Dr. Hawa Abdi, affectionately known as Mama Hawa, was a gynecologist who is credited with having saved the lives of tens of thousands of people over a period of several decades. Her career spanned the same 30 years that civil war has ravaged her country. Dr. Abdi died August 5, 2020, in Mogadishu, at the age of 73, and her passing has been widely memorialized.

Having studied medicine on scholarship in the former Soviet Union, Dr. Abdi was one of the first Somali women ever to do so. She also earned a law degree from Somali National University. She later founded a small clinic in her home village. When the civil war erupted in 1990 and threatened to tear the country apart, Dr. Hawa stayed in Somalia and gradually transformed her clinic into a 400-bed hospital that treated children, women, and men. She helped everyone from war victims to birthing mothers. She also built a school for women and a school of agriculture.

In a country ravaged by ethnic divisiveness, Dr. Abdi is said to have set the standard: she treated everyone equally, regardless of their ethnicity. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, and received many awards in her lifetime, including a Doctor of Law degree from Harvard University. Two of her children are now doctors, and one runs the hospital founded by Dr. Abdi.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed of Somalia described Dr. Abdi in a Facebook post as someone who has “a golden place in the history of Somalia.… She will be remembered for her work during crisis times.” Glamour Magazine described Dr. Abdi and her physician daughter in 2010 as “the saints of Somalia,” comparing them to Mother Teresa.

Somali-born Mainer Deqa Dhalac, now a citizen of the United States, says that she is very appreciative of the service Dr Hawa Abdi rendered to Somalia. “Her courage to brave the war, and stay in the country – putting her life in danger to help thousands of vulnerable people – is priceless. Many of us owe her a huge debt of gratitude for the difference she made to so many,” said Dhalac, and added that Dr. Abdi’s attitude inspired her to also strive to be a voice for the voiceless.appreciation for such a woman of courage?

The New York Times reported that in 2010 her hospital was taken over by Islamic militants. After looting the place, they tried to get her to leave the center to them, but she refused and held her ground. A Facebook post of the Somali Museum of Minnesota reads, “Dr. Hawa Abdi is a hero to millions around the world, and her legacy will never be forgotten.”