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Five Questions With…Roda Ali Ahmed

7 September 2020


Ahead of our 2020 Annual Conference, we caught up with Roda Ali Ahmed, Lecturer at the University of Hargeisa, to hear her perspective on health systems strengthening in Somaliland, recovering from civil war and ensuring gender equity in health programming.

You established the nursing diploma programme at the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in the aftermath of the civil war.  What factors contributed to the success of the programme?

Somaliland was still struggling in the after math of the civil war, which had ended less than 6 years before the establishment of the nursing school at Edna Adan Hospital, in July 2000. At that time, most of our applicants had just returned from refugee camps and hadn’t had proper schooling. We decided that we would only enrol female applicants in the programme and we selected 40 students from the 300 applicants who had gone through our exam and interview process.

Inspired by the Edna’s dedication and vision, thirty students managed to complete the 3-year program successfully. Those young girls were extremely motivated, thrived on learning and absorbed knowledge like sponges! This was an amazing achievement, especially considering

that our students were born and raised in refugee camps and faced the challenges of gender inequality and pre-assigned gender roles in the community. Our program was based on empowering those young girls and building their confidence so that they could become future role models for other girls in the community.

The support we received from the international community in terms of volunteer guest lecturers from different countries who shared their knowledge, experience and culture with our students really transformed their lives and opened their eyes to new worlds. Most of our students came from poor families who struggled to make ends meet and it was necessary to support these families in order to keep students in the programme. Some of this support was provided by the UNFPA under the Food for Work Program.

Another challenge we faced at that time was the scarcity of resources in terms of lecturers, teaching/learning materials and skill lab resources. The students were aware of the meagre resources and they put a lot of effort into preserving what we had; they adapted well to modifications to ensure that they had the best teaching possible. Finally, those young ladies had witnessed the dire need for competent nurses and were desperate to serve their communities and to improve the quality of health services.

What can be done to ensure gender equity in health programming?

Health equity can be achieved through developing and introducing policies and guidelines and practices that ensure gender equity. These include:

  • Conducting regular training to increase gender awareness.
  • Identifying, training and developing mentors, leaders and champions that can advocate for gender equality and become roles models in their communities.
  • Establishing environments – from teaching institutions to the workplace – that are gender friendly and specifically sensitive to women’s needs, which include toilets, changing rooms and coffee break areas.
  • Ensuring that gender mainstreaming is observed in every part of program development, planning, implementation and evaluation.
  • Providing equal opportunities for employment and promotions.
  • Actively addressing GBV (Gender Based Violence) issues in the workplace and in teaching institutions.

How has the current pandemic affected your work?

The current pandemic has affected my work as a lecturer and a health worker at Hargeisa Group. As with many other health workers around the world, I have witnessed frustrations due to inadequate access to personal protective equipment and a lack of opportunities for testing. In addition, health workers have been faced with inadequate training and poor access to information about the pandemic at a local level. In my capacity as a lecturer, I can see that the long absence from classrooms and poor internet connection due to the overload on local networks has negatively affected student’s performance in their final exams this summer (July and August, 2020).

Which aspect of your work have you found most rewarding?

I’m always overwhelmed with joy when I meet one of my ex-students in their workplace and hear positive reports from their colleagues or supervisors, especially when they tell me how hard working and professional they are. In fact, many of the graduates from the first nursing program at Edna’s Hospital are successfully heading and managing programs at INGOs, UN agencies or other health service related programs. This is clear evidence that you don’t need sophisticated resources to run a successful training program, as long as you have the right intention and vision.

Many of my ex-students have travelled abroad and sat for competency tests in other countries and passed with flying colours and that too swells my heart with pride.

Last but not least, I praise God when I realize that a system or a tool that I participated in developing is being used and is helping health workers in different parts of Somaliland.

Looking to the future, what would you like the health landscape of Somaliland to look like?

I often dream that the health system in Somaliland will be a regulated, accredited health system that provides quality health services to every woman, man and child in the country – one that is accessible, affordable and which protects the privacy and dignity of the patients.

I dream that we will have health workers who are competent and dedicated to their work and that Somaliland will have systems and policies that govern the health services in every town and village in the country.

This post was written by:

Roda Ali Ahmed - Lecturer, iversity of Hargeisa


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