Nicholas Keung | Immigration Reporter | Hawa Aden Mohamed traded a safe life in Toronto for war-torn Somalia because she was determined to see education transform the lives of girls and women in her homeland.
A former refugee herself, Mohamed, better known now as “Mama Hawa,” packed up with her husband in 1995 and returned to her strife-riven homeland to launch an education and vocational centre.
On Tuesday, Mohamed was named winner of the United Nations’ 2012 Nansen Refugee Award for her “exceptional, tireless and inspiring humanitarian work for Somalia’s refugee and displaced girls and women, work performed under incredibly difficult and challenging circumstances in a country battered by decades of violence, conflict and human rights abuses.”
“My father was special when it comes to girls,” said Mohamed, 63, speaking by phone from a hospital in Kenya where she is recovering from brain surgery. “I remember the elders, his friends, asking: ‘Why do you want to send your girls to school?’ And my father used to say, ‘Leave my girls alone.’”
Mohamed, who was born in Baidoa, said her father, Aden Amey Mohamed, made a decision that would change her life — and through her, transform the lives of thousands of Somali girls: He sent her to school.
After earning a teacher’s diploma in Mogadishu, she studied in India for her bachelor and master’s degrees in child development and food science. Her hunger for knowledge then took her to England, the United States and Tanzania.
For 13 years, she was director of the women’s education department with the Somali government, before civil war broke out and forced her to flee.
Mohamed settled in Toronto in 1991 and worked for Women’s Health in Women’s Hands, on educating immigrant Somali women about female genital mutilation. Her work earned her Ontario’s Woman of the Year Award in 1994.
“I feel very sad when I see the displaced,” she said. “We always say there is hope; we should not lose our hope, our torch of life. We say this, but in reality, it’s very difficult, especially for women and children.”
Her desire to effect change motivated her return to Somalia in 1995, when she set up the Juba Women’s Education Centre to teach women life skills and awareness of their rights. But she was forced to leave four years later, when Kismayo became a battleground for clan-based militias.
She started a new centre in Galkayo, but met with resistance from local traditionalists, who did not believe females had rights.
“We had a very difficult time with the community . . . The mosques said we were devils,” said Mohamed. “But we just kept quiet. And then, it calmed down when they saw how many, almost 250 women, were taking classes in adult education. We had built around 12 schools.”
The Galkayo centre offers literacy and vocational training as well as food and humanitarian aid to internally displaced people.
Mohamed plans to spend the entire US$100,000 award on the centre’s operations.
“I think not having education is a kind of disease. Without education, you are unaware of so many things. Without education, you do not exist much. Physically, yes, but mentally and emotionally, you do not exist,” she said. “Education is always a continuous learning process. Education is everything.”
The award will be presented in Geneva, Switzerland, on Oct. 1.
Source: Toronto Star – thestar.com
_______________________________________________Share on Facebook