Geneva: Hawa Aden Mohammad, a former Somali refugee who has created an education programme for displaced and often sexually abused women and girls, was awarded on Tuesday the UN refugee agency’s annual Nansen prize.
Mohammad, born in 1949, was given the prestigious award for “her exceptional, tireless and inspiring humanitarian work for Somalia’s refugee and displaced girls and women,” the UNHCR said in a statement.
The former refugee, who returned to her war-torn homeland in 1995 and four years later created the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development for others uprooted by Somalia’s persistent unrest, had worked “under incredibly difficult and challenging circumstances,” the prize committee said.
It hailed the laureate, known to many as “Mama Hawa”, particularly for her work that had “transformed the lives of thousands of displaced women and girls, who are among the most vulnerable members of Somali society, and in many cases are grappling with the trauma of marginalisation, abuse and secular violence, including rape.”
“When Hawa Aden Mohammad rescues a displaced girl, a life is turned around,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in the statement.
Mohammad’s centre, which also runs a programme to keep displaced boys off the streets, has helped more than 215,000 people since its creation 13 years ago, the UNHCR said.
After more than two decades of conflict and last year’s drought, more than 2.5 million Somalis have become displaced either within the war-torn country or outside its borders, according to UN figures.
Mohammad’s centre provides secondary education and English-language training and vocational training in the aim to empower girls and allow them to make their own living, according to UNHCR.
“I think not having education is a kind of a disease,” the laureate said in the statement, insisting that: “without education you do not exist much — physically yes, but mentally and emotionally, you do not exist.”
The Nansen award was created in 1954 in honour of the first UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Norwegian Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen, to mark outstanding work on behalf of refugees.