A Family Affair: From left: Dr. Amina Mohamed, Dr. Hawa Abdi and Dr. Deqo Mohamed, photographed during a business trip to Geneva, Switzerland, on September 18, 2010.
On a still, hot morning last May, hundreds of Islamist militants invaded the massive displaced-persons camp that Dr. Hawa Abdi runs near Mogadishu, Somalia. They surrounded the 63-year-old ob-gyn’s office, holding her hostage and taking control of the camp. “Women can’t do things like this,” they threatened.
Dr. Abdi, who is equal parts Mother Teresa and Rambo, was unfazed. Every day in Somalia brings new violence as bands of rebels rove ungoverned. Today Somalia remains what the U.N. calls one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. On that morning in May, Dr. Abdi challenged her captors: “What have you done for society?” The thugs stayed a week, leaving only after the U.N. and others advocated on her behalf. Dr. Abdi then, of course, got back to work.
Her lifesaving efforts started in 1983, when she opened a one-room clinic on her family farm. As the government collapsed, refugees flocked to her, seeking food and care. Today she runs a camp housing approximately 90,000 people, mostly women and children because, as she says, “the men are dead, fighting, or have left Somalia to find work.” 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.” Her greatest support: two of her daughters, Deqo, 35, and Amina, 30, also doctors, who often work with her. Despite the bleak conditions, Dr. Abdi sees a glimmer of hope. “Women can build stability,” she says. “We can make peace.”