BY: ALYSSA MAHADEO
2017 was a huge year for women. They decided it was time to stand up for their rights, make their voices heard, and most importantly of all love and put themselves first above all else.
No stranger to speaking her mind, and sharing her beliefs is Hodan Nalayeh, a proud Somalian woman, an influential public figure, speaker and journalist who has changed Somali society with refreshing content that uplifts the spirit and shares pioneering stories.
Born in Somalia, Hodan Nalayeh emigrated to Canada at six years old where she and her large family initially settled in Edmonton, Alberta. She was raised by her parents amongst four brothers and seven sisters, who bound them closely together under the values of honesty, integrity, hard work and education.
After moving to Toronto, Hodan attended West Humber Collegiate Institute in Etobicoke. She always held an interest in the Media but didn’t have the confidence or resources to pursue it.
“I was interested in Media, but never pursued it because as a woman, and a person of color I didn’t have the right contacts, I didn’t know how to get started and sharing your personal stories aren’t sometimes things that are very powerful because people want you to cover mainstream topics when you are a reporter.”
Hodan pursued her post-secondary education at the University of Windsor, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Communications. Years later in her late 30’s she went back to school as a single parent with two children to pursue broadcast journalism at Seneca College and started learning how to create her own content, and building her own audience.
Hodan says that it was a scandal involving former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and the Somali community that prompted her to seriously consider revisiting her ambition to become a media influencer.
“When I saw how the Somali community was portrayed in the Rob Ford scandal I knew that there was more to our community, and I realized that we needed to share our stories in order change our image of the community not only to change how other people see them but also how they view themselves.”
In March 2014 Hodan launched her own TV network called Integration TV. Its mission was to inspire and connect Somalis and share inspiring stories about Somali people who young impressionable minds could look up to as role models in the community.
Integration TV is the first English language television network connecting communities of diverse backgrounds to share stories that enhance society. They’re committed to setting a new standard for content, where not immediately in the community and those closely affiliated with the communities benefit from shared stories.
“Integration TV’s goal is to guide people to do good things in this world and part of that is also doing that yourself,” Hodan explains that she took time and went back to her homeland of Somalia to rediscover her roots, and during that time developed more spirituality and decided to become a comfortable fully practicing Muslim. She began to confidently don her headscarf.
“I look at religion as a personal jewellery the journey to get closer to your creator starts with you, religion comes from the heart, it doesn’t come from outside influence,” Hodan resolves.
Spending time in Somalia Hodan was inspired by the bright young minds that she encountered there, and knew something needed to be done about the image of her people that was constantly being encouraged by the media. Due to the conditions and circumstances in the country, Somali people have always been portrayed as people who come from a country of violence, and war, they are painted as refugees and seeing their young people kill each other are images that society has become accustomed to.
“I chose to inspire Somalis around the world with my work for the mere fact that I saw that my community was struggling around the world with their media identity and the way they were portrayed in the media,” Hodan explains.
“I empowered myself and went back to school to study Broadcast Journalism and four years ago launched Integration TV which is now a worldwide platform for Somali successful stories and stories of hope and resilience, not just in Canada, but also in Africa as well.”
Today Hodan has over 4.5 million views on YouTube and a TV show that airs across Canada on OMNI Television a feat she didn’t believe she could achieve. Hodan says that her proudest accomplishment is hearing from the younger generation living in Somalia when they tell her they’ve watched her on YouTube and they are inspired to take action through hearing her words.
Her audience has grown to a worldwide Muslim audience, also empowering Muslim women or women who don’t think of themselves as career women to change their image of who they can be and the unlimited possibilities for who they want to be in this world.
“You have to stop caring what other people think about you in order to achieve your goals, people are always going to critique you as a creator, they are always going to have something to say whether they like it or not it doesn’t matter, it’s what you put out into the world that makes a difference,” Hodan says confidently.
“I pretty much believe you can do anything you put your mind to, it just that so many women are scared to take that leap of faith, scared to do something that they aren’t used to doing,” she explains.
As a single parent with two children, Hodan understands why some women feel like they can’t take the time to build a career for themselves, and she says the key is in prioritizing what’s most important to you.
“If a woman who has two children can decide to start her goals anyone can too.” Hodan proclaims.
“Too many people count themselves out because of their age but they don’t realize that we’re living longer and you have so many years ahead of you so it’s never too late to push through anything you want to do in this life.”
Looking toward the future Hodan hopes to become an accomplished and published author, and inspire more people around the world journey to build their confidence and self-esteem.breaking breaking bre
She wants people to stop caring what other people think and wants to open more avenues in Somali like the Mogadishu Book Fair to develop and share knowledge educating young people to live outside the box.
“I want them to know they don’t have to live their reality of hardship and war and believe something is possible for them, they are not a victim of circumstance.”