Hodan Nayaleh's life cut short by violence that plagues Somalia
July 24, 2019
With civil war looming, Hodan Nalayeh’s parents fled Somalia in 1984 with their 11 children.
Just after nearly three decades leading a successful life in Canada where the last of the 12 siblings was born, the media practitioner and entrepreneur moved back to her birth country last year to capture and share uplifting stories.
“I’m here to post the good of my country and people because I believe my country and people are good,” she said in a May 9 tweet. “We have been thinking the worst of ourselves for 30 years. Now is the time to change how we think. Change your mindset, change your life.”
Sadly, the recently re-married mother of two boys’ life was cut short by the violence that has plagued Somalia for years.
Nalayeh and her husband were among 26 people killed when terrorists stormed the Asasey Hotel in Kismayo, a port city about 528 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu.
She was 43.
“Losing members of the community (especially in media) is always difficult, but this really broke my heart,” said tech advocate and freelance writer Andray Domise in a Facebook post. “Not only did Hodan lead with her heart in representing positive, uplifting stories from the Somali diaspora, but she always made sure to check in with Black journalists and offer messages of support. We lost a real one today.”
Nalayeh earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Windsor where her classmates included filmmaker Ryan Singh, Detroit Pistons Senior Director of Public Relations Cletus Lewis Jr., Caribbean Vibrations TV Executive Producer Alain Arthur and motivational speaker/entrepreneur Noel Walrond.
“I remember her as being one of the most beautiful and welcoming persons I interacted with,” said Singh. “Wherever we were on campus, striking up a conversation was easy. She always had a lovely smile and never seemed too busy to spend time with me. We kept in contact through Facebook. I called her when she'd moved to the US and I visited with her when I got to Los Angeles in 2009. When Hodan returned to Canada, we reconnected. She hired me as a segment producer for some of her Integration TV pieces and I shot photos of her for the promotion of her shows. We talked about the social impact of her show and the direction she wanted to go. When Hodan decided to celebrate her roots, religion and culture, we captured that as well on camera. It was always a joy to work with her. She was fair and generous with her time and energy. I had even invited myself once to travel with her to Turkey and she discouraged me, citing the dangerous environment it was. She was brave and followed her stories passionately, but cared enough not to put others in danger. Hodan was powerful and her stories and messages will live on.”
Lewis said Nalayeh represented all that was good in people.
“She really cared about others and I remember her taking younger students under her wings and serving as a mentor,” said the 2000 graduate. “She was always passionate about being a voice for the voiceless, so I wasn’t surprised to see her continue along that career path. That passion and her personality made her endearing and led to her hosting a very popular radio show on campus. Never shy about showcasing her culture, Hodan was an ambassador for Somalia on a campus that was very well represented by Somalian students.”
Arthur noted that Nalayeh was a fearless warrior and true champion for her country.
“She was very focussed, determined and someone who never allowed anything to stand in her way,” he added.
In a Facebook post, Walrond expressed heartbreak.
“Hodan was always a bright light,” he pointed out. “She was a warm, loving, generous, brilliant and hardworking person who was committed to bringing together the Somali community. This one hits hard. A true friend and warrior for humanity is gone.”
Two days before Nalayeh died, she spent the day on Llisi Island in the Somali Sea and – in her last twitter posts – talked about her country’s beauty, developing a passion for photography and sharing photos with her twitter family.
“Hodan loved her country so much and she dedicated her life to showing the beauty of Somalia,” said ByBlacks.com. Editor-in-Chief Camille Dundas. “What I will remember the most about her was how she never backed down from defending her ability to love her country, religion and freedom all at the same time. She fought for women, she fought for equality and she fought for representation.”
In a 2016 interview, she told me that her father chose Canada over Norway and Australia because of its education system.
The family spent eight years in Edmonton before coming to the Greater Toronto Area.
“Though there were few Blacks and Somalis in Edmonton at the time, the community was very welcoming,” she said. “My dad was a parking lot attendant and that had to be difficult for him, but he and my mom did what was best to ensure that their children succeeded.”
Her father was a diplomat in Somalia where the family lived in a residence with a swimming pool and had five chauffeurs at their disposal.
“We had it all,” Nalayeh, who this year was named among the Top 30 Africa Communications Professionals to Follow, pointed out.
Intrapreneur Naki Osutei met Nalayeh at West Humber Collegiate Institute.
“She was as kind as she was beautiful,” said the TD Bank Global Corporate Citizenship Vice-President, Partnerships & Engagement. “More recently, I watched her brilliant moves from afar and was so happy to see her finding herself more and more. Her show focused on telling stories of Somalia in ways not often depicted by mass media.”
After completing her undergraduate degree, Nalayeh pursued Broadcast Journalism post-graduate certificate studies at Seneca College and launched the Cultural Integration Agency that specialized in the development, production, marketing and distribution of multicultural programs.
The company’s flagship program, Integration TV, was the first English language online TV connecting Somali communities of diverse backgrounds to share inspiring stories.
“I learnt at an early age that people who run this world are the ones who control the voice of the world,” she said. “You have to learn how to be storytellers for your community.”
In 2014, Nalayeh’s agency collaborated with Cameraworks Productions International to produce a weekly 30-minute television show targeted to the Somali community.
She was among 30 mothers recognized three years ago for transforming families through inspiration, empowerment and support.
Emily Mills organized the event through ‘How She Hustles’, an online movement she started in 2010 to provide a forum for women to network.
“Hodan wasn’t just another bright light in the world,” said Mills. “She was a brilliant shining star that illuminated the universe. Her signature smile, magnetic spirit, commitment to community and gift for storytelling captivated a global audience. I am so thankful that I met Hodan and was able to learn about the woman behind the brand through our common journey as wives, mothers and media professionals. She transformed the media landscape for all of us and touched lives around the world in ways we have yet to fully appreciate.”
Pregnant at the time of her death, Nalayeh left behind two boys, aged 10 and seven.
“Motherhood is an amazing experience,” she once said. “It is also one of the hardest jobs. We are a different generation of women in that we want it all. In addition to our responsibilities to our children, we have big dreams and goals and we have to find ways to manage all of these things while raising our kids. The rearing of children is probably one of the most important jobs we will ever do.”
A highly sought after speaker, Nalayeh was scheduled to make a presentation at the African Women in Media Conference & Festival from July 25-27 at the University of Nairobi in Kenya.
She and her husband – businessman and former regional minister Farid Jama Suleiman – tied the nuptial knot last November in Nairobi.
The Somalia government announced it will award a prize annually in Nalayeh’s name to a Somalian making outstanding contributions in the diaspora.