Tis the season for giving, when those of us in the rich world hand each other overpriced scarves that no one much wants. So every fall I offer an alternative holiday gift guide with suggestions for “gifts with meaning” that save or change lives. This year’s recommendations come with something extra: A reader has pledged $1 million so that for each of the next 10 years, a charity I find most worthy will receive $100,000. In addition, $50,000 will be split among three runners-up, thanks to a few other large donations. And judging from the past, readers will send in many more donations to these groups. We’ve made that easier through a new website. This year’s top prize goes to support the lifesaving hospital of Edna Adan, a Somali midwife who fights for women’s health, trains doctors and empowers women in her native Somaliland. I’ve seen her work on the ground in two visits to Somaliland, and I’m awed by what she does.
Edna scandalized Somaliland by learning to read at a time when girls were barred from even elementary school there. She later studied in Britain, became a nurse midwife, enjoyed a highflying career with the World Health Organization — and then used her savings to build a maternity hospital that opened in Somaliland in 2002. Then she started a university and medical school that is training a new generation of Somali doctors and medical workers, 70 percent of them female. Edna sent me a photo this year of an all-female surgical team: a woman surgeon, a woman nurse and a woman anesthetist. It’s breathtaking to see in a country that once barred girls from getting any education. Edna draws no pay from her hospital; instead, she subsidizes it with her United Nations pension. Somaliland remains one of the world’s most difficult places to be born female and has one of the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality. “It makes you so angry,” she said, recounting the case of a woman who arrived at the hospital unconscious with a retained placenta. Because the husband was travelling and couldn’t authorize her to leave the house, the family waited five days to seek medical attention. “So she died,” Edna said. “She became a statistic.” Edna is working to empower women in every way she can. After she cared for a disabled woman who had been raped by a taxi driver, Edna pushed for a law against rape. Previously, rape victims were typically forced to marry the rapist, or compensation money was paid between the families, with the rapist getting off scot-free. With Edna’s help, Somaliland this year adopted a law that punishes rape with up to 31 years in prison.
Almost all Somali girls are subjected to an extreme form of genital mutilation: All the genitals are cut away, and the raw flesh is sewn shut with wild thorns, leaving a tiny opening for urine and menstruation. After marriage, the flesh is cut open. Edna herself was held down and cut when she was 8 years old, and she has been campaigning against the practice since 1976; initially, this got her arrested. But she has made progress, and this year the Somaliland Ministry of Religious Affairs issued a fatwa condemning this extreme form of genital cutting. So, readers, consider a gift to the Edna Adan University Hospital — and help save a woman’s life…….