Women in the World

03.08.12

Angelina Jolie Champions Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Dr. Hawa Abdi

The actor and humanitarian told the story of Dr. Hawa Abdi, the inspiring obstetrician whose medical camp in Somalia has saved thousands—but is now being overrun by militants.
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At the final onstage event of the night, Charlie Rose encouraged genocide survivor Sandra Uwiringiyimana to introduce Angelina Jolie, a woman whose spotlight, she says, has “taken justice to a whole new level” and has been able to provide hope for many people.

Jolie, who is also a Goodwill Ambassador and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, gave a testimonial about Dr. Hawa Abdi, the obstetrician and gynecologist whose clinic in Somalia has been a haven for thousands of people since its founding in 1983. Dr. Abdi came to last year’s Women in the World summit as an icon for a peaceful society, and her story “illuminates the nightmare of tens of millions around the world,” said Jolie, “the internally displaced and the ones homeless within their homelands.”

After more than two decades of murder, rape, disease, and most recently, famine, Somalia still only knows violence. But the camp was operated with strict rules of conduct, overseen by Dr. Abdi and her two daughters, both doctors themselves. Despite facing many obstacles, it was encroached only once, when militants invaded and took Dr. Abdi hostage. With the force of her moral authority, she lectured her own captors: “What have you ever done for Somalia?” Dr. Abdi was freed.

Jolie told the audience that Dr. Abdi has faced an increasing number of challenges in the last 11 months. In early May, more than 200 men and women arrived at the gates of the camp, and by mid-summer, many children were dying. In July, the United Nations declared famine in the horn of Africa. Abdi’s medical staff nearly decamped to work for higher-paying NGOs in the region, Jolie said, and she had to dip into her 2012 funds to lure them back. The bad streak of luck continued: In November, the drought ended with an intense rain—and an epidemic of pneumonia struck the camp. The rebels united with another, larger force: al Qaeda.

Five days ago, a dispatch came from the camp with more distressing news. A businessman arrived with militants and is claiming the camp’s land. “It is, right now, Friday morning in Somalia," Jolie said. "In a few hours, 400 human beings are about to become, once again, displaced.” It was a stark reminder that these challenges are unrelenting.

Jolie continued on with one piece of good news: last week, Dr. Abdi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Although she was unable to attend the summit, Abdi sent a message that illustrates hope after nearly all is lost: “I want to tell you [in the] last 27 years, I have given my people my heart and my soul. Still I did not lose my hope. One day my people's lives will change in a better way. I hope my children and the children who grow in camp, and are born in the hospital, will change the lives of Somali people, because I trained them to be honest, and be hard-working. The Nobel Peace Prize nomination comes at the right time. I was in a low level of hope. But the nomination lifted my morale and it gave me the continuous keeping of hope alive. If I win Nobel Peace Prize, I will empower economically Somali women and give home for homeless people. Thank you.”