“I was born to a pastoral family, and I herded goats as a child, and I fell in love with that life,’ said Fatima Jibrell.
It is with great honor we announce that Fatima JIbrell, Adeso’s founder and a leading environmentalist, will be awarded the 2014 Champions of the Earth award for her tireless effort to protect Somalia’s fragile pastoral environment. The Champions of the Earth is the United Nations’ flagship environment award that recognizes outstanding visionaries and leaders in the fields of policy, science, entrepreneurship and civil society action. Fatima, the 2014 laureate for the field of Science and Innovation, will be recognized at a prestigious Award Ceremony held at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC., USA, on November 19th.
Born into a nomadic pastoral family, Fatima Jibrell’s love for the environment and her people started at an early age. Growing up, every year her and her family would move in search of grazing land, and as a young girl she herded goats and sheep, and slept on top of camels. In 1991, as the civil war broke out in Somalia, Fatima was living in Connecticut at the time, with her husband and five young daughters, and quickly became devastated by what was happening to her land and her people. To turn her vision of peace and conservation into reality, Fatima founded Adeso (then called the Horn of Africa Relief and Development Organization, and later Horn Relief), a non-governmental organization dedicated to working with African communities to create environments in which they can thrive. After trying for some time to advocate and raise funds from within the United States, she eventually made the bold decision to move her family back to Somalia, at a time where most people were fleeing the country. Fatima felt that if things were to change for the better, Somalis like herself needed to help make a difference on the ground.
From the beginning, Fatima mobilized local and international resources to protect Somalia’s pastoral environment. The challenges then, as now, were significant. Pastoralists relied heavily on a healthy environment to endure Somalia’s unpredictable and harsh climate. Yet the impact of the civil war led to the breakdown of natural resource management systems, jeopardizing a traditional way of life. It was Fatima who saw the connection between peace, women’s empowerment, resource protection, and the need to equip communities with skills – an understanding that continues to drive her work today.
Fatima’s work to build peace, advocate for better environmental practices, and protect the livelihoods of Somalia’s pastoralists was recognized in 2002 when she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, the most prestigious grassroots environmental award. In 2007, Fatima’s work earned her more international acclaim and she won the National Geographic/Buffet Award for Leadership in African Conservation.
Her vision of a peaceful and healthy Somalia continues to inform the work of Adeso today. While Fatima has retired from Adeso, she remains an active member of the organization’s US and Kenyan Board. In addition, the legacies of her work continue to flourish in the institutions she has helped put in place, and the legislations that she has helped pass, including the ban on charcoal exports in Puntland and the 30% minimum women’s representation enshrined in the new Somali Constitution. By working with communities to foster bottom-up change, Fatima has ensured that she builds capacity for action that will outlast her work.
Fatima is an excellent example of what it means to be a women, an environmentalist, a lover of peace and of her country. Her life and achievements are worthy of celebration and recognition. We would like to take this time to thank Fatima for all her hard work and dedication! Congratulations from the team here at Adeso