Hanna Ahmed: obituary

By Natasha Carver.

(Image: Imanol Villota and MDM)

My friend Hanna Ahmed, who has died aged 34 of lymphoma, was a community volunteer, a campaigner against female genital mutilation (FGM), and a victim-support worker in Bristol.

Hanna was born in Dubai to Somali parents, her father working in the oil industry. Like many Somalis her family had migrated to the Gulf region to take up the opportunities of the booming 1980s economy there, but they were forced out in the downturn following the 1991 Gulf war. Aged 10, Hanna’s first migration was to war-torn Somalia, where she and her family lived for three years until her father was able to raise sufficient funds to send his wife and children to seek safety in the UK. They were never to see him again; he died shortly afterwards.

Hanna was 14 when she arrived in the UK, her family settling in east London. She attended only one year of school, which she found difficult because she could not speak much English.

She did her GNVQs at sixth-form college, and on leaving education in 2004 married Ahmed Hassan, a taxi-driver, and moved to Bristol. She was soon occupied raising their children, and her interaction as a parent with the UK’s schooling system pushed her into an active community role.

From 2011 she was a member, volunteer, support worker and ultimately trustee of Refugee Women of Bristol, supporting those newly arrived in the UK. I met her there, then later worked closely with her at Bristol Somali Forum, for which Hanna was secretary from 2015. There, Hanna’s reputation as a kind yet dynamic person grew as she helped people with everything from recalcitrant landlords to school exclusions and prison visits. Each day she volunteered as a listener, translator, support worker and, above all, as someone to stand in your corner and make sure your voice was heard and your rights upheld.

In 2015 she trained as a community health advocate with the anti-FGM organisation Forward, and her expertise on safeguarding and children’s emotional wellbeing was sought widely. She became a governor at City Academy, an inner-city school serving a diverse community, from March 2018 and also worked at Stand Against Racism and Inequality (2018-19).

As well as attending to individuals’ needs, Hanna helped organise Somali cultural days and helped shape the celebratory, all-welcome grand iftar in the inner-city Easton area of Bristol in 2019. Perhaps her most audacious move was to find funding for a coachload of Bristol-based Somali families to camp at the Tribe of Doris festival; it was so successful that it became a yearly activity.

She never forgot what it was like to be a refugee, and her experience, coupled with a wonderful sense of humour, made Hanna the best kind of community worker and volunteer. She was a compassionate and committed champion of the underdog, who was not afraid to challenge those in power or call out injustice wherever she found it.

She is survived by Ahmed, their four children, Tariq, Maryam, Reem and Bushra, two sisters and two brothers.

Natasha Carver is a Lecturer in International Criminology in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol. She is co-ordinator of the MMB research challenge Bodies, Borders, Justice.

This obituary originally appeared in The Guardian on 18th January 2021. It is republished here courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd.

Please consider donating to this fundraiser to support Hanna’s four young children.

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