My mother’s first professional job was as a Certified Nurse. I followed her footsteps and today my primary occupation is as a Registered Nurse. My mother “Maryan Garjeex” was born in the central region of Somalia, a small, remote town known as Dusamareeb. She came from a traditional family that valued education. During a time when taking girls to school was unheard of, my mother was enrolled in elementary school two years after Somalia gained its independence.

My grandfather, Garjeex, was a firm believer in girls’ education. After my mother completed elementary school in our small hometown, she moved to the capital city of Mogadishu to continue her primary and secondary education. In 1970, she was admitted to a prestigious nursing school for talented students. The photo above is of my mother’s graduating class, who after graduation all worked together at Digfeer Hospital. In the picture, she is standing second to left.

During that time Somalia was entering what would be best described as a renaissance period. Through good governance and solidarity, Somali public services would prosper. My mother’s career would prosper too; she was promoted to Head Nurse. By the 1980s and with plenty of experience in tow, my mother joined on the policy-side of things. She began working as a public health official at the Somali Ministry of Health. There she became one of the first pioneers of the Mother and Child Health (MCH) programs in Somalia and with the support of other medical officers established fifteen MCH centers in Mogadishu and the surrounding towns of Jowhar and Merka. They educated women on child-health, and of equal importance, their own well-being through home-delivered services such as vaccinations and nutritional cooking classes.

Toward the end of the 1980s, my mother would be appointed as Health Advisor to the President of the Somali Women Association. There she provided technical and managerial advice to the association in promoting the health and equal-rights of Somali women. The association collaborated with government agencies in all areas of women development. My mother was on the forefront of this push for Somali women rights through participating in conferences and seminars all over the world, raising awareness of the plight of her fellow sisters. Somalia was engulfed in social change and economic growth, but overlooked were long-simmering tribal tensions that would finally come to a head.

The Somali Civil War broke out in 1991, with it completely halting all the progress and prosperity Somalia hitherto had enjoyed. My family was fortunate in that we had resources to flee; many would not enjoy the same fate. We were resettled in Groningen, a beautiful city in the north of Holland but of course incomparable to the comforts and beauty of the home we left behind. A profound sadness enveloped us. Here we were in this strange foreign place, forced to etch out a new life. This was no easy feat, but even in this strange, new place, my mother would become determined to be the trailblazer she was back home. Unwilling to succumb to self-pity and sadness, my mother threw herself back into what she knew best—helping others. She joined what is known in Holland as “De Gemeentelijke Gezondheidsdienst” (GGD) or Community Health Service, where this time she would be able to assist in the new community she found herself in, the Dutch immigrant community and in particular the new Somali refugee community that was now in the heavy process of resettlement.

After some years rebuilding our lives in Holland, it was again time to move — no doubt dictated by our nomadic genes that never could stay in one place for too long. This time the family relocated to London, but always a creature of habit, my mother quickly found volunteering opportunities at the University of Central London’s (UCL) Hospital and the Shifa Medical Group.  However, other duties and life changes would with time pull her away, mainly those of becoming a grandmother and enjoying retirement with her husband.

Needless to say at this point of the story, I am very appreciative of the way my parents raised my siblings and I, and the values they’ve passed on. My mother now spends her time in peaceful worship and being a doting grandmother. Nevertheless, her passion for healthcare still burns on, a torch passed on to a new generation family healthcare-practitioners, I myself as a Registered Nurse, graduated from Wright State University and currently preparing to become a Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, also working with the Columbus Ohio Somali community and my younger sister, a pharmacist having earned her Pharmacy degree from King’s College in London, UK.