Glamour has called them “the Saints of Somalia, equal parts Mother Teresa and Rambo.” It’s a fitting description of Dr. Hawa Abdi and her two doctor daughters. Their must-be-heard story, told by Dr. Abdi with Sarah J. Robbins in Keeping Hope Alive, is one ofincredible humanitarian effort coupled with fierce courage, even as they face violent extremists. But it is also Dr. Abdi’s private story—her trials and tribulations as a Somali woman, as a mother, as a wife—as one small person with a big dream for peace.
In spite of the atrocities she has witnessed, Dr. Abdi writes with a lyrical gentleness about her homeland. Her grandmother, she tells us, came from “the region called Lafole, where the sandy roads of Mogadishu meet the soft brown earth of the Shabelle River basin.” Lucky to be raised by parents who had a then-rare “marriage of love,” she was able to become an educated woman, a lawyer and the first female gynecologist in Somalia. When civil war broke out in 1990, she also became a hero and a legend: the unwavering protector of tens of thousands.
As “victims and survivors flooded the main road that led out of Mogadishu,” many came to her farm and clinic. “I took them in, and I gave them whatever I had—cool water, a place to sleep, a portion of our farm’s harvest.” As the unrest continued, her 1,300 acres became a camp for up to 90,000 displaced people. With help and recognition from the United States and other countries, her clinic grew into a hospital; the children are now being educated, and there is hope, but the dangers persist.
In 2010, insurgents kidnapped Dr. Abdi, invading and destroying much of the hospital and her personal possessions. “These young men are our own sons as well—an entire generation that has grown up without law and order,” she writes. Public outcry helped secure her release, but she worries for the future when so many are born into a world of hate, growing up knowing only division, violence and poverty. “A Somali proverb,” she writes, “says that you don’t deliver a child, you deliver a society.”
A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Dr. Hawa Abdi has sent an urgent message to the world in Keeping Hope Alive. Read it; heed it; pass it on.