Hawa Aden Mohamed
Having been a refugee in Kenya, US and Canada, I was encouraged by seeing women all over the world participating in building their countries. I wanted the same for mine. I just couldn't sit down and fold my hands after what I'd seen happen to girls and women in Somalia. - Hawa Aden Mohamed, 2012
Video feature on Hawa Aden Mohamed
A refugee returns, lighting a path for Somalia's recovery.
More than 2 million people have fled Somalia since conflict erupted 21 years ago. Hawa Aden Mohamed dared to go back. Back to a war zone. Back to a failed state. Back to drought and famine. Only she sees it differently.
For Mohamed, the winner of the 2012 Nansen Refugee Award, leaving Canada for Somalia in 1995 meant going back to the place she loved. To a society that needed her. To a country she was determined to help rebuild.
Widely known as Mama Hawa, she has taken extraordinary steps over decades to empower thousands of displaced Somali girls and women, including many who have fled war, persecution or famine. As co-founder of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development, she has worked to secure women's rights and bring free schooling, health care and skills training to nine communities in the Mudug region.
Early on, the centre's compound was attacked with rocks, grenades and gunfire. Its gate was bombed. But Mama Hawa and her colleagues did not give up. "We persevered," she recalled, "and slowly we convinced the elders and the women that what we were doing was for the benefit of the community."
Today the centre teaches girls and women to see themselves as full members of society who possess fundamental human rights. It openly addresses the issues of female genital cutting, puberty, early marriage, sexual and gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS. And it prepares women to play an active role in achieving peace, reconciliation, democracy and development.
Mama Hawa has long envisioned a time when Somali girls and women might be free from discrimination and violence. A time when they would command respect and exercise their rights in all spheres of life. For the first time in decades, there is optimism that Somalia might leave its violent past behind - and that women and girls will have a role in rebuilding the country. Thanks to Mama Hawa's courageous and visionary work, people don't have to look far for inspiration.