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Shadia is engineering change in her homeland

Somaliland’s first female electrical engineer is a role model for other young women wanting to help in the country’s development.

Shadia dreamed that her family household in Somaliland (1) would have cheap and high-quality electricity. Against considerable odds, and only after long years of struggle and training, the lights are now on in her home.

A struggle from the start

Born in Hargeisa in 1994, Shadia began challenging expectations early, through education. Her schooling journey started at Guryo-Samo Primary School, but was cut short by civil war, forcing her to flee the country with her family and find safe haven in Ethiopia. The moment the civil war was brought to a halt, the family returned home and Shadia resumed her schooling at the same school. She did well, achieving high grades all the way through, and she secured a place at university.

Having the spark to keep going

The university was quite a different world for Shadia. She faced unforeseen challenges from her community, particularly when she decided to join the electrical engineering school. People thought that electrical engineering belonged to men, and that women should study ‘soft’ courses, like management. But Shadia showed singular determination: “Unlike others, I had no role models to emulate,” she says. “I lived with the reality that there were no other female engineers in my country.”

A time to celebrate

Although her neighbours and extended family did not believe that Shadia would succeed with her studies, she believed in herself, and soldiered on. Shadia was passionate about Maths and Physics, and did not find any difficulty in completing her degree. Finally, she appeared in front of the guests during the graduation ceremony as the first and only female who had studied Electrical Engineering in Somaliland’s recent history, and with first class honors!

Trained up but nowhere to go

Shadia now proudly talks about her struggles, while sitting under a tree, overlooking the family home where she connected the electricity. They no longer have the worry of being ‘cut off'. But even after graduation it was not easy for Shadia to gain the practical experience she needed to become an Electrical Engineer. Local companies were reluctant to provide internship opportunities for her and Shadia began to lose heart: "I doubted myself if I will ever graduate and get a job within electrical engineering," she said.

Finding inspiration and support

Shadia's mother was the greatest inspiration; she believed in her daughter and left no stone unturned until she had made her dream partly come true. With support from her lecturer Engineer Liibaan Mohamoud from the Gollis University, she realized she could explore great heights in her engineering career.

Living the dream

Shadia has finally come closer to her long-time dream of providing cheap electricity not just for her family, but also for her local people. She currently works for the US Agency for International Development as an energy specialist helping local people to get clean and cheap energy. And Shadia is keen to be the role model for others that she didn’t have: “Seeing another woman in my profession is a big dream for me,” she says. “It is not a difficult job for a woman, and there is no particular skills set for men!”

Shadia wishes for Somaliland youth to be resilient in achieving their dreams. No dream, she believes, is too big to have. “Fear is not part of my life. I conquer the fear itself,” she proudly remarks.

Shadia’s story is part of the multiyear campaign, kicked off on International Youth Day 2019 by the Empower Youth for Work program and the Work in Progress! alliance. The campaign aims to support the national influencing work of the respective programs by joining forces with local role models. The ripples of #Iwasthere are spreading out around the world and these stories are proof that change can happen anywhere – we hope they will inspire you, too, to become an active citizen. 

 1 Somaliland is a self-declared-state, internationally recognized as a part of Somalia.  

Why these stories?

There are more young people today than ever before in the history of the world; 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 worldwide, and 90% of them live in low-income countries. . Harnessing the energy and strength of young women and men to become active citizens is core to Oxfam's goal of transformational change.

With their energy, skills and creativity, young people have the potential to be the driving force for social change, strong economies and vibrant democracies. 

Oxfam is working jointly with youth to challenge barriers that prevent them from


Enjoying their rights


Participating fully in society


Being an effective voice in decision-making processes