Volunteer – Ethil Ahmed

Ethil Ahmed Calgary, Canada Age: 24 Length of Volunteering: 9 months (Ethil originally signed on for six months, and recently extended for another three). Recent graduate from the University of Calgary: B.Sc in Chemistry.

I’ve known about Edna for a long time, because she is really well respected among the Somaliland diaspora in Canada and around the world. So when I came to Somaliland on vacation with my mom and sister last year, I was already thinking about how I could help the hospital. I met with Edna and she told me that the hospital’s Research Coordinator was leaving and that I could help out in the research department. I accepted. So at the end of our vacation, I stayed on while my mom and sister went back to Canada.

I am one of 16 advisors responsible for organizing undergraduate students who are in the last year of completing their degrees in nursing, midwifery, public health, and as medical lab technicians. Everyone in their final semester at EAUH has to write a formal thesis that includes data collection and data analysis. There are about 120 students working on their thesis this year. I just recently decided to extend my stay for three more months, because taking off in the middle of the semester would leave students hanging, especially students working on their thesis.

I also teach an Introduction to Chemistry course to pre-med students at EAUH. If you are not from here, teaching can be challenging, you have to learn the culture, often students are reluctant to ask questions in English, but we’ve grown to understand each other over time.

My other task is to oversee a long-term FGM study going on at the hospital itself. In the morning I am there collecting patient records on FGM – what this means that we collect data on the FGM status of mothers delivering here, and possible FGM-related difficulties to mother and/or child during delivery – the goal is to demonstrate the impact FGM has on maternal and newborn health compared to other Muslim countries that do not practice FGM.

I have also been working on the latest EAUH hospital newsletter that has put me in position of writer, photo and text editor.
My personal observation as daughter of Somaliland diaspora is that as a woman here you almost always have to prove yourself. People create assumptions that you don’t know something, and you have to push your way into the male-dominated workforce. It’s not dissimilar from a Western country per se, but here the sexism is more blatant and more obvious, though on the whole, it’s less of a problem than I had expected.

Unlike most volunteers who live at the hospital, I’m staying with my extended family. My parents have been very encouraging about my stay here. I have just graduated from college and my parents told me that this is the time to explore and see where I want to end up. My dad is very big on education and that plays a huge role in his support of what I am doing here.

Coming from Canada, which has socialized and inexpensive health care, seeing first hand how people struggle to pay for medicine required to treat them, and sometimes to keep them alive was startling. And then to see Edna say: “oh they can’t afford it, let’s give it to them for free,” was inspiring and moving. It takes a lot of money to run the hospital, but Edna is still willing to put everything aside for her patients. Regardless of the financial strain, regardless of the time it takes — she’s up all hours of the night — and, till recently, running the hospital full time while delivering babies… She’s really a big role model for women in Somaliland and I’m enjoying seeing how she works up close.

The plight about a set of conjoined male twins born at the hospital seven months ago really touched me. I interviewed their mother recently, and saw what a strong woman she is.This was her first pregnancy. She and her husband are very poor, and I remember the father going to Edna asking for any help she could provide. It was a very trying time for the parents and Edna took them in for several months for free.Some time later, the possibility of a surgery that wouldseparate the twins came up, and the father asked whether that meant that one of the boys would die and said he would not, could not, choose between his two sons and said that one needed the other to survive and that the family would not opt for surgery. In saying that, the element of humanity was added to the concept of medicine, which too often in the West is so much about data and probabilities and percentages.

I will remember this hospital as a place filled with great local people that have amazing potential and as a place of hope that Somalilanders will continue the excellent work Edna started and that I’ve had the privilege to observe first hand.