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Aayesha Hassan: The Doctor Empowering Somali Communities in the UK

The immunologist/activist is proving to be a voice to watch

08.07.2019 | by Kezia Parkins
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Refugees face additional hurdles to native people of colour in the UK. Language barriers and heightened prejudice and discrimination increase hardship felt by refugee communities who have fled their country to find safety and a better life. 

The UK’s prominent Somali community has to contend with racism mingled with the added burden of Islamaphobia which is currently being reported as inherently rife within the UK’s current government

The voices at the forefront of fighting for change appear to be disproportionately Muslim women. 

In Sudan, for example, where the mounting political unrest continues, the face of the anti-government protests has become 22-year-old Alaa Salah. The brave young woman who stood on a car amongst the mayhem and induced chants for “revolution.”


On British soil, a prominent young voice on the rise is 30-year-old Dr Aayesha Hassan, a Birmingham-based immunologist who is a humanitarian at heart. A quick glance at her social media channels will instantly alert you to her social passions. From informing fellow Somali mothers around health choices to arranging protests and talks, Dr Hassan is proving to be an activist to keep tabs on in 2019.

On 28th June 2019, 12-year-old Shukri Yahya Abdi, a Somali refugee who came to the UK alongside her family last year, was discovered dead in the River Irwell in the town of Bury, Lancashire.  

Her parents told police that young Shukri had experienced severe bullying over the past year in her new school and that they believed that it could have something to do with her death. They also called out the school for not taking their complaints of bullying more seriously. 

While Broad Oak Sports College (Shukri’s school) claim to be reviewing their anti-bullying policy, Shukri’s parents have said that they are receiving little support from police, who unlike them, believe that Shukri’s death was accidental.

A petition directed towards local MP James Frith calling for an investigation into whether the school failed to properly address bullying has collected almost 60,000 signatures.

Last Saturday, the day of Shukri’s funeral, saw hundreds of saddened parents and children unite to peacefully protest calling for the investigation.

Then, on Sunday a similar protest was co-led by Dr Hassan.

 

“This is a time to take an active approach. We need to demand justice,” she exclaimed to an engaged crowd.

“Primarily, people do not realise the privilege they have in not being a person of colour,” she told Ruptly in a piece to camera.

“If Shukri Abdi, was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed British girl, 10 Downing Street would be in uproar,” she said with emotion and anger cracking in her voice.

“But she is not. She is a black, Muslim, Somali girl. And that is a shame.” 

Videos of Dr Hassan have been circulating virally on Twitter, with many praising her determination to speak up and encourage others to do the same. 

 

Hassan recently caught the attention of the BBC for her work within Birmingham’s Somali community in fighting vaccine hesitancy — a problem that is affecting the world and is currently one of the World Health Organisation’s 10 biggest threats to global health in 2019. 

For refugee communities, though, being armed with the knowledge to make informed health decisions for their children is made more difficult by the lack of materials out there in their language. This is reflected in the lower rates of childhood vaccination within these communities. 

To arm women with the knowledge, they need to protect themselves and their children from avoidable illnesses, Dr Hassan is leading an initiative to educate minority communities about health services focused on addressing language barriers and cultural differences.

By holding regular meetings, workshops and focus groups with Somali mothers, she is able to give them the education and one-on-one time they need to understand vaccination and its importance in their own language. 

“The bottom line is, knowledge is power, and if we want to engage our communities when it comes to vaccinations, then we have to take the initiative to empower our communities through knowledge.” 

 

Additionally, Dr Hassan is also the co-founder of Fail Forward Hub, which aims to bridge the gap between BAME (Black and Asian ethnic minorities) and STEM.


In a recent Instagram post, Dr Hassan mused on the fact that she is often met with confusion and surprise when she first stands up to speak.

“To me, a woman is both SOFT yet unapologetically STRONG. I decided to never shy away from expressing my strengths,” she said. “To stand tall in my beliefs, to challenge, inspire and above all be confident in all that I do. _ That said, our Somali have long captured this concept so elegantly — ‘naag nool: a woman who is ALIVE.’”

 

 

To top it all off, the young mother has also written a book, launching soon entitled “The Teenage Parent’s Guide to a Ph.D.”

We predict that we will be seeing a lot more of the unstoppable force that is Dr Aayesha Hassan.

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