How attack in Somalia transformed tragedy into hope

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Through sheer will, Mustafa was able to return to school after many months in hospital beds.

In Summary

• The Abeer Foundation was launched in Mogadishu on Sunday, August 15

• It marks the fourth anniversary of the day Mustafa Hassan Awad and his siblings were attacked by masked gunmen who sprayed their car with bullets.

Four years after surviving a near-death experience following an attack by unknown gunmen in Mogadishu that left him disabled and on a wheelchair, Mustafa Hassan Awad, 16, has launched a foundation.

It is dedicated to enhancing the lives of Somali children with disabilities.

The Abeer Foundation was launched in Mogadishu on Sunday, August 15 to mark the fourth anniversary of the day he and his siblings were attacked by masked gunmen who sprayed their Toyota Land Cruiser with bullets.

His elder brother Mohammed was killed instantly, leaving Awad and his younger sister Abeer (11-year-old sister for whom the foundation is named after) seriously injured.

Mustafa had bullet wounds on his back, which affected his spine, while Abeer was hit by a bullet on the left side of her brain, leaving her visually impaired and paralyzed on the right side.

The experience left the family shaken and completely devastated.

In the car were Hassan Awad’s seven children, his wife the driver and two family friends.

On that fateful day, the family woke up early, had breakfast and bade their father, Hassan, goodbye as he headed to work that morning.

Their plan that day was to drive together to the Immigration Office, which was less than a kilometer away from their home, to renew Mohammed’s passport so he could accompany his mother Zahra Saeed to Nairobi for treatment and later take their father out for lunch.

That lunch date never happened.

Instead, they were left mourning after Mohammed was killed, while Mustafa and Abeer were fighting for their lives and their mother traumatized and fearing for the worst.

Abeer had six objects in her brain and doctors had feared that she might never walk, talk or even understand anything. She is, however, now  recovering well except for the loss of sight.

Mustafa had a bullet lodged in his spine and another cutting through his nerves, compounded by several bone fractures. He is now confined to a wheelchair but has emerged strongly to help set up the Abeer Foundation.

It has taken four years and numerous medical procedures abroad for Mustafa, Abeer and the rest of the family to come terms with the events of the morning of August 15, 2017.

But on Sunday, four years later, Mustafa launched the Abeer Foundation at a function attended by Somali Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi Mohammed Gulaid, other ministers, local civil society and business leaders and foreign dignitaries.

Speaking during the launch of the foundation, which is named after his sister, Mustafa said, “It is my pleasure to be here to share with you, my story. On this day, August 15, 2017, while we were riding in our car, armed militants attacked my family with indiscriminate firing.

“My older brother Mohammed Hassan died on the spot, and it left me and my younger sister Abeer, along with two other family friends seriously injured.”

He added, “It has been a long medical journey from Somalia, to Turkey, and Germany, visiting numerous hospitals and moving from city to city. We have gone through several surgeries and spent long weeks in the “ICU. I personally had to undergo physiotherapy sessions, and this came with its own challenges, which were both mental and physical. Thankfully, my family worked hard at helping me beat those challenges.”

Through sheer will, Mustafa was able to return to school after many months in hospital beds.

Mustafa is now enrolled in secondary school and preparing for his IGCSE exam.

“I empowered myself to further my education by teaching myself programming and web development. Through this, I have been able to create my own website,” he told the guests.

“I believe that my physical challenges will not and should not be an obstacle to improve myself, pursue my dreams, and further my education. This tragic incident inspired me and my family to change our suffering and pain into positive energy. That’s why, today, I am here to talk about how we can make the lives of disabled children in Somalia better. We have established the Abeer Foundation precisely for that purpose,” Mustapha added. 

His father, Hassan Awad, the Managing Director of Dahabshiil Group of Companies in Somalia, shared his experience and how the attack left his family devastated.

Hassan, who now also the Vice Chair of the Abeer Foundation, said with the help of Dahabshiil, his friends and family, he was able to take the children and the other injured family members to the best hospitals in Turkey and Germany.

“I did my best but there are certain limitations to human ability,” he said.

 “The Abeer Foundation is named after my daughter Abeer. It’s a non-profit organization established by my family to support Somali children with disabilities. We want to transform that tragedy into hope, opportunity, and support for other Somali children with disabilities.”

He said that the pain and psychological suffering that his family underwent, revealed the suffering of the many children who are the victims of the Somali conflict but do not get the necessary support to recover.

“At Abeer Foundation, our aim is to make sure that these children are given access to education, good health, psychological and physical care to help them reach their potential.”

He said that the focus areas of the foundation are rehabilitation so that it can cater for the children’s mental and physical wellbeing; educating the caregivers by training and giving them the resources that they need; and advocacy and public awareness to influence government to increase access to education and health for people living with disability.

This is possible because we were able to overcome it. The Abeer Foundation can do the same for the wider community through your support and contribution. Together we can spread love and care to the affected children,” Hassan said.

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