The Nansen Refugee Award has been called the “Nobel Prize for refugee workers.” The award is bestowed annually on a person or group that has “provided extraordinary and dedicated service to the forcibly displaced.” Past honorees include Senator Edward Kennedy, Medecins Sans Frontiers, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
The award is named for Fridtjof Nansen, a polar explorer, diplomat, and the High Commissioner for Refugees for the League of Nations (the precursor to the UN) from 1920 to 1930. Mr. Nansen helped hundreds of thousands of refugees return home or resettle in new countries after World War I. He also organized a relief effort to help famine victims in Russia in 1921 and 1922. For his efforts in Russia, Mr. Nansen received the 1922 Nobel Peace Prize.
This year’s honoree is Hawa Aden Mohamed, who has helped thousands of displaced women and girls in Somalia. Ms. Mohamed, who is widely known as Mama Hawa, escaped violence in Somalia and was a refugee in Kenya, the U.S., and Canada. She left the (relative) comfort of Canada in 1995 and returned to Somalia, where she established the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development. Through this organization, she has worked to secure women’s rights and bring free schooling, health care, and skills training to nine communities in the Mudug region of Somalia.
In the early days of the Education Centre, it was attacked with rocks, grenades and gunfire. Its gate was bombed. But Mama Hawa and her colleagues did not give up. “We persevered,” she recalled, “and slowly we convinced the elders and the women that what we were doing was for the benefit of the community.”
Today the Education Centre teaches girls and women to see themselves as full members of society who possess fundamental human rights. It openly addresses the issues of female genital cutting, puberty, early marriage, sexual and gender-based violence, and HIV/AIDS. It prepares women to play an active role in achieving peace, reconciliation, democracy, and development in their country.
Mama Hawa will receive the Nansen Award on October 1st in Geneva. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, the ceremony looks to be worth attending. If you would like to learn more about Mama Hawa and her organization, or if you would like to contribute to her worthy cause, you can do so here.