When journalist Eliza Griswold ’95 first traveled to Somalia in 2007, she visited the refugee camp near Mogadishu founded and run by Hawa Abdi, an ob-gyn now in her 60s. “Hers was one of the only functioning hubs of aid and civil society,” says Griswold. “Never, in a decade of travels, have I seen such an island of clam in the midst of one of the world’s most forgotten war zones.”
In the midst of civil war, Abdi has provided a safe haven for thousands of people. What started as a one-room women’s hospital on her family’s farm became a shelter for people during the famine in the early 1990s, and has grown to a home for some 90,000 displaced people who have flocked to her farm. They get drinking water and learn how to farm and fish. And thanks to help from Griswold, a small fraction are getting an education.
When Abdi’s daughter Deqo Waqaf, also a doctor, who splits her time between her mother’s camp and her own home in Georgia, told Griswold that they needed to build a school, Griswold pitched in – contributing what she could and asking friends to give. While the school teaches only 850 boys and girls — “a drop in the bucket when there are 90,000 people living at the camp,” says Griswold — it’s something.
Griswold’s book, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam, in which she writes about the women and their camp, helped gain them international recognition. (Click here for PAW’s story on the book). Abdi and her two daughters won a woman of the year prize from Glamour magazine, and are working on their own book.
A Dec. 15 New York Times story by Nicholas Kristof on Abdi helped raise $35,000 in a single day — “that’s a year of the school’s existence,” says Griswold.