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Somali Humanitarian Wins Prestigious Nansen Refugee Award

  • Lisa Schlein

Nansen Refugee Award winner Mama Hawa brings education to Somali women. (UNHCR - F. Juez)

Nansen Refugee Award winner Mama Hawa brings education to Somali women. (UNHCR - F. Juez)

The U.N. refugee agency has chosen a Somali humanitarian as this year's winner of the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award.

The founder and director of the Galkayo Education Center, Hawa Aden Mohamed, has won the UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award "for her exceptional, tireless and inspiring humanitarian work for Somalia’s refugee and displaced girls and women."

The Galkayo Education Center for Peace and Development in Puntland, north-eastern Somalia, has become a place of refuge and learning for many hundreds of girls and women since 1995.

UNHCR Spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said Hawa Aden Mohamed takes every girl who knocks on her door, every woman who is seeking shelter and gives her a new start in life. She said Mama Hawa, as she is called, helps the most vulnerable members of Somali society. She turns no one away.

“What people and the Committee found very remarkable... she was living in safety in Canada. She chose to return to her country," said Fleming. "This is an area that is dangerous. Galkayo was a very dangerous place. It is insecure. It is violent. She chose to return and to help people, in particular women and girls displaced within their own country, probably much more vulnerable than people who manage to cross international borders and are being helped in the refugee camps of UNHCR.”

Fleming said the girls and women who make their way to Mama Hawa’s Center are given many educational opportunities. They are taught English. They are given sewing courses and other vocational training.

She said the courses on offer are wide-ranging. She said Hawa Mohamed prepares these girls to become teachers or to follow some other profession so they can become independent and self-sufficient when they go out into the world.

“In a society like Somalia, it is very often that a woman or a girl is raped and they are severely marginalized thereafter. So, what she has done is given them a home, a new start and a hope for a new life and their dignity back. So, it is actually quite remarkable,” said Fleming.

The Nansen Refugee Award was created in 1954 in honor of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian explorer, scientist and the first League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It is given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees.

The recipient of the prize receives a commemorative medal and $100,000 donated by the governments of Switzerland and Norway. Fleming said the winner is required to spend the prize money on a project closely related to his or her work.

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