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BOLD WOMAN: From refugee to school owner in Somalia

Dr Sadiyo Siad was working as an auxiliary nurse in Somalia in 1994 when the civil war forced her to flee with her three children. And at the age of 19, she moved to Nairobi as a refugee and a single mother.

Dr Sadiyo Siad was working as an auxiliary nurse in Somalia in 1994 when the civil war forced her to flee with her three children. And at the age of 19, she moved to Nairobi as a refugee and a single mother.

She did not know what the world held for her, but she had only one prayer: that God would allow her to get a good education.

A year after she moved to Nairobi, she got the opportunity to go to Denmark and she decided to quench her thirst for education.


“The first thing I asked my social worker once I landed in Denmark was: ‘When do I start school?’ I was very determined and I had this hunger for education. I also knew how lucky I was to have gotten the opportunity to leave. Unless your family is wealthy, it is very hard to get out of the situation back home  [Somalia],” she says.

 She started by learning Danish and also continued working as an auxiliary nurse, and sometimes working for non-governmental organisations. In 2004 she moved to the UK where she enrolled for her bachelor’s degree in microbiology.

The now 43-year-old, who studied at the University of Leicester and Cranfield University, currently holds a PhD in Tuberculosis and Immunology, a Master’s Degree in Infectious Diseases and Immunology, another Master’s Degree in Medical Diagnostics, and an Honours Degree in Microbiology.

Sadiyo later had two more children. She currently cares for her children and her extended family in Somalia. She engages actively in philanthropic work, including being a board member in various organisations. She is also the founder of a UK registered charity – Eva Organization for Women (EOW Charity). The charity helps people, particularly women and young people, to have a positive impact on the world in which they live.

The main focus of the charity is empowerment programmes; youth and parents’ project; tackling the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM); and the Hano Initiative (Building up Somalia One Person, One Brick at a Time).

More than two decades after fleeing Somalia as a refugee, Sadiyo had accomplished her dream to be educated and she wanted to help other Somalis accomplish theirs.


In 2016, she decided to return to Somalia, where she opened a school – Hano Academy. She was fulfilling a promise she made to God and to herself.

“Before settling back, I used to travel at least twice a year between 2011 and 2015. I was testing the waters as well as collecting data. Hano Academy is an academic progression and polytechnic academy in Somalia, which offers a range skill training opportunities and academic courses.”

The academy has a unique syllabus which offers specialised skills training.

‘Hano’ is a Somali word that is loosely translated to ‘achieve’.

Setting up the institution was not easy. Sadiyo faced challenges in accessing finances in Somalia, the locals’ attitude of indifference, and them not believing in her. She also faced threats because the community did not feel she was one of them as she had been abroad for many years. But she knew she needed to overcome these hurdles. She persisted in fulfilling her promise and established the academy.

The institution creates jobs through its social innovation hub; and helps learners get jobs through its two agencies: Hano Recruitment Agency, which specialises in apprenticeship, internship and workplace experience; and the Khibrad Recruitment Agency, which helps potential employers connect with skilled Hano Academy graduates.


Hano Academy has trained more than 330 students in hospitality and catering, mobile phone repair, computer repair, tailoring and English language, as well as Somali literacy and numeracy.

“The biggest challenge in Somalia is how to increase employment for young people. Many people lack quality education and employment,” Sadiyo says, adding that the academy works to close this gap.

Sadiyo, a single mother of five, tries to travel with her children whenever she can so she can be present in their lives, as well as keep them busy with extra-curricular activities. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, reading and playing badminton.

“I am embarrassed to say that I’ve never taken a family vacation,” she adds, laughing.

Sadiyo is focused on changing the narrative of Somalia through education.

She encourages everyone to work towards their dreams; that no matter how bleak the situation is, they can still make it. Sadiyo is grateful for the opportunities and experiences she got in Denmark and in the UK as they made her into who she is today

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