May 03, 2011 | Michel Gabaudan | It was with much sadness that I learned this morning of the passing of Amina Ali. I first met Amina last fall during a Refugees International trip to Kenya, and will never forget that meeting. Here was a woman with such energy, and such passion for the work that she was doing in Nairobi’s Eastleigh community.
Twenty years ago, Amina was working as a successful businesswoman in the Somali community of Eastleigh. She was an anchor in that community – the person that everyone else turned to when in need of help or advice. New arrivals to the community quickly learned that if you had a problem, you go to “Mama Amina”. So Amina decided to leave behind her successful career and open up a clinic for refugees and other vulnerable members of the community.
She followed this ten years later with the establishment of the Ngazi Moja Foundation, which addressed the community’s increasing social needs – from counseling to legal services. Such was Amina’s dedication, that she often provided out of her own pocket the much needed funds to maintain these services.
Amina was the Ngazi Moja Foundation’s Executive Director. But to everyone in the community, she was still “Mama Amina”. And she never betrayed their trust. Almost until the day she died, she would take phone calls at any time of the day or night from someone needing help. And she would be there for them – whether it was jumping into a taxi herself to bring that person to hospital, or simply providing an ear to help with a problem. Amina was so dedicated to those in need in her community that in the past few weeks – as she was suffering the brutal physical effects of her cancer treatment – her doctor had to take away her phone so she wouldn’t be compelled to try to leave her sickbed to help someone else.
Sadly, Amina lost her battle with cancer last night. The timing is particularly poignant for all of us at Refugees International, because this Thursday she will be honored with our inaugural Richard C. Holbrooke Leadership Award. The award recognizes those individuals who work tirelessly to improve community based protection for refugees. And we are truly proud to have someone as deserving as Amina be the first ever recipient of this award. We are just so saddened by the fact that she cannot be here to accept our recognition of her leadership, her dedication, and her selflessness.
However, her spirit will be with us. And I have no doubt that her spirit will motivate those she has left behind to continue the critical work she began those twenty years ago in Nairobi. I can’t imagine a more fitting way to pay tribute to such a truly remarkable woman.
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