'Mama Hawa' helps rape victims in Somalia, wins UN award

Hawa Aden Mohamed, a former Somali refugee, returned from safety in Canada to her war-torn country to shelter and train Somalis who have fled war, famine, and violence.

Ismail Taxta/Reuters
A woman waits for food aid at a center in Ubeyd camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, Sept. 17. Hawa Aden Mohamed, once a refugee herself, has been honored by the UN for her work in Somalia helping thousands of women and girls, many of them rape victims.

Hawa Aden Mohamed won the United Nations refugee agency's Nansen Refugee Award Sept. 18 for her work in helping thousands of Somali women and girls, many of them rape victims, start new lives in their battered homeland.

Mohamed is a former Somali refugee who returned from safety in Canada to her war-torn country in 1995, launching an education program in Puntland to shelter and train Somalis who have fled war, famine, and violence, it said.

"When Hawa Aden Mohamed rescues a displaced girl, a life is turned around," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

RELATED: Somalia: A timeline of change in a troubled country

Known as "Mama Hawa," she founded the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development, which has assisted more than 215,000 displaced and victims of violence since 1999, it said.

"In a society like Somalia, it's very often that a woman or a girl is raped, and they are severely marginalized thereafter. So what she has done is given them is a home, a new start, hope for a new life, and their dignity back," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a news briefing.

Young Somali boys also receive vocational training in carpentry and welding to keep them off the streets and avoid them falling prey to criminal or armed groups, the agency said.

Somalia's new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, took office Sept 16, calling for an end to terrorism and piracy in a nation mired in conflict for more than two decades. More than 2 million people have been displaced.

Recent laureates include the late US Sen. Edward Kennedy, for sponsoring asylum legislation, and former British soldier Chris Clark, for removing mines in Lebanon, allowing displaced people to return home after Israel's 2006 invasion.

Ms. Mohamed, currently hospitalized in Kenya recovering from surgery, is expected to attend the awards ceremony in Geneva Oct. 1, Ms. Fleming said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Jason Neely)

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