Short Docs·Profile

'Don't dim your light': Life lessons I learned from the late Somali-Canadian journalist Hodan Nalayeh

She was a tireless entrepreneur who dared to dream and highlighted positive stories from the Somali community.

She was a tireless entrepreneur who dared to dream and highlighted positive stories from the Somali community

Hodan Nalayeh sits in sunshine on a rooftop in Somalia.
New CBC Short Doc conveys one woman’s passion for telling positive and diverse stories . (Corex Creative Inc. )

Hodan Nalayeh was many things. She was a single mother of two young boys. She was a journalist. She was a bright light and a big dreamer who wanted to share positive stories from Somali communities with the world — so she started her own online platform to do just that.

For Dwayne Holness, director of the CBC Short Doc Hodan's Story, she was, above all, a friend. 

She wanted to report not what was going wrong, but highlight what was going right.- Dwyane Holness, Director of Hodan's Story

Holness and Nalayeh met when she was trying to launch Integration TV, an English-language online channel for the Somali community. 

"I didn't see diverse stories about the Somali-Canadian community," says Nalayeh in a television interview featured in the documentary. "And that's why we started this [channel]: to showcase what the Somali community is about, the success they've had, the contributions they've made." 

Holness was inspired by Nalayeh's vision. "[She] wanted to report not what was going wrong, but highlight what was going right," he says in the film. 

"It connected with me that Hodan was on the same mission [as I was], and that mission was just [to] add beauty to the world." 

The two became friends and, eventually, collaborators.

After the success of Integration TV, which went on to garner nearly 100,000 subscribers and millions of views, Nalayeh — ever the dreamer — wanted to do more. She invited Holness, a videographer and founder of multimedia production company Corex Creative, to travel to Somalia with her in 2016, so they could tell positive and hopeful stories from a country that the media often portrays as dangerous and lawless. 

She wanted to report not what was going wrong, but highlight what was going right | Hodan's Story

4 months ago
Duration 1:00
Hodan Nalayeh wanted to tell the positive stories she saw in the Somali community, so she launched Integration TV. With it's success, she wanted to take it further, traveling to her birth country of Somalia.

The pair ultimately traveled back and forth to Somalia together for four years, as Nalayeh reconnected with people there. They also shared the stories of members of the Somali diaspora back in Canada and around the world. 

In 2019, Nalayeh traveled again to Somalia, but Holness was unable to join her on that trip. While in the coastal city of Kismayo, Nalayeh was tragically killed in a hotel bombing

Holness remembers Nalayeh as a tireless entrepreneur who dared to dream, and as a mentor whose attitude and approach to life made a lasting impression on him. Speaking with CBC Docs, Holness shared some of the life lessons he took from their time together. 

Your story is worth more than any product

Holness vividly remembers a conversation with Nalayeh in Somalia when she told him that she wasn't "out there to sell a product" — that personal stories were worth more than anything on the market. 

"It's important to find the beauty in any story you tell about yourself, because it can have many impacts on the people you share it with," said Holness.

Watch out for dream-killers

"Many kids give up on their dreams because of their parents or other adults in their lives," said Holness. "Maybe the parents don't understand, or maybe they're concerned about financial security or their child's future." 

Nalayeh's advice to others, he said, was to protect your dreams. "Avoid those who may portray a more negative view of life."

Don't be afraid to take risks

Holness said he and Nalayeh shared the belief that life is only worth living if you continue to overcome your fears. "Many people settle for the life they have because they don't believe they can achieve the life they deserve — don't be one of those people," said Holness. 

"Without taking risks, you'll never know who you're meant to be." 

Don't dim your light for anyone

Nalayeh believed that the more you're able to let your light shine, the more the world will open up to your desires. "The journey won't be easy, but it will be worth it. So continue to push past the fear of shining 'too bright,'" said Holness. 

"Allow yourself to let your flame burn. You may be misunderstood a lot of the time, but that's OK. When God called, you were the one who picked up. So keep going."

Hodan's Story is also part of the Absolutely Canadian series with its debut telecast on Saturday October 8th at 8pm on CBC TV in Ontario and live streams for free on CBC Gem.

Watch Hodan's Story.

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