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Dr. Hawa Abdi, M.D.: Physician & Human Rights Activist, Hawa Abdi Foundation


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2013/08/17

1. Where did you grow up?  What was youth like for you?  What effect do you feel this had on your career path?

I grew up in the Mogadishu area, where my mother and father lived. Growing up, I saw that in my society people were respecting and loving each other. Parents were educating their children to work hard, respect their elders and also to respect other children. It affected me in that I viewed society as sincere, and I felt that way myself and I was trusting of others. But, in this world today, I have come across many people who are cheating their way through life. However, because of my youth, I always believe that everyone has some good in them. That is why I always want to help even in the most difficult times.

2. Where did you acquire your education?

I studied medicine in the Soviet Union, in Kiev. When I returned to Somalia, I studied law at the University of Mogadishu.

3. Did you have a childhood hero?

My childhood hero was my grandmother, the mother of my mother. She was a wise, calm, strong, and intelligent woman. She was a natural philosopher. When I read the books of renowned philosophers today, I can find the same words that my grandmother used to tell me.

She always advised me to work hard, because after working hard, you can rest. She also said to me, “sitting is empty, but working is plenty.” When I was a young girl, she would wake me up at 4am everyday before the sun was even up. We would together pray, exercise, do chores, and prepare breakfast for the family. She taught me how to farm, how to take care of the animals. By going the extra mile and not limiting your work, you will find joy and good in life.

She also taught me to be forgiving and fair to everyone you meet. If you cheat or inflict harm onto other people, you yourself will become lost in this world. But, if you are fair and honest, you will succeed. I have kept with her words my entire life, and I am happy.

4. What was your original dream?  If it changed, how did it change?  Furthermore, what changed it?

When I was a child, I only wanted to satisfy my parents and make them happy. At that time, life was difficult and it was hard to get enough food for everyone in the family. But even as there were no jobs, it was raining plenty every season. People were farming, animals were eating grass, and in that way people were living. It was hard, but there was more honesty and happiness.

Then, when after my mother died, I had a dream to become a doctor. My mother died from delivery complications, and I was very sad. She was suffering right before me, but I could not do anything to support her. I felt a very deep pain. At that time many children like me also lost their mothers. So I wanted to help future generations and children to avoid the pain I felt. That was when I had the dream to become a doctor.

5. What have been your major areas of work? 

While I work in healthcare, I also do work in education, agriculture, and law. Throughout my life, I have been working to fight poverty and malnutrition in Somalia. This includes doing very simple things like going to fishing and giving the children fish, which is full of protein. I founded a primary school on my land to educate the children. As a lawyer, I can understand what is wrong and what is right, and each person’s obligations in society. Every citizen has rights, and each citizen has to defend their own rights while completing their obligations to the government, society, family and children.

6. What is your most recent work?

Most recently, my Foundation has built a new library and science lab at the Waqaf-Diblawe Primary School with the help of the Global Enrichment Foundation. We have some English children books in the library, which were brought to Somalia when President Bush visited our camp in 1992. We are looking to obtain more books, start reading classes with the students, and build a reading culture in our community. We still need to get more tools for the science lab as well so that the children can learn both from the books and from the hand.

7. If you had unlimited funding and unrestricted freedom, what research/work would you pursue?

If I had unlimited funding and unrestricted freedom, I want to educate the 25,000 students who have grown up in my camp. I believe education is the key to everything. After their education, I want to create jobs for the students.

8. Not many individuals know of the situation in Somalia, and the work you do to improve the conditions there, you founded the Hawa Abdi Foundation.  It has served to help those most needing assistance in Somalia.  For the readers, what is the function of the Foundation?  What kind of work does it do?

The Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation works to give everyone equal rights and justice. During the civil war, times were very difficult and Somalis had to flee from constant violence. They found refuge on my land, where I provided healthcare, education, and food security to all Somalis regardless of gender, religion, clan, political affiliation. I treat everyone equally and I believe that everyone should be able to access their basic rights.

Today, we continue to do the same work in healthcare, education, and agriculture. We have the Dr. Hawa Abdi General Hospital and Training Centre, which is the only place of free healthcare in a 33-km radius. We have the Waqaf-Diblawe Primary School and a Women’s Education Centre to educate women and children. Also, I am cultivating my 400-hectare farmland to strengthen food security in the region.

Even as the war has ended now, there is still a lot of work to do in Somalia to help people rebuild their lives. We continue to receive up to 40 families a day looking for a safe place to live. We need to continue to give them access to basic rights and opportunities for jobs. That is what we do at the Foundation now.

9. Related to the previous question, what is the core message of the the Hawa Abdi Foundation.  What can people in society do to help with your foundation’s work?

The core message of my Foundation is that everyone must have equal rights and justice. The people who have come under my care learn that it is important to be honest and friendly to all people. Whereas people are fighting because of clan divisions outside my camp, when they enter my camp, I tell them they cannot identify by clan. If they do, they cannot stay.

As I am fighting illiteracy, poverty, and disease, I will be happy if people in the society can help me in this. I want to educate and create jobs in fishing, farming, animal rearing, business, and healthcare. Some students of mine are now studying medicine, some are in Sweden, Turkey, Germany, Mogadishu – they all want to become doctors because they admire the profession. About ten of them will finish in the coming six years. This is the kind of future I see in Somalia.

But this takes time, and Somalia right now still needs help and capital to take-off. People in society can help through contributing the human and financial resources needed to train two generations lost to war.

10. You have received numerous awards for your work.  Recently, you earned a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize and won the BET Social Humanitarian Award.  What do nominations and awards like these mean to you?

I am very happy and grateful towards those who have given me these awards. It gives me the strength and self-confidence to continue to work. Sometimes it can get difficult, where it seems like everything and the world is working against me. In the Somali community, it is more difficult for recognition because people are busy, there is war going on and many people are doing destructive work rather than constructive work. That is why I get a lot of awards outside my country. When I receive an award, my spirit becomes alive again, and I can continue to do my job. I am grateful that I am still working and I still have my hope. I thank those people.

11. How would you describe your philosophical frameworks inside and outside of medicine?  How have your philosophical frameworks evolved?

In my life, I always believe in equality, justice, and honesty. If you are honest and committed, you will not lose anything. There are challenges, but that is the will of the God. I find this in the Italian proverb, l’uomo propone ma dio dispone, which says that if God doesn’t allow it to be successful, it will never be.

12. Whom do you consider your biggest influences?  Could you recommend any seminal or important books/articles by them?

Hilary Clinton has always given me the strength to work. When I met her and she said that I am doing the right thing, I felt that someone knows me and understands what I am doing. Socrates also has influenced me. He has said that if you want to know what it is to be a human being, you have to know yourself first. What you need, they need. What you hate, they hate. I believe that human being is one. Their needs are one and the world is one. I suggest that the world work together. If something bad happens in one corner of the world, it will spread to other corners. Things like war, disease, hunger. But if we collaborate, we can try to achieve justice, peace, and happiness. The human being is one and we have to defend each other collectively, regardless of colour and differences.

13. What do you consider the most important point(s) about your life’s work? 

The most important points about my life’s work is to save a human being and care for a human being. Caring for a human being is a difficult task, you have to educate, train, and advise them. While their needs are the same, their characters differ. You have to learn to care and guide them according to their character. Some can be nervous and aggressive, while another may be patient. But even if someone has a bad character, we cannot just discard them. I have found that everyone has something good inside of them. We just need to learn to approach them in different ways.

14. What do you see as the future of the Hawa Abdi Foundation and similar humanitarian organizations aimed at helping people?

I see DHAF will be a place of pride in the future. It is something that is built by Somalis for Somalis, educating and training our people. If we continue to be honest and committed in our work, the Foundation will be like a kingdom to be continued for generations and generations.

There are many other humanitarian organizations, international ones like the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC). They have continued to operate for many years because they are committed. They make immediate decisions, knowing their purpose is to care for the human being, give life and hope. In Somalia, there are many local NGOs but many lack capital to provide for the people. They have to depend on larger and international ones.

I believe that DHAF will become sustainable and generate income from our economic work at our farm. But it will need some help to take off. After more fully developing our agriculture capacity, I believe it will become sustainable.

15. Finally, your most recent book Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman: 90,000 Lives Changed outlines a major theme in your life, perseverance.  How important is perseverance for changing the world for the better?

Perseverance is very important. We have come from the medieval times to many new inventions and advancement in medicines that better the lives of everyone in the world. As mentioned before, the world is one and we cannot separate. In order to change the world for the better, we must first learn to love and respect one another, then we can work towards peace, then finally, unity in the world.


To support the Hawa Abdi Foundation’s ongoing work you can visit



In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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