr. Deqo Mohamed and Dr. Amina Mohamed, who are obstetricians and gynaecologists as well.

Throughout her career, Dr. Dhiblawe has received a number of awards and nominations for her work. In 2007, she was named Hiiraan Online’s Person of the Year. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and received the Women’s Impact Award, BET’s Social Humanitarian Award and the John Jay Medal for Justice. More recently this year, she received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Harvard University.

It doesn’t look like Dr. Dhiblawe will be slowing down any time soon. Armed with a strong will and the determination to ensure adequate health facilities for the Somali community, Dr. Dhiblawe has shown that hope can be awakened in a community where others perceive the situation as hopeless.

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Caitlyn Neale

Caitlyn Neale

Caitlyn Neale, aged 24, is a premedical student aspiring to become a paediatrician. She completed her Honours in Medical Science at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, has a keen interest to incorporate fun and humour into medical practice; and strives to add this fun and humour to stressful and overwhelming situations while going about daily life.