Four years after surviving a near-death experience following an attack by gunmen in Mogadishu which left him disabled and on a wheelchair, 16-year-old Mustafa Hassan Awad has launched a foundation dedicated to enhancing the lives of Somali children with disabilities.
Abeer Foundation was launched in Mogadishu on August 15 to mark the fourth anniversary of the day he and his siblings were attacked by masked assailants who sprayed their Toyota Land Cruiser with bullets killing his elder brother Mohammed and leaving him and his 11-year-old sister Abeer – after whom the foundation is named – 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 Mustafa’s six siblings, their mother – Zahra Saeed – their driver and two family friends.
On that fateful day, the family woke up early, had breakfast and bade their father 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 that he could accompany his mother to Nairobi for medical treatment.
The family also had plans to take their father, Hassan Awad, out for lunch, later on.
That lunch date never happened.
Instead, they were left mourning after Mohammed was killed, Mustafa and Abeer fighting for their lives and their mother traumatized and fearing for the worst.
Abeer had six foreign objects in her brain and doctors had feared that she might never walk, talk or even understand anything. She is 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 several medical procedures abroad for Mustafa, Abeer and the rest of the family to come to terms with the events of the morning of August 15, 2017.
Mustafa launched the Abeer Foundation last Sunday at a function attended by the Somali Deputy Prime Minister, Mahdi Mohammed Gulaid, several ministers, local civil society and business leaders and foreign dignitaries.
“It is my pleasure to be here to share with you my story. On this day, August 15th, 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,” Mustafa narrated during the launch.
“It has been a long medical journey from Somalia, to Turkey and Germany. We visited numerous hospitals from city to city. We have gone through several surgeries and spent long weeks in the ICU. I had to undergo physiotherapy sessions, and this came with both mental and physical challenges. Thankfully, my family worked hard at helping me overcome those challenges.”
Through sheer willpower, Mustafa returned to return to school after many months in hospitals.
“I am now enrolled in secondary school and preparing for my 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 for me 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’m 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,” he said.
At the launch, Mustafa’s father, Hassan Awad, who is the Managing Director at Dahabshiil Group of Companies in Somalia, also shared his experience on how they coped with the crisis.
Hassan, who also is the Vice Chair of the Abeer Foundation, said that 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. The Abeer Foundation is named after my daughter Abeer. It’s a non-profit organisation 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.
He further noted 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 get 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,” he said.