Breaking Barriers : The Remarkable Rise of Asha Mohammed

7 minutes
Image : Asha Mohammed, humanitarian leader

Growing up in Kibra, one of Nairobi’s largest slums, societal expectations for young girls and women in Asha’s community were clear – their primary role was homemaking. 

For families, marrying off a daughter was a source of great pride. Asha, however, had different dreams that defied the norms around her.

It became important for Asha to lead a life that is not dictated by her social surroundings. She wanted to defy the traditional path that was laid out for women, by being a humanitarian leader.

She witnessed her peers prepare for marriage and domestic responsibilities. Asha wanted something different, her dreams stretched beyond the confines of Kibra.

Despite her difficult circumstances, she held on to an unshakable determination to craft her own path. 

Keeping faith in her abilities and her bright future, she went on to pursue an education. Her career diverged from the expectations of people in her community.

“I always wanted to be a health professional. It started with the book ‘Truphena the City nurse’. I loved the main character whose calling it was to help people in her community.” – Asha expresses.

“I didn’t care so much whether it was being a doctor or a nurse, what mattered was how to get there – something that influenced the subjects I picked in school.”

Asha has been appointed the Secretary General of the Kenya Red Cross, making it a significant achievement for women across Nubia.

It was her experience with the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement that prepared her for this impactful role.

Her driving passion, along with an unrelenting determination, paved the way for Asha’s remarkable journey that can inspire many young girls that grew up like her.

Her Story as a Humanitarian Leader

Asha Mohammed’s journey as a humanitarian leader began with her work as a dentist in Sudan. However, her impact extended far beyond the realm of oral healthcare.

Driven by a deep-rooted commitment to social justice and human rights, Asha founded the Ansara Organization for National Development and Humanitarian Relief in 1995.

This non-profit organization, based in Khartoum, Sudan, has dedicated itself to providing lifesaving aid and sustainable development solutions to vulnerable communities affected by conflict, poverty, and natural disasters.

Through Ansara, Asha has spearheaded numerous initiatives that address critical issues such as food insecurity, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, and inadequate healthcare services.

The organization’s programs have reached countless individuals across Sudan, South Sudan, and the wider East African region.

Despite facing immense challenges and resource constraints, Ansara has become a beacon of hope, empowering local communities and fostering resilience in the face of adversity.

The core issue that Asha Mohammed and her organization, Ansara, grappled with was the devastating humanitarian crisis that plagued Sudan and its neighboring regions.

Decades of civil war, ethnic tensions, and political instability had left millions of people displaced, impoverished, and vulnerable to various threats.

One of the most pressing challenges was the lack of access to basic healthcare services. Conflict zones and remote areas were severely underserved, with limited medical facilities, personnel, and resources.

This resulted in high rates of preventable diseases, malnutrition, and maternal and child mortality. Furthermore, the influx of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) overwhelmed existing aid efforts, creating overcrowded camps with inadequate sanitation and living conditions.

Food insecurity was another critical issue that exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. Prolonged droughts, environmental degradation, and disruptions to agricultural production left many communities on the brink of famine.

Children, in particular, were at heightened risk of malnutrition, which could lead to lifelong developmental and cognitive impairments.

Previous efforts to address these challenges were often fragmented and short-term, failing to address the root causes of the crisis or provide sustainable solutions.

Limited funding, logistical constraints, and ongoing conflicts hindered the effectiveness of aid delivery, leaving many vulnerable populations without access to vital resources and support.

Recognizing the multifaceted nature of the humanitarian crisis, Asha Mohammed and Ansara adopted a holistic and innovative approach to tackle the pressing issues.

Their pivot strategy encompassed several key initiatives:

  1. Establishing Mobile Health Clinics:

    To address the lack of access to healthcare in remote and conflict-affected areas, Ansara launched a network of mobile health clinics.

    These clinics, staffed by dedicated medical professionals, brought essential services directly to underserved communities.

    They provided primary healthcare, maternal and child health services, immunizations, and treatment for common illnesses and injuries.
  2. Implementing Sustainable Agriculture Programs:

    To combat food insecurity and promote self-sufficiency, Ansara initiated sustainable agriculture programs.

    These programs provided training, tools, and resources to help communities establish community gardens, implement water conservation techniques, and adopt sustainable farming practices.

    By empowering local farmers and promoting environmental stewardship, these initiatives aimed to improve food security and resilience in the face of climate challenges.

  3. Expanding Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Projects:

    Access to clean water and proper sanitation is a fundamental human right, yet it remains a significant challenge in many parts of Sudan and the region.

    Ansara prioritized the development and rehabilitation of water sources, such as wells and boreholes, as well as the construction of latrines and handwashing facilities.

    These WASH projects not only improved health outcomes but also fostered dignity and empowerment within communities.

  4. Fostering Community Engagement and Capacity Building: Recognizing the importance of local ownership and sustainability, Ansara placed a strong emphasis on community engagement and capacity building.

    Through training programs, workshops, and participatory approaches, the organization empowered community members to take an active role in identifying their needs, developing solutions, and implementing projects.

    This approach ensured that initiatives were culturally relevant, locally driven, and sustained long after Ansara’s involvement.

  5. Forging Strategic Partnerships: To amplify its impact and leverage resources, Ansara cultivated partnerships with other humanitarian organizations, government agencies, and private sector entities.

    These collaborations enabled the sharing of expertise, resources, and best practices, resulting in more comprehensive and coordinated relief efforts.

By pivoting towards this multifaceted and sustainable approach, Ansara addressed the root causes of the humanitarian crisis, empowered local communities, and laid the foundation for long-term resilience and development.

The Outcomes 

Asha Mohammed’s visionary leadership and Ansara’s innovative strategies have yielded remarkable outcomes in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Sudan and the broader region.

Through their efforts, millions of lives have been impacted, and communities have been empowered to rebuild and thrive.

Beyond the quantitative measures, Ansara’s work has fostered qualitative gains, such as increased community resilience, empowerment of women and marginalized groups, and the promotion of cross-cultural understanding and reconciliation.

Asha Mohammed’s tireless efforts on being a humanitarian leader have earned her numerous accolades, including the International Humanitarian Award from the American Refugee Committee and recognition as one of the 100 Most Influential African Women by Amnesty International.

Key Takeaways on Asha Mohammed’s Humanitarian Leadership

Through Asha’s story, emerging leaders can gain important insights and lessons on how individuals and organizations can contribute to positive change. 

The key takeaways from her humanitarian leadership are as follows:

  1. Identify and address the root cause of the problem. Trying to fix the effects of a bigger problem only gives you a temporary solution. 
  2. Prioritizing community involvement and engagement results in a sense of ownership and responsibility in individuals. This creates a sustainable framework that works long-term.
  3. Strategize operations in a way that involves collaboration and partnerships. This enables organizations to leverage resources and expertise from various perspectives.
  4. Adapt to changes and challenges that come forth. Every hurdle is an opportunity to learn and fins new innovative solutions.
  5. Along with determination and commitment, a humanitarian leader must also lead with compassion. 
  6. It is time marginalized communities are empowered. Asha’s story proves that great leadership and impactful careers can emerge from the most unconventional regions. 

Asha’s story provides inspiration for many women in her community, to being a humanitarian leader. Her determination and willingness to defy conventions that were placed for her is something many young girls can look up to.

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