Nurto from Baidoa in Somalia is only 30 years old—but already on the verge of giving up. Conflict has driven her from her home, she is in pain and her father’s death is weighing heavily on her. She will get through this, but she doesn’t know that yet. Meanwhile, 28-year-old Hakumo, whose childhood in southwestern Somalia was plagued by extreme poverty, has managed to become a trailblazing leader in what is otherwise a male-dominated community.
Both women are defying the odds in drought and conflict-stricken Somalia. These are their untold stories.
Somalia: One Ruthless Crisis After Another
For decades, Somalia and its people have endured innumerable challenges. Conflict in one form or another has ravaged the country incessantly since the early 1990s. This, paired with years of drought, as well as—paradoxically—excessive rainfall and subsequent flooding have caused suffering on a massive scale: 2.6 million men, women and children have been forced from their homes, while 4.2 million people—one-third of the total population—rely on humanitarian assistance to survive.
The crisis, which the United Nations calls ‘one of the most complex and long-standing in the world’, has also wreaked havoc on Somalia’s healthcare system, with 3 million people in acute need of healthcare. As so often is the case, women and children are hit the hardest, with maternal deaths and child malnutrition running rampant throughout the country.
Many years back, conflict—and the dream of a better life—brought Nurto from her native Somalia to the port city of Jeddah in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, where she found work as a cleaner. But her plan to earn a living was cut short when a lack of medical care prevented her from working, leaving her no choice but to return home.
Fibroids are benign tumors in the womb. The condition can be harmless, but depending on the size and position of the growths, a woman with fibroids can become severely anemic and suffer from painful period bleeding. In rare cases, fibroids can also cause infertility—a nightmare for a woman like Nurto who dreams about becoming a mother one day.
To remove them, Nurto needed an operation, which she simply couldn’t afford. It wasn’t until she returned to Somalia—where she now lives as an internally displaced person close to the capital Mogadishu—that Nurto heard about a clinic in Jowhar that might be able to help her.
The operation that Nurto needed has to be performed by a specialist. Yet this and similar gynecological procedures remain mostly out-of-reach, not just for her, but for the majority of women in Somalia. To help alleviate the severe shortage of healthcare services in the country—as well as improve living conditions for women like Nurto—International Medical Corps operates a 42-bed maternity ward in the city of Jowhar, the capital of Middle Shabelle, one of Somalia’s 18 regions.
Nurto traveled 56 miles to reach the hospital, the last stage of what had become a several-year quest to find better health.
During a successful operation that required three extra units of blood, seven fibroids were removed from Nurto’s womb. According to the doctor, the fibroids would also have prevented Nurto—who is now married—from having a family. As such, the operation didn’t just relieve her from pain and exhaustion; she is now free to pursue the possibility of a having a family.
28-year-old Hakumo from Baidoa is serving her community one mother at a time. Growing up, Hakumo and her younger brother were the only children out of 13 brothers and sisters fortunate enough to attend school. With a father too sick to work, Hakumo’s mother singlehandedly supported the entire family, which Hakumo says ‘lived hand-to-mouth’ when she was a child.
Today, Hakumo works as a community health worker (CHW) with International Medical Corps in southwestern Somalia. In her role—which requires her to mobilize, inform and change behaviors—she raises awareness about disease, maternal health and malnutrition.
In parts of the world that struggle with access to healthcare, CHWs are integral to survival and well-being. They do more than prevent disease; thanks to their training, they are familiar with (among other things) the signs of malnutrition, and can quickly refer a child to a clinic when needed. As such, CHWs serve as an invaluable link of trust between rural communities and health facilities.
Hakumo joined International Medical Corps in 2017 and has since then trained 170 mothers about the dangers and signs of malnutrition, including how to prevent it, and when to seek help.
“I’m a change agent in my community,” Hakumo says, describing her work. She is using her salary to pay for nursing school—not just for herself, but for her younger brother, too. Her work as a CHW has helped Hakumo come a long way on her road to self-reliance.
In times of adversity, the accomplishments of Nurto and Hakumo bolster hope. Their stories serve as a reminder that, amid an abundance of challenges—particularly for women—there are different and more hopeful stories to tell about Somalia and its people.
International Medical Corps can support women like Nurto and Hakumo thanks to generous funding from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).