On November 19th I will be traveling to Ethiopia with the organization Salaam Garage (www.salaamgarage.com) as part of a digital storytelling project to help raise awareness of the issue of obstetric fistula and women’s reproductive health. Statistics around childbirth in Ethiopia are heartbreaking: according to UNICEF 1 in 14 women die during pregnancy or childbirth, and 80% of women give birth alone or without the presence of a trained birthing attendant. With poor nutrition, little if any prenatal care, and frequently no medical access, the consequences are devastating for women, families, and communities.
An obstetric fistula is an injury that occurs during labor (frequently for teenage girls) when the baby is too big to fit through the mother’s birth canal. A labor may last for days, resulting in death of the baby, and a hole being torn between the mother’s bladder, vagina, or rectum. Nerve damage may also result. More than 98% of this injury happens as a result of prolonged and obstructed labor, with no medical intervention.
The physical ramifications of being rendered incontinent are difficult enough, but women also experience abandonment by their husbands and villages, rejection from public transportation, and humiliation from their injuries and smell.
The Hamlin Fistula Hospital, begun by Australian gynecologist Dr. Catherine Hamlin, turns no patient with these injuries away. A place is always found, a fully trained and experienced doctor conducts gentle examinations, and treatment plans are made. An average of 3,000 procedures is done every year in the main hospital as well as at four rural outreach centers. Since its establishment, the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital has treated more than 35,000 women with Obstetric Fistula, but the number of patients is still rising.
While in Ethiopia I will visit the Hamlin Fistula Foundation’s hospital in Addis Ababa and the mini hospitals around the countryside. Through photography, video, and interviews I will capture stories of the women and their experiences. I will also meet midwives who have graduated from the new midwife college. I am especially interested in hearing from women who have experienced a Fistula and who are now serving as an advocate for other women.
My goal is to use digital storytelling as a medium to raise awareness and facilitate conversations and to share the message with individuals and organizations willing to step forward to add their support to the voiceless.
Through my journey, interviews, images, stories, and efforts I am supporting the Hamlin and Fistula Foundations to eradicate obstetric fistula and to improve life for women in Ethiopia and the rest of the world. My sincere hope is that more women will have access to the birthing care and surgeries that they need in order to save their babies’ lives and preserve their own.
Please support me with this important project! Your generous donation will allow me to share the word as broadly as possible.
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