It was my distinct pleasure to meet a truly incredible young woman named Hawa Abdullah Mohammed Salih last week. Hawa is a 28 year-old human rights activist who has spent her young life fighting for the survival of woman and children in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Last year, Hawa was arrested for the third time on false charges that she was trying to convert Sudanese children to Christianity. Her story became known to a Sudanese immigrant, Ismail Omar, living in Castle Shannon, who brought it to the attention of the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition (PDEC). David Rosenberg and PDEC contacted Pittsburgh City Council, Congressman Doyle, and Senator Casey and asked us for our help to tell her story to high-level United States government officials who might be able to help her. Several months later, we learned that Hawa was free and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department had personally intervened to secure her freedom.
Shortly after her release, Hawa was awarded the 2012 International Woman of Courage award by Secretary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama for her unyielding efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Darfur. On Tuesday, May 22nd, Hawa traveled to Pittsburgh to personally thank those who had helped to secure her release. I don't think it was a letter from Pittsburgh City Council that freed Hawa, but I would like to think that we were a snowflake that started an avalanche and that our efforts to publicize what was happening to her contributed to her eventual freedom. I welcomed her to City Council in the morning and joined her to meet with Congressman Doyle in the afternoon.
This was not the first time that I have worked with Congressman Doyle to help someone who had been wrongly imprisoned in another country. In 2003, we worked together to secure the release of Xiaomei Jia, an engineer and the wife of a University of Pittsburgh professor, who had been sent to a forced labor camp for women in China after passing about fliers about Falun Gong.
I can truly say that Hawa is one of the most amazing, inspiring people I have ever met. She has endured horrors in her 28 years that I can't even imagine, yet she has never stopped fighting and never lost her smile or her spirit. Hawa didn't just come to Pittsburgh to say thank you, she came to remind us that her people are suffering every single day and that we must do more to help. It is the City of Pittsburgh and the rest of the world that should be saying thank you to Hawa Abdullah Mohammed Salih.