A Somali gynecologist, lawyer, and farmer, Dr. Hawa Abdi began sheltering refugees on the 1,300 acres of farmland surrounding her Mogadishu hospital more than 20 years ago, helping to care for more than 90,000 people in a recent drought. A Nobel Peace Prize nominee and the author of Keeping Hope Alive, Abdi talks about the next great challenge for her troubled country: climate change.
What leads you to believe that climate change will be the biggest ongoing challenge in your region?
When I was young, I grew up on the farm of our family. At that time, always it was raining. Everywhere was very green. People were happy because they had enough food. Animals also had plenty of grass, so there was much milk and meat. And now the rains have stopped, becoming less and less and less, and sometimes, there is totally no rain. The drought causes the animals to not get enough grass. So, first, the animals die. Then, when there is no milk, children die because of malnutrition. Every year, until it rains, we are waiting. We are not even sleeping at night. Always, you are witnessing people dying and you cannot do anything about it. It is very painful. Many mothers are losing their children not to incurable disease, but because of hunger.
What would you like to see people do to combat climate change?
Plant trees. From what I have seen during my life, cutting the trees is what is most responsible for drought.
Education has been another primary focus of your life and foundation. Providing equal access to quality education is a challenge, particularly for countries in conflict or in places that don’t believe in educating women and girls. What has changed in your efforts to educate those who don’t have access to good schools?
This is very difficult sometimes, but we are not giving up. Now, this world is better connected than ever before. We can connect by email, by online teaching. The world today is one, and education is the key of life, the key of this world. I want the young generation to know that life is very difficult, but if you stand up and confront it courageously, you can win.