Edna Adan Ismail: Building a hospital on a rubbish dump

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Known and called by many as the ‘Muslim Mother Teresa’, Edna Adan Ismail has carved a niche for herself as a woman of many firsts, defying odds to do exactly what she wants to do.

At an enviable age of 82 years, Edna still works 10 to 14 hours at her hospital to deliver healthcare to all the poor and needy who visit them.

Born in Somali and having been the first lady of Somaliland in the early and late 1960s, Edna has always had a passion for her job and nursing. Though she was married to the former Prime Minister, Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal , her first love was nursing and midwifery and she refused to give it up.

She bargained with her husband to still be able to work in the hospital despite her being a public figure, ‘we had to bargain and he agreed I could work two or three days in the week at the hospital. We would joke about it, we would argue about, he just could not understand my passion and desire to teach.’

Edna Adan says she has always had a passion to build her own hospital and though the first hospital in Mogadishu built by her dad did not survive due to the war that broke out, she was never perturbed. She felt it was what she needed to do and was ready to go any length to get it done.

The Edna Hospital

After many years, Edna returned from her diplomatic mission in Djibouti to engage her now ex-husband, on her plans to build a hospital in her home city of Hargeisa. ‘Another hospital? Don’t you get tired? Can’t you retire like any other person and just live a normal life? What is with this endless passion and desire to teach and build hospitals? those were Mohammed’s words. But he was still working as a politician at the time. It was okay for a man his age to keep at his passion, but a woman could not? I was never giving up and made him aware of that.’

After discussing what she wanted to do with him, all her ex-husband could offer was a landfill site, filled with heaps for rubbish. An angry Edna felt insulted by the move and left Somaliland back to Djibouti mad and very furious. However, after pondering over it for days, she decided to go ahead and work with what she had.

Through the benevolence of individuals and by virtue of the good relationship she had built with a lot of people, Edna was able to put up her hospital after 32 truck loads full of rubbish was dragged off the land. It took 4 years of toil and labour to put up her hospital up in 2002.

Edna Adan Ismail in a shot with some students who graduated from her school

Edna Adan Ismail says nothing gives her more pride and sense of belonging than being in her hospital, teaching and delivering babies. The hospital has over a 1500 students, has trained more than a 1000 midwives and more trained students in specialisations for dentistry, gynaecology and a host of others.

Madam Ismail recalls one very touching case she has encountered in her years as a midwife. ‘I remember a lady who says she heard on the radio that, we were treating women who suffered from fistula for free in our hospital. She asked her husband for some money to come by and have herself checked and possibly treated. He laughed her off and told her her ailment was a curse from the gods. This lady lived in a town about 2 days drive from the hospital. Her family was not well to do and hence did not even own shoes.

She asked her husband then, for money to buy shows in order to make the journey, but this, he also refused. Being as determined as she was, this lady walked 2 weeks, barefooted to the hospital just to get treated. She walked at night because it was too hot during the day to walk. The amazing thing was, she had a very simple form of fistula and we ended up keeping her for more days in the hospital because of the sores and blisters on her soles, than for the fistula.

It was a very touching moment for us. Many people gave her gifts, including shoes on the day she was discharged from the hospital.’

These are some of the encounters that give 82-year old Edna Adan Ismail the courage to want to do more and help the poorest of the poor, the destitute and people who have no hope. She wants to give them that.

Edna says she does not pride in being called the ‘Muslim Mother Teresa,’ because she hasn’t done nearly half of what the icon did and she only hopes to live on and do more.

Edna has a memoir, written by herself called, ‘A Woman of Firsts’, which she has dedicated to her father.

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