I Remember My Lost Leg: The Story of Istahil

by Dahib Mohamad Odwaa [ Handicap International ]

As a young girl of just 11 years, Istahil Ismail Ali's life was changed in an instant when she became the victim of a landmine explosion and lost her leg. The author tells of her challenges and the hardships her family has suffered as a result, while also describing the proactive measures Istahil has taken to combat this injustice.

In 1991 the Somali National Movement held a meeting in Burao with community elders and declared Somaliland an independent state from the rest of Somalia. Upon this announcement, the refugees who formerly lived in the eastern Somali refugee camps of Ethiopia returned to their original hometowns.

Istahil Ismail Ali and her family were among the refugees who repatriated from Ethiopian refugee camps in eastern Hararge. In September 1996, when Istahil was aged 11, she and her friend Hana Yousuf Nour were looking after seven goats belonging to her family when she stepped on an anti-personnel mine near her home. Istahil suffered severe injuries all over her body.

Istahil was hospitalised for three months in the Burao Hospital and had her left leg amputated. After she left the hospital, she did not recover very well from the surgery and returned to Burao Hospital. The doctors advised that she would get better treatment in Hargeisa Group Hospital, which was better equipped than the Burao Hospital. Therefore, Istahil's mother, Haali Mohamed Aateye, took her to Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, where she was admitted to HGH. After two days, the doctors told her that she would undergo surgery on her left leg again to remove some remaining debris. Istahil and her mother spent 45 days in HGH and had to pay the cost of the surgery and the medicine.

Prior to the accident, Istahil's mother had sold small foodstuffs such as sugar, tea, wheat flour, maize and peanuts on the street, and her father was a policeman. Together, they earned approximately two to three dollars (US) per day, but when Istahil got injured, her mother stopped selling items and followed her daughter to the hospital.

Istahil said, "I am thankful to my grandmother and my uncles on my father's side who sold for me one camel and approximately 30 sheep, which [were worth] 800 and 900 U.S. dollars [respectively]." She felt this was too much money to pay for a person who recently returned from refugee life.

The doctors transferred Istahil again, this time to a rehabilitation centre run by Handicap International in Hargeisa. Istahil was in the rehabilitation centre for four months and received physiotherapy for her muscles below the knee, above the amputation area. After the exercise, the Rehabilitation Centre transferred her to the Somaliland Red Crescent Society where she received an artificial leg. It took two months for her to adapt to the artificial leg and begin walking well.

Formerly a third grader in primary school in Burao, Istahil was unable to continue her education and left school due to the long period of hospitalisation and suffering from the landmine accident. Istahil and her mother went back to Burao where Istahil used to assist her mother with housework. She was unable to help with this task when she first returned home.

In 1999 at the age of 14 after being out of school for three years, Istahil started to study again and went to an adult education centre named Ali Jama Primary and Intermediate School. She attended for nine months, but she could not continue due to financial constraints. Istahil left the school and a few months later she was given a free, three-month course in beekeeping and learned how to produce honey. The course was funded by Handicap International and implemented by a local nongovernmental organisation called Somaliland Handicap Association.

In 2001, Istahil returned for six months to a school run by a women's club, where she studied handcrafts such as how to weave hats, children's clothes, socks and decorative items for the home. Istahil also continued to increase her knowledge of English, math and Arabic.

In late 2003, she thought about the disabled women like her who do not have access to education and decided to do something about it. "I always remember my leg when I see my friends who graduated from the universities," she says.

Image 1
Istahil Ismail Ali suffered from a landmine explosion as a little girl and lost her leg. Photo Courtesy of Handicap International

Istahil and her friends, Aneb and Saynab, founded the Somaliland Women and Children with Disability Organisation, which helps disabled women and children participate in or get access to education. They started with a morning program for 20 children from four years of age to eight years of age who never went to school, and an afternoon session for 20 disabled women. They now serve 180 disabled children with seven teachers. Bullet


HeadshotDahib Mohamed Odwaa is the Mine Risk Education Project Manager for Handicap International in Hargeisa, Somaliland. He has been working in the field of MRE since November 1997, when he became MRE Education Officer for Handicap International in Ethiopia. He also worked in the Somali refugee camps of eastern Ethiopia. He transferred from HI Ethiopia to HI Somaliland in June 2001, serving as Assistant Program Manager. He also helped develop MRE projects funded by UNICEF and Ireland Aid in 2005–2006.


  1. Landmine Impact Survey conducted by Danish Demining Group in 2002 estimated the population 73,026.

Contact Information

Dahib Mohamed Odwaa
Mine Risk Education Project Manager
Handicap International
26 June, Near WHO Office.
Hargeisa / Somaliland
Tel: + 252 2 52 12 02
Mobile: +252 2 440 31 84
E-mail: hihargeisamre@yahoo.fr