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Dr. Hawa Abdi Dhiblawe who is locally known as Mama Hawa is a true Somali patriot who has dedicated and risked her life repeatedly for the people of Somalia. A pioneer female Obstetrician and Gynaecologists, Dr. Hawa established a small clinic in her rural home which eventually grew into what is now Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation (DHAF). Dr. Hawa’s clinic is currently a massive Internally Displaced People’s (IDPs) camp where health, food, education and security services are provided at no cost to needy residents.
This life sustaining sanctuary has been subject to several attempts at unlawful takeover in war torn Somalia. DHAF has survived despite the multitude of war lords, militia and criminals that have controlled and wrung Somalia for all its worth.
In the latest attempt to disrupt DHAF camp, a local businessman has claimed ownership of the land that houses the camp. Dr. Hawa and her daughters have been denied the right to fight for their land and were expelled from part of the camp.
They stubbornly hold on to what little space they have left and continue to provide services to the desperate populations that flood the camp for food, shelter, healing and some peace. At this trying juncture in her life, Dr. Hawa was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Actress and United Nations (UN) humanitarian ambassador Angelina Jolie championed Dr. Hawa's nomination.
Somalia Report had the opportunity to interview Dr. Hawa and her daughter.
Welcome to Somalia Report. Could you briefly tell us about yourself?
I am Hawa Abdi Dhiblawe. I was born in Mogadishu, Abdi Aziiz district, in 1947. I grew up in Baroorow and Garasalamow respectively between Mogadishu and Afgoye. I completed my secondary school studies in Mogadishu. I won a scholarship from the Soviet Union and studied in Kiev presently known as Ukraine. I studied medicine and then returned to Mogadishu where I completed my studies for a Law Degree at the Somali National University in Mogadishu. I later opened Hawa Abdi clinic in 1983, then I renamed it Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation (DHAF) when the Somali government collapsed.
The likes of Bill Clinton, Bradley Manning and the Former Ukraine Prime Minister are among the nominees, how optimistic are you about winning the noble peace prize?
I am happy about my nomination for the Noble Peace Prize. I thought Somalis had no place in the world. I thought we were forgotten. Fortunately we are still alive and the world still remembers us. Mentioning my name means a lot to me and this is a great achievement for all Somalis. I am very optimistic now that the world remembers Somalia especially someone like me who has been there for the past 27 years.
What do you think of the Somali peace proposals? How would you advise Somali people so that they may get long-lasting peace?
I think Somalis need to solve their problems by themselves. They need to talk to each other and understand what they want.
I would urge Somali youth not listen to the myths which others utter. They should stand up for their country and restore peace and hope for their people. 13 men stood up and gave us the nation of Somalia. Some of them didn’t have a High School education, but they were determined, committed, strong and honest.
They should study well, and improve every angle in their lives then all will be well. You need to develop your personality, education, economy and all aspects of yourself to be useful for your country.
I have waited for 27 years to see Somalia gain peace, and I am still waiting to see that happen. However, things are deteriorating day after day. I don't think there is anyone who needs or seeks peace more than I do.
Tell us about the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and the security threats they are exposed to.
Their security threats are many, and it gets worse every year. We need an effective Somali peace force with officials who are honest and loyal to their people and country. There’s no need for foreign intervention. There will be less security threats or none at all in that case.
I would like to ask Somali peace forces to save their country. Shirking your duties will not help you and clan allegiances should not influence your position. You have been clan warlords for the last 20 years, what did you gain? You are the saviours of Somali women, children and elderly people. Please wake up and save us, this is your duty. We are the home of famine, gangs, pirates and a failed state. That is entirely our fault and we should blame ourselves.
What can you tell us about Somali women, especially those in IDP camps?
They face many challenges, especially health issues. For example in 2007, when Ethiopian troops entered Somalia, we saw many unusual incidents like pre-mature labour and many cases of miscarriage due to the fierce fighting in the capital with heavy gunfire sounds and smog from explosions. Some of the weapons that Ethiopian troops were using had unusual sounds and may have had some chemical components. Nearly 2,300 women who were admitted my hospital lost their babies and some of them died during that time.
Sometimes they flee their homes while they are pregnant, they might travel on foot for several days risking their health and that of their babies. Somali women face one of the toughest challenges in the life.
Another problem Somali women face, which I believe is the worst, is when her father, her uncle and her husband fight each other for the sake of their clans. They are all her family and she can't do anything but suffer, because she is an ultimate loser. Whoever dies is her family, and the murderer is her family as well.
Do you think militant groups and tribes will recognize women's ability to lead and reconcile factions in the Somali society?
If you do not recognize Somali women’s role in the community, you have offended your mother your sister and your wife. Somali women can be stronger than men, in most cases they are not corrupt and know very well how to manage the country economically. They are honest and kind.
What can be done to improve health care and human rights, while there are militant groups, mini states and tribal militias who are all opposing the government?
If there is a division among Somalis, we can improve nothing, and if Somalis continue to divide themselves like this, there will come a day when two siblings will fight each other. If we unite we will have the ability to defend our sovereignty and our coastline from illegal fishing and waste dumping.
What can be done to strength civil society in the country?
We can achieve a lot if we put aside clan loyalties and division. Being too proud of someone who died centuries ago will give you nothing. Even if he or she was a good person and strong enough, he or she is now part of the past. Make your own legacy and do not be overly of proud what you did not achieve. Claiming that I am from that state or this state will not help you develop. The Somali Youth League had only 13 young men. Some of them had not studied let alone attained a professional career, but they were great people because they knew what unity can achieve.
What will DHAF do after it is moved from its previous work site, and how will you continue to serve the women and children of Somalia?
We have not changed our worksite we will continue to work there in any condition that we can. We will continue serving them. Each day we admit more than 30 women in labor.
We received news that some people want to evacuate the residents from the area but we will work hard to give hope to the Somali community in the area. As they kill our people we will try to deliver the same number as the number they kill each day. We welcome needy people to our base.
What would you like to tell the Somali people? What message would you like to send to Somali Mothers?
Unite and take responsibility for your country. Fight only against your enemies and not each other.
For Somali mothers, continue playing your heroic role.
Somalia Report also interviewed Dr. Deqa Aden Waqaf.
Tell us about DHAF and how does it works?
It was founded in 1983, as a Rural health and development center. We used to charge the people from the urban areas, but the people from Rural area were given free services. When the government collapsed we became a foundation. Mum Hawa’s priority was to develop community services that support families through income generation and create independent families. We established development projects for farmers and fishermen.
What are the major health concerns of Somalis?
It depends on the season and wars, sometimes in the war time you see unusual things. Malaria and Cholera during rainy seasons are common but it depends on the situation. Within a severe situation, the number of health issues increase and vary. Each day, we receive nearly 250 patients aside from in-patients. Our hospital has more than 400 beds. When there is fighting we receive more than 800 patients on a daily basis.
What motivated Dr. Hawa to take up this role, while the country was becoming one of the most dangerous places for a woman?
Determination, she was not able to save the whole country, so she dedicated herself to restoring peace starting through her foundation. She established something like a small government, which has some sort of peace and stability it has its own jail. You will be arrested if you try something illegal in the hospital or break rules. Within our base, we have some stability and peace, but if you go out, you are in chaos.
So, DHAF is a small state in a chaotic country? What kind of laws do you use?
Of course Somali culture and customary law (xeer) is the best and most applicable. We have elders in the camp, mother has a Law Degree so she established some rules which include the Sharia system and its laws.
On May, 2010, mum Hawa was arrested by militant groups who put her under house arrest for 10 days. I heard that some of Somali women who were in the camp protested and asked the militant groups to release Dr Hawa, who was later released, what can you tell us about that day?
Yes, they placed her under house arrest for 10 days, and then some women led a protest against her imprisonment. Most of them were those in the camp and working as nurses in the hospital.
They risked the lives of many people by their action and mum Hawa had refused to resume her work unless they apologized and freed young men whom they had abducted. They did free the young men and even apologized.
Why did the Militant groups hand over your land? Were you allowed to defend your land before the court?
I don't know why. They have to answer to that. They did not give us a chance to defend our land before the jury, but we gave them all the documents which proves our ownership to the land. They had it for a month and they know everything. On February 26 they called our Field work leader in the camp and they did not allow him to enter the court. They denied us our rights to have a lawyer even an Islamic lawyer.
We are not ready to shed the blood of Somalis. One day there will be a Somali government which will give us back our rights and our land.
Can you tell us about some of the heroic actions that Dr. Hawa is known for?
I’ll give you some examples. During the famine in 1991, she sold all her property including her jewellery to feed starving children and mothers in Somalia. She separated the people in to two groups, then each group had a day to get a meal, the next day the second would come and get meals. Each group had its day to eat.
In another incident, the International Commitee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had called her and told her that there was some humanitarian aid available but they could not reach our base. She set out and in the process of delivering the aid, some of Somali warlord’s militia tried to loot the humanitarian aid. She declared that if they had to take the food, they would have to kill her first and she gave them a lecture. Instead of looting the aid, they escorted her and helped her distribute the food to needy people.
Somalia Report has learned that militant groups begun destroying the makeshift homes of the IDPs in Hawa Abdi’s camps. Dr. Hawa Abdi was taken ill and admitted to hospital upon receiving the news. One of her family members confirmed that she is in stable condition at the moment.