The Internship That Changed My Life


Since I am in the education field, a lot of people were surprised by my interest in interning with the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS), an organization that is not known to specialize in education; and more importantly why Mogadishu, Somalia, the most “dangerous” city in the world. It was hard to convince family and friends in regards to my decision of traveling across continents to simply do internship while many organizations specializing in education in much “safer” cities were willing to give me an opportunity. However, one thing was certain: my desire to come and experience Mogadishu overpowered the lack of safety.

Although I identify myself as a Somali, I spent most of my life in Minnesota, United States. While I was growing up, the idea of working and living in Somalia seemed distant. Somalia to me was the ghost country, where people perish regularly. Working and living in Somalia was not an idea that I entertained before accepting this internship with HIPS.

As a leading think tank in Somalia, HIPS thrives in the area of policy research and analysis. Their reports and policy briefs are widely cited and discussed. As an entity started by young Somalis from the Diaspora, their work inspired many people like me to reconsider assumptions and perceptions about Mogadishu and Somalia in general.

I had been following the work of the HIPS nearly a year before I started my graduate studies. Thus, interning with them was indeed a dream come true. HIPS’ mission “to inform public policy through research and analysis, and to promote a culture of education” neatly fits into my research and career objectives. That’s why my 2014 summer will have a special place in my heart.

HIPS’ internship program, unique in Mogadishu, has been admitting an intern once every three months. Four others have graduated from the program before me. But I was the first to earn a full credit course for the program. That a small think tank in Mogadishu would be a vital part of my education is a major achievement for both HIPS and myself.

Among other perks, access to key individuals and institutions was vital. HIPS has cultivated an impressive network in Mogadishu. In addition to assisting with their research projects by closely collaborating with senior researchers and directors, I have been given access to many of the people I wanted to interview for my capstone project, which examines the history of higher education in Somalia.

One of the highlights of my time in Mogadishu is my interview with Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, a graduate of the recently reopened Somali National University. I was deeply humbled when the PM accepted my request for an interview while attending a HIPS Special Forum for Ideas, where he was the guest speaker.

Like many people returning to Somalia after more than two decades in the Diaspora, I was anxious about working in Mogadishu. I anticipated a rough ride and an uncomfortable working space. To my surprise, I found HIPS facility more than comfortable. Staff were extraordinarily professional and courteous. I observed during the first weekly staff meeting I attended the warmth of my new colleagues. Everyone gave me descriptions of what projects they were working on. The sheer dedication of staff to their assignment, despite the inordinate flexibility, struck me.

I shared an office with a Senior Researcher from Minnesota named Daud Ed Osman, and Associate Researcher Mahad Abdullahi. I supported their research projects. In addition to being exceptionally gentle, they were generous with their experiences and immense knowledge. We bonded together and became good friends. We’d joke a lot and get serious when we must.

Life in Mogadishu can be tough. Security is still a main problem. But the news media doesn’t do justice to portray the city objectively. The capital is a city full of beautiful history and vigorous people. Walking through the city, the buildings with bullets holes tell the richness of Mogadishu; however, it is often hard for people to look beyond the bullet holes and imagine how historically vibrant Mogadishu was. I realized how normal life is for the average Somali citizen that I crossed paths with. Whether it was at the little gym by the beach that I often visited, football at Benadir Stadium, interviewing former graduates of Somalia National University for my project or simply taking a walk at the famous and exuberant Lido Beach.

Coming to Mogadishu this summer forever changed my life for the better. I have come to appreciate life, recognize my privilege, and most importantly discovered my identity. The overall experience made my life more meaningful. On the other hand, I gained invaluable work experience and got exposed to people from different walks of life. For example, talking to the Somali PM and the children in Banadir Stadium gave me different outlook of Mogadishu.

Unlike many Diaspora Somalis, I didn’t come to Mogadishu to “change” it. To the contrary, the city changed me drastically. I received practical perspectives on life, war and peace. I no longer believe in the media narrative which depicts the city as irrecoverably violent and its people as beyond repair. The complexity of the city gave me a nuanced view of things.

I will forever be grateful to the HIPS family for taking a leap of faith in me, and for inspiring and encouraging me to “harness the power of ideas for a better Somalia” as the HIPS tagline goes.

Saida Hassan was a summer intern at HIPS and a graduate student at the University of Minnesota Education Department.


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  1. Avatar Abdullahi Marka
    Posted September 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    I am excited of hearing such words from a young Somali lady who most of her life spent in USA, and I welcome everyone who likes to visit Somalia and participate the changes that Somalis would like to see. thanks to Heritage institute

  2. Avatar Mohamed Abdullahi Al
    Posted September 2014 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    its pleasure to hear this wonderful information.

  3. Avatar Ali MAK
    Posted September 2014 at 1:43 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing the positive side and imagine of Mogadishu and Somalia. Despite having branded as one of the deadliest cities in the world, Mogadishu has something to offer.

  4. Avatar hassan sabrie
    Posted October 2014 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    we are proud of like you….

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