From Nov18-Dec10, I will be creating a photography documentary examining the role of survivors of obstetric fistula on communities in various areas of Ethiopia. I will be working closely with Salaam Garage and the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals and Hamlin Fistula International (NGO) to gain access to patients who have been able to make the journey from their villages to receive treatment for this horrific maternal health condition (for which surgery is a girl's only option). The purpose of the project is to help raise awareness of obstetric fistula by examining the role that the survivor plays in helping educate other women and villages on the importance of family planning and safe motherhood. I will also be working with Healing Hands of Joy, a non profit founded by one of the coproducers of the 2009 Emmy Award winning documentary on obstetric fistula in Ethiopia, "A Walk to Beautiful." We will be examining the difficulties women have reintegrating back into their communities.
Upon completion, I plan on speaking and presenting the work to various organizations and in public spaces and galleries. (All sponsors and donors names will be mentioned/presented.)
What is obstetric fistula? What is it like being a women in Ethiopia?
A woman in Ethiopia has a life expectancy of only 45 years. Maternal and child mortality is some of the highest in the world.
For the 29 million women who live in the rural Ethiopia, marrying and starting a family in the early teenage years is considered a normal occurrence. Unfortunately, pregnancy as a result of rape is also common. Due to poverty and very limited access to healthcare (the nearest hospital may be a hundreds of miles away), over 90% of childbirths occur on dirt floors with no medical attendant present. Frequently, serious birth complications occur due to obstructed labor. Often times the women is so malnourished and/or underdeveloped that her birth canal is too small to deliver successfully. The baby often becomes "stuck" in the birth canal and the girl may be in labor for up to a week, only to deliver a stillborn. She may be left with tear between her bladder and vagina, her rectum and vagina, or both, called obstetric fistula. As a result, she is rendered incontinent of urine and/or feces - most often at all times.
This condition takes a massive emotional toll as well. It often leaves her alone, feeling isolated and ashamed. Sometimes, her husband and family shun her, believing the condition is the result of possession by malicious spirits and most likely forcing her to live in a makeshift hut isolated from others. Her dignity and self worth are shattered. Thinking there is no cure, she often contemplates suicide. If she can manage to make it to a hospital (which may be a week's walk away) there is hope.
To see my most recent project on female refugee farmers and their families living and working in Kansas City, KS, please visit: http://www.saraforrestphoto.com/nrfr.html
- (49 days)