Thursday, January 28

Hawa Abdi, Doctor Who Aided Thousands in Somalia, Dies at 73

NAIROBI, Kenya — Hawa Abdi, a doctor and human rights activist who treated and safeguarded the lives of tens of thousands of Somalis during turbulent years defined by war, famine and displacement, died on Wednesday in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. She was 73.

Her death at home was confirmed by her daughter Dr. Deqo Mohamed, who did not specify the cause.

Dr. Abdi rose to prominence in the mid-1990s after the outbreak of civil war in Somalia, which wreaked havoc across the country and caused extensive damage to its economy and infrastructure. At the time, Dr. Abdi was running a small clinic that she had opened on her family’s land in 1983, assisting women with birth and promoting health care for children.

But as the country disintegrated, Dr. Abdi turned the clinic into a fully-fledged hospital, a school and a camp for internally displaced persons. She rejected the clan politics that had divided communities and fueled the war, adopting a philosophy of unity and sheltering people from diverse backgrounds on her compound.

When President George Bush came to Somalia in 1993 — the only American leader ever to visit the country — Dr. Abdi was the first Somali he met there. Mr. Bush went to Somalia to visit American troops and to inspect the international relief effort that was responding to the famine tearing through the Horn of Africa nation at the time. Dr. Abdi gave the president a tour of the camp and showed him how Somali lives were being saved as hungry children, women and men received constant care and food.

“We’re seeing recovery here,” Mr. Bush said later. “Most of these children told me they were literally starving two months ago.”

Over the years, as the center grew to host up to 90,000 people, it was nicknamed the Hawa Abdi Village and Dr. Abdi came to be popularly known as Mama Hawa. As the hospital grew into a 400-bed facility, she trained and hired dozens of doctors and nurses and conducted countless surgeries involving delivering babies and removing bullets from those wounded in the war. She also established literacy classes for women and an agricultural project that helped former herders to farm their own food.

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