From Vaughan to Hodan: Ontario School Named after Late Muslim Journalist

A public school board for the Regional Municipality of York in Ontario has decided to rename a secondary school after a late Somali-Canadian journalist who dedicated her life to telling positive stories.

Formerly known as Vaughan Secondary School, the school will now bear the name of Hodan Nalayeh.

Somali militants gunned down Nalayeh in 2019, sparking grief around the world. But her work on highlighting the beauty of her homeland became even more poignant. 

“It is with a heavy-heart and with a deep sense of gratitude that we accept the community’s recommendation and in turn the York Region District School Board’s decision to rename the school in question with Hodan’s name,” Nalayeh’s family told CBC News in a statement on Tuesday night after the vote, CBC reported.

“With it, comes a tremendous responsibility to uplift and support all students, their families and the communities they are a part of whether local to the school or across our great region.”

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Hodan Nalayeh dedicated her life to telling positive stories from a country suffering through decades of civil war, extremist attacks, and famine.

BBC Somali’s Farhan Jimale, who was a friend of Hodan’s, described her as a “bright star and a beautiful soul who represented the best of her people and homeland”.

Inspiration

“Her legacy will be kept alive and the joy of who she was and what she stood for will reverberate through the hallways and the classrooms of this high school and we’ll never forget the sacrifices that Hodan made,” said Shernett Martin, the executive director of ACORN, formerly Vaughan African Canadian Association.

“We celebrate having a hijab-wearing Black Muslim woman in a high school our city,” she added.

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Emily Mills, founder of a group called How She Hustles and a friend of Nalayeh, said it is meaningful “to have somebody that represents, and reflects your community in a way, on a building.”

“Hodan is an inspiration for all of us, you don’t have to be Somali, you don’t have to be female, you don’t have to be from Vaughan, I think she represents the best of what Canada should be about,” she said.

“I think she represents exactly what we need at this time, which is stories of resilience,” she added.

“When you’ve got someone who touches a community, in life and even in their passing, as Hodan did, it just lands a different way and it’s going to resonate in a different way, and I think it’s going to leave a legacy for this generation to relate to and many generations to come.”

Who Is Nalayeh?

Nalayeh was born in the northern Somali city of Las Anod. She moved to Canada on 1984 at the age of six.

While in Canada her father, a former diplomat, worked as a parking attendant, according to an interview she gave to Toronto.com.

In her 30s, Nalayeh studied for a postgraduate degree in broadcast journalism and in 2014 she launched Integration TV, an online platform aimed at the Somali community in Canada and the wider Somali diaspora.

She told the podcast Meaningful Work, Meaningful Life that social media had “changed the game for how people learn about culture”.

“If we don’t become the creators of our own content, we are going to be at the mercy of other people telling the stories of Africa,” she said, according to CBC.