Nancy Sabin Survives Somali Bombs

Amanda Sabin, Staff Writer

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When the ceiling of her compound crumbled down around her, Nancy Sabin didn’t stop to think about saving the few personal belongings she kept in her room, or the terrorist motives behind the attack. Instead, she immediately sprang into action, running into the courtyard to count who was safe and who needed medical attention.

This wasn’t the first time Sabin had been threatened by members of the community where her compound was located. She was working as a Health Officer for World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization, in the city of Baidoa in Somalia, a poor country in East Africa. Sabin and her team would spend most days driving out to rural areas and “training nurses in basic care and diagnosis, and then [they] also did immunizations,” however, they were not always welcome in Baidoa. “We had guards 24 hours a day because of the danger,” Sabin said.

One day after Christmas, on December 26, 1993, her group received a hostile note. Marco Meneses, Sabin’s fellow health officer in Somalia, described it on his website. “Members of our agency found…a letter…warning all the international agencies in Baidoa, not to celebrate any Christian or religious holidays; if we did, they would retaliate against us.”

On February 2, 1994, somewhere between 15 and 30 kilograms of dynamite exploded in the wall of the compound. After escaping her room unscathed, Sabin noticed that Meneses was buried in rubble, as his room had been directly adjacent to the explosion. “I had just given a first aid class to my Somali guards, like five days ahead of time, and they did exactly what I taught them to do…they pulled him out of the rubble, and we stabilized him on a dining room table,” she said, proudly. Once Meneses had been uncovered, he was transported by truck to a United Nations medical facility housed in a tent. From there, he was airlifted to a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, where he spent two weeks before flying to Chicago because “his care was so bad in Kenya, I spent 16 hours a day with him every day, trying to protect him,” Sabin told me. She took it upon herself to keep him alive when the medical equipment and staff were not sufficient to properly heal him.

Caring for Meneses took a toll on Sabin, but she could finally relax when he was admitted to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. “I’m not crying because I’m sad, I’m crying because I’m happy. I’ve been responsible for him for the last ten days, so scared that he was going to die…I’m just so happy to have him safe, and with people who know what they’re doing,” she told the nurse who found her crouched in a hallway after Meneses was in care of the doctors. She was allowed to stay in a room for bedridden cancer patients that was empty at the time, and her best friend and sister flew out from California to visit her. World Vision offered to send her home, but Sabin’s heart was still with the children of Somalia; she returned several days later to continue serving them. Sabin remained in Somalia for five more months before she returned to San Diego to work in an inner city clinic with the refugee population, including Somali refugees.

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