Nora Yussuf Sultan Ali volunteered at Edna Hospital for 7 weeks in early 2012. She is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University, having majored in Public Health Studies. Prior to attending law school in the fall, she wanted to spend time volunteering abroad. She thought the best place for her experience would be at Edna Hospital.
Unlike most volunteers at the hospital with a background in medicine, nursing, or midwifery, Nora found it took a little time to find the best way to help. “I came with a set plan of things I wanted to achieve – working on female genital mutilation (FGM) research, teaching English, working with children but I soon realized there were more pressing needs.” The pressing needs led Nora to change her game plan.
She first started assisting Edna in writing grants for international aid organizations to start wide scale midwifery programs. These programs would distribute midwives throughout the 7 major cities in Somaliland, helping mothers in areas where there is a lack of access to quality care. In conversations with staff in the hospital, she realized there were other ways she could help. “I think the best thing about my experience here is realizing the many ways I can utilize my past experiences to help others.” Her experience as an intern at Jhpiego working with grant applications allowed her to assist in a USAID grant for the hospital.
As a peer educator both on her campus, and through a program offered by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Nora has worked on training a youth group affiliated with the Somaliland Family Health Association (SOFHA) on how to be peer educators on their campuses. The main topics the group has worked with include female genital mutilation, STI’s, and HIV/AIDS. Nora is using a previous experience tutoring Baltimore City high school students in business now as an instructor in an Introduction to Business course for the lab technicians in a diploma program at the hospital. She also talks to students about principles she’s learned in two books she appreciates: 1) Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and 2) 9 Things Successful People Do Differently by Heidi Grant Halvorson, believing both will strengthen students’ sense of agency and self-empowerment.
Although born in the USA, Nora feels a strong attachment to Somaliland. She believes that her capacity to relate to the tradition and religious culture, as the daughter of Somaliland immigrants, has helped her relate to the students. Like Nora, nearly all of the students are strongly motivated to be of help to the Somaliland people.
It was Nora’s father, a very early supporter of the Edna Hospital, who first made Nora aware of Edna’s work here when she was considering volunteering opportunities in her parents’ homeland. She is a regular reader of the NY Times, and of Nicolas Kristof, but it was only after deciding to come here that she read Half the Sky.
“My first day here, Edna told me this would be an unforgettable experience. She was right.” Having spent time in the United Arab Emirates, Nepal, and India in recent years, Nora has appreciated her time here the most. She finds the women here to be resilient in their circumstances. “I’ve made friends with the students and staff, and being able to discuss our different lives has been an incredible exchange for me.” Nora speaks little Somali, though not nearly as well as she can understand it. With the help of a medical student here, her Somali is now much-improved. She has been able to send her father e-mails written in Somali (Somali is written using Western characters).
In terms of advice for future volunteers, Nora believes the best kind of volunteer is one that is proactive.