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TEDWomen 2010

Hawa Abdi + Deqo Mohamed: Mother and daughter doctor-heroes

December 8, 2010

They've been called the "saints of Somalia." Doctor Hawa Abdi and her daughter Deqo Mohamed discuss their medical clinic in Somalia, where -- in the face of civil war and open oppression of women -- they've built a hospital, a school and a community of peace.

Dr. Hawa Abdi + Dr. Deqo Mohamed - Somali doctors who treat women refugees
Dr. Hawa Abdi and her daughters, Dr. Deqo Mohamed and Dr. Amina Mohamed, treat Somali refugee women and children, often for free. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Hawa Abdi: Many people -- 20 years for Somalia --
00:16
[were] fighting.
00:19
So there was no job, no food.
00:21
Children, most of them,
00:25
became very malnourished, like this.
00:27
Deqo Mohamed: So as you know,
00:31
always in a civil war,
00:33
the ones affected most [are] the women and children.
00:35
So our patients are women and children.
00:38
And they are in our backyard.
00:41
It's our home. We welcome them.
00:43
That's the camp that we have in now
00:45
90,000 people,
00:48
where 75 percent of them are women and children.
00:50
Pat Mitchell: And this is your hospital. This is the inside.
00:53
HA: We are doing C-sections and different operations
00:55
because people need some help.
00:58
There is no government to protect them.
01:01
DM: Every morning we have about 400 patients,
01:04
maybe more or less.
01:07
But sometimes we are only five doctors
01:09
and 16 nurses,
01:12
and we are physically getting exhausted to see all of them.
01:14
But we take the severe ones,
01:18
and we reschedule the other ones the next day.
01:20
It is very tough.
01:23
And as you can see, it's the women who are carrying the children;
01:25
it's the women who come into the hospitals;
01:28
it's the women [are] building the houses.
01:30
That's their house.
01:32
And we have a school. This is our bright --
01:34
we opened [in the] last two years [an] elementary school
01:37
where we have 850 children,
01:40
and the majority are women and girls.
01:43
(Applause)
01:45
PM: And the doctors have some very big rules
01:51
about who can get treated at the clinic.
01:54
Would you explain the rules for admission?
01:56
HA: The people who are coming to us,
01:59
we are welcoming.
02:01
We are sharing with them
02:03
whatever we have.
02:05
But there are only two rules.
02:07
First rule:
02:09
there is no clan distinguished and political division
02:11
in Somali society.
02:14
[Whomever] makes those things we throw out.
02:17
The second:
02:20
no man can beat his wife.
02:22
If he beat,
02:24
we will put [him] in jail,
02:26
and we will call the eldest people.
02:28
Until they identify this case,
02:31
we'll never release him.
02:34
That's our two rules.
02:36
(Applause)
02:38
The other thing that I have realized,
02:43
that the woman is the most strong person
02:46
all over the world.
02:49
Because the last 20 years,
02:51
the Somali woman has stood up.
02:53
They were the leaders,
02:56
and we are the leaders
02:58
of our community
03:00
and the hope of our future generations.
03:02
We are not just the helpless
03:04
and the victims of the civil war.
03:06
We can reconcile.
03:08
We can do everything.
03:10
(Applause)
03:12
DM: As my mother said, we are the future hope,
03:18
and the men are only killing in Somalia.
03:20
So we came up with these two rules.
03:23
In a camp with 90,000 people,
03:25
you have to come up with some rules or there is going to be some fights.
03:27
So there is no clan division,
03:30
and no man can beat his wife.
03:32
And we have a little storage room
03:34
where we converted a jail.
03:36
So if you beat your wife, you're going to be there.
03:38
(Applause)
03:40
So empowering the women and giving the opportunity --
03:42
we are there for them. They are not alone for this.
03:45
PM: You're running a medical clinic.
03:49
It brought much, much needed medical care
03:51
to people who wouldn't get it.
03:54
You're also running a civil society.
03:56
You've created your own rules,
03:58
in which women and children
04:00
are getting a different sense of security.
04:02
Talk to me about your decision, Dr. Abdi,
04:05
and your decision, Dr. Mohamed,
04:08
to work together --
04:10
for you to become a doctor
04:12
and to work with your mother in these circumstances.
04:14
HA: My age --
04:17
because I was born in 1947 --
04:19
we were having, at that time,
04:22
government, law and order.
04:24
But one day, I went to the hospital --
04:28
my mother was sick --
04:31
and I saw the hospital, how they [were] treating the doctors,
04:33
how they [are] committed
04:36
to help the sick people.
04:38
I admired them,
04:41
and I decided to become a doctor.
04:43
My mother died, unfortunately,
04:45
when I was 12 years [old].
04:47
Then my father allowed me
04:49
to proceed [with] my hope.
04:53
My mother died
04:56
in [a] gynecology complication,
04:58
so I decided to become
05:00
a gynecology specialist.
05:02
That's why I became a doctor.
05:05
So Dr. Deqo has to explain.
05:08
DM: For me, my mother was preparing [me] when I was a child
05:11
to become a doctor, but I really didn't want to.
05:14
Maybe I should become an historian,
05:17
or maybe a reporter.
05:19
I loved it, but it didn't work.
05:21
When the war broke out -- civil war --
05:23
I saw how my mother was helping
05:25
and how she really needed the help,
05:27
and how the care is essential to the woman
05:29
to be a woman doctor in Somalia
05:32
and help the women and children.
05:34
And I thought, maybe I can be a reporter and doctor gynecologist.
05:36
(Laughter)
05:39
So I went to Russia, and my mother also,
05:41
[during the] time of [the] Soviet Union.
05:43
So some of our character,
05:45
maybe we will come with a strong Soviet background of training.
05:48
So that's how I decided [to do] the same.
05:52
My sister was different.
05:54
She's here. She's also a doctor.
05:56
She graduated in Russia also.
05:58
(Applause)
06:00
And to go back and to work with our mother
06:02
is just what we saw in the civil war --
06:04
when I was 16, and my sister was 11,
06:06
when the civil war broke out.
06:09
So it was the need and the people we saw
06:12
in the early '90s --
06:15
that's what made us go back
06:17
and work for them.
06:19
PM: So what is the biggest challenge
06:22
working, mother and daughter,
06:25
in such dangerous
06:27
and sometimes scary situations?
06:29
HA: Yes, I was working in a tough situation,
06:31
very dangerous.
06:35
And when I saw the people who needed me,
06:38
I was staying with them to help,
06:41
because I [could] do something for them.
06:43
Most people fled abroad.
06:46
But I remained with those people,
06:50
and I was trying to do something --
06:53
[any] little thing I [could] do.
06:56
I succeeded in my place.
06:59
Now my place is 90,000 people
07:02
who are respecting each other,
07:06
who are not fighting.
07:08
But we try to stand on our feet,
07:11
to do something, little things, we can for our people.
07:15
And I'm thankful for my daughters.
07:19
When they come to me,
07:22
they help me to treat the people,
07:24
to help.
07:26
They do everything for them.
07:28
They have done what I desire to do for them.
07:30
PM: What's the best part
07:34
of working with your mother,
07:36
and the most challenging part for you?
07:38
DM: She's very tough; it's most challenging.
07:41
She always expects us to do more.
07:44
And really when you think [you] cannot do it,
07:47
she will push you, and I can do it.
07:49
That's the best part.
07:51
She shows us, trains us how to do
07:53
and how to be better [people]
07:55
and how to do long hours in surgery --
07:57
300 patients per day,
07:59
10, 20 surgeries,
08:02
and still you have to manage the camp --
08:04
that's how she trains us.
08:06
It is not like beautiful offices here,
08:09
20 patients, you're tired.
08:11
You see 300 patients, 20 surgeries
08:13
and 90,000 people to manage.
08:16
PM: But you do it for good reasons.
08:19
(Applause)
08:21
Wait. Wait.
08:25
HA: Thank you.
08:27
DM: Thank you.
08:29
(Applause)
08:31
HA: Thank you very much. DM: Thank you very much.
08:35

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Dr. Hawa Abdi + Dr. Deqo Mohamed - Somali doctors who treat women refugees
Dr. Hawa Abdi and her daughters, Dr. Deqo Mohamed and Dr. Amina Mohamed, treat Somali refugee women and children, often for free.

Why you should listen

Dr. Hawa Abdi is an OB/GYN (and a lawyer) who lives and works in Somalia with her daughters, also doctors, Dr. Amina Mohamed and Dr. Dr. Deqo Mohamed. In 1983, she opened a small clinic in Somalia -- which became a refuge as Somalia devolved into civil war. Her one-room clinic has grown to encompass a hospital, a school and a refugee camp for some 90,000 women and children, she estimates, who were displaced by war.

In 2010, Glamour named Dr. Abdi and her daughters "Women of the Year," and called them the "Saints of Somalia." Nicholas Kristoff wrote a stirring tribute to her work titled "Heroic, Female and Muslim." And she works largely on her own; as Glamour notes: "While Dr. Abdi has gotten some help, many charities refuse to enter Somalia. 'It’s the most dangerous country,' says Kati Marton, a board member of Human Rights Watch. 'Dr. Abdi is just about the only one doing anything.'"

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