African pioneer is far from being finished with improving the world

A Woman of Firsts: The midwife who built a hospital and changed the world – it is the title of Edna Adan Ismail’ book, and that sentence is just one of the many things she did for her home country Somaliland. She was the first woman in her country to study in Britain, the first qualified nurse-midwife, and the first woman to drive a car. This inspirational woman told her exceptional story at TU/e yesterday.

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photo Judith van Gaal

Not every 82-year-old woman is likely to be asked what her next challenge will be and what social wrong she will sink her teeth into next. Edna Adan Ismail, however, was asked that question yesterday in the movie theatre of De Zwarte Doos, where she spent an hour sharing important life lessons and telling her audience what motivated her to do so much for her country Somaliland – and for the women in that country in particular. And she even had an answer, because as she already says at the start, she always wanted to change things that seemed unfair to her, and give those people who can’t really speak up, or can’t speak up at all, a voice. And the fact that this passionate woman is getting along in years doesn’t change anything about that. Currently, she is worried about the relatively high number of young people who end up in prison, and she is committed to getting them back on the right path.

With her zest for life and sense of justice, she was able to already accomplish much for her country and the people of Somaliland – “a country that isn’t on your map,” – as she repeatedly says. One of her accomplishments is the foundation of the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital, and she fought for the abolition of female genital mutilation.

Edna Adan Ismail, who is also sometimes referred to as The Muslim Mother Teresa, is former minister of Foreign Affairs, and also previously served as minister of Family Welfare and Social Developmentin Somaliland. She was the first woman in her country to study in Britain, the first qualified nurse-midwife, and the first woman to drive a car.

She passionately shares her advices with her audience, which sat totally silent as she told her story. She stresses the importance of education, and also tells her audience to ‘get the best out of yourself,’ ‘go for quality,’ ‘always keep climbing – you yourself decide how high the ceiling is,’ ‘choose your battles’ and ‘lead by example.’ And, somewhat jokingly: “If a crazy old woman can accomplish this in the Horn of Africa, it can be accomplished anywhere.”

Edna Adan Ismail came to TU/e via TU Delft student Amira Abdalla – whose parents are from Somaliland. “My mother told me about her, and Adan has always been an inspiration to me and my brothers and sisters. When I saw that TU/e is carrying out a project in Somaliland, it seemed a good reason to ask her to come to the Netherlands and visit the university. It would be great if that collaboration were to continue.” Abdalla contacted Technology for Global Development within TU/e, and they didn’t need to think long about the opportunity of welcoming Edna Adan Ismail.

TU/e, and the departments of Electrical Engineering and Innovation Sciences in particular, participates in a project that provides trainings in the field of (sustainable) energy and infrastructure in Somaliland.

Henny Romijn, Associate professor of Technology & Sustainable Development, visited Somaliland. “Everyone there has respect for Edna Adan Ismail, she really is very beloved.”

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