Today's posting comes to you courtesy of my dear friend, Susan Schorr, who is visiting from Santa Barbara. We took a brief hiatus from talking, laughing and eating to bring you the story of an amazing woman who lives near Mogadishu in Somalia.
Unlike the women in today's Somalia, Dr. Abdi grew up at a time when females were allowed opportunities. At age 17, she won a scholarship to study medicine in Kiev, which is now the Ukraine rather than the Soviet Union. She was the only female among 91 other Somali students. Because her mother had died in childbirth when Dr. Abdi was twelve years old, her goal from that age forward was to become a doctor (2. An Early Sense of Direction).
After graduation, Dr. Abdi worked in government-run hospitals in Somalia, married, and had three children. Her only son died in 2005 (aged 23) in a car accident; her two daughters (one named Amina aged 30, the other Deqa, 35) became doctors and still work with their mother (16. Intensive Motherhood).
In 1983, with the permission of Mohammed Said Barre (the last President of Somalia's government), Dr. Abdi opened a one-room clinic on property that her family owned, and persuaded nomadic women to let her help deliver their babies. Today (18 years later) Hawa Abdi Hospital has three operating theaters, six doctors, 43 nurses, 400 beds and an 800-student school/adult education center to help teach women how to make clothes and prepare healthy meals (7. Magnificent Obsession).
Last May, her hospital was surrounded by over 700 Islamic militants who held her at gunpoint and let their teenaged recruits ransack the hospital and destroy equipment and supplies. The militia commanders taunted her and asked, "Why are you running this hospital? You are old. And you are a woman!" (13. More Than Meets the Eye)
The militants did not care that 90,00 refugees have flocked to her medical center, which is only 15 miles outside of Mogadishu and one of the few safe places in southern Somalia. It is practically the only place refugees can receive free treatment for everything from measles and malaria to life-threatening malnutrition and tuberculosis.
As the militants held her at gunpoint, Dr. Abdi yelled at them, "I'm not leaving my hospital. If I die, I will die with my people and my dignity. You are young and you are a man, but what have you done for your society?" (5. Life Is Not a Popularity Contest)
Last year, Glamour magazine named Dr. Abdi and her two daughters 2010 Women of the Year, and described Dr. Abdi as equal parts Rambo and Mother Teresa. According to the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, Dr. Abdi is about the only person doing any effective humanitarian work in Somalia. In her words, "Women can build stability. We can make peace."
Looking forward to your comments...