Kia ora and happy International Women's Day from the team at NZ Ethnic Women's Trust. We wanted to kick off this years International Women's Day by properly introducing our organization's founder and current chairperson, Fadumo Ahmed. We would like to share the amazing article written by Ministry of Women which illustrates the trials and tribulations she faced to get to where she is today.
Fadumo Ahmed knows a thing or two about struggle. She also knows a lot about resilience, perseverance and success.
As the chair of the New Zealand Ethnic Women’s Trust, Fadumo has helped many new migrant and refugee women find their way through unfamiliar systems and settle into new lives. She’s helped them find work, training and companionship and she’s committed to doing as much as she can to help them prosper.
“When we come together we can start to help each other,” she says. “Then we become powerful.”
Fadumo was a midwife, public health nurse and mother of five when civil war broke out in her native Somalia in 1991. She was at home on maternity leave with a newborn son when life as she knew it began to break down.
“I was at home with my baby and I saw people from the WHO outside. I said, ‘I’m a midwife, I can help’ and they said, ‘ok, we need your help’.
Luckily, the family had an escape route - Fadumo's brother-in-law had come to New Zealand nearly a decade earlier and she was able to come here under the family reunification programme, after a long wait in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. But even though landing in Auckland in 2000 meant safety and peace, their struggles weren't over.
"We were ok, but it was very hard for us," she says.
“I started to look for a job as a midwife, but then I got pregnant again.
"I had my baby in 2001 and I said to myself, ‘ok, now you need to look to see what you can do. You have a baby, you can’t spend another five years at university to train again, you need to get a job.’”
She sought work as a disability home carer, but realised it would be too difficult to manage working full days with caring for her own children.
“So I got a job working overnight,” she says. “I thought, what else can I do, we are new to this country and I need a job. I came home and I started to cry. Then I said to myself, ‘ok, think, what else can I do?’”
Fadumo then found work in a laundry, working in the evenings but not overnight, so her husband could look after the children. But she knew she could be doing more, especially when she connected with other members of Auckland’s Somali community.
“I had worked in the community and in health the rest of my life and I wanted to talk to the leaders about helping the ladies. Many Somali ladies have many children and they are single mothers because they lost their husbands in the war,” she says.
“So I went to work with ladies who spoke no English, with the Auckland council.”
"When we were in the refugee camp in Ethiopia we learned the language in one month, because it was compulsory to learn. If you didn't learn the language you couldn't ask to buy anything in a shop, you couldn't eat."
But not everyone supported her goals for the Somali women. Some of the male community leaders told her husband that Fadumo was betraying her religion and “becoming Western”.
“Not all Somalis are the same and different tribes have different ideas,” she says. “If they are educated, they support us, but some of them are too set in their ways.
“But my husband said, ‘she is empowering these ladies, they need to learn something. You need to see it in a positive way'.”
“When we asked the ladies what they wanted to do, they told us they wanted a sewing school so they could still look after their children.”
The sewing school started in 2007 and since then, Fadumo and the New Zealand Women’s Ethnic Trust (formerly New Zealand Somali Women) have gone from strength to strength.
Two years ago they started taking on commercial work, and have just launched their own label, Cottonseed. Some of the initial students are now teachers, others have gone on to start their own small businesses. The trust also runs a playgroup, an after-school care programme and a catering business. Women who aren't interested in learning sewing can receive training in baking, hospitality and small business skills. There's also a Youth Collective.
“Our children have grown up, so now we are training young people,” Fadumo says.
The trust's many activities are designed to empower women to help themselves and their families.
"It’s important for companionship, helping, learning different things," Fadumo says.
"The refugees need to say to themselves, 'we can do it'. There is nothing stopping them. But you have to be patient. I want to help people understand that you have to go step by step to get what you need.
"We want to educate these ladies to be role models so they don't feel isolated.
Now, after nearly 16 years, Fadumo says New Zealand “is my home”. She maintains strong links with Somalia, returning there regularly to run successful primary health care programmes.
"I see many families who need help. I'm never giving up."