10 August 2023
In this newsletter:
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We know many in Australia feel passionate about ending fistula, a debilitating and entirely preventable condition caused by an obstructed childbirth. So many of you ask us, "How do we find all the women affected by this condition, when so many are shunned by society and unable to access support?”
We think Shigo’s story beautifully demonstrates some of the amazing ways we are tackling this problem together. You see, for 28 years, Shigo was one of those ‘hidden women’.
After tragically losing four babies, she was finally blessed with a happy and healthy baby girl. But the labour took its toll on her body. Soon after the birth, while holding her daughter in her arms, she realised she’d lost control of her bladder and bowel. (She didn’t know this at the time but her prolonged and obstructed labour had created severe internal tearing; an obstetric fistula.)
“It's been a long, long years [with fistula],” says Shigo. “The disease itself is one of burden. I couldn’t work. I was too shamed to go out.”
After her husband passed away, she had to raise her child all by herself, without any support. Things got so bad that Shigo didn't have anything to feed her daughter, because nobody wanted anything to do with her.
Then one day, long after her daughter had grown up, Shigo heard a public service announcement on the radio from Healing Hands of Joy (HHOJ) – an announcement that’s funded through your continued support. The message was that there was a cure for fistula and a way for women to reclaim their lives, free from the condition. Hearing this message changed Shigo’s life forever.
Today, Shigo lives free from fistula, thanks to the repair surgery that HHOJ helped her to access. She also decided to take HHOJ’s 12-day Safe Motherhood Ambassador training course to find and prevent cases of fistula in her community. She’s determined to help other ‘hidden women’ just like her to rebuild their lives.
(Normally it costs $555 to train a Safe Motherhood Ambassador but HHOJ fully covers this cost so there is no cost to the women.)
“I will educate my community about fistula,” she says. “I want to become a change maker!”
Over the past 10 years, the city of Debre Berhan in central Ethiopia has undergone rapid urbanisation. There’s no longer any agricultural work available, causing masses of people to migrate to the city looking for opportunities.
As a result, the area is experiencing high levels of poverty, an increase in HIV/AIDs, less access to clean water and sanitation, and high numbers of orphaned and trafficked children.
We’ve been working with long-time partners, Jerusalem Children & Community Development Organisation (JeCCDO) in order to help meet the critical demand for quality education, child protection programs, healthcare and access to business training in the area.
Recently, our three-year contract with JeCCDO wrapped up. But thanks to your continued support, we were able to renew this contract for another three years.
It comes at an urgent time. Due to two years of civil conflict in Ethiopia’s north, it’s estimated there are about 358,000 internally displaced people across the region of Amhara, where Debre Berhan is.
These people – 54% women, many of whom have children – are living in heavily congested displacement camps or with host communities. Cases of gender-based violence and child abuse are exploding.
Did you know, it costs JeCCDO $195 to provide healthcare, legal and housing support to someone who has experienced abuse?
But your backing means abused or exploited women and children can get the care and support they need – and all of JeCCDO’s education, health and training can continue – in this time of urgent need.
Ameseginalehu (thank you) to everyone who pitched in to our tax-time appeal to identify, treat and prevent fistula. Together you raised an incredible $345,885 which is being put to work to:
It costs $1,923 to run a pregnant women’s conference, which teaches women how to access maternity services and the dangers of giving birth at home.
With your help, our partners Healing Hands of Joy plan to run 28 community awareness events in the next six months!
Every gift, no matter how big or small, is having a cumulative impact: that one woman you helped to get fistula surgery can now train as a Safe Motherhood Ambassador, who will then help more women with fistula, who can then train as Ambassadors… and on and on it goes.
And it all started because of your compassion.
Thanks to you, women in the early stages of labour can now wait safely for a hospital bed. Your support this year and last has helped to build two new maternity waiting rooms through project partners, Simien Mountains Mobile Medical Service and Healing Hands of Joy.
With many women from rural areas, far away from health services, by the time they’re able to reach medical care during childbirth (if they’re even able to do so), it’s too late and complications have already occurred.
Now, before their due date, women in the early stages of labour can travel to these waiting rooms, be monitored by health professionals and, when the time comes to give birth, they can be safely shifted to the nearby health clinic.
Thanks for making childbirth safer for women in rural Ethiopia.
Meet Meselech Seyoum, Country Director of maternal health project partners Healing Hands of Joy, in a candid Q&A about fistula in Ethiopia.
Q: How many women are currently living with fistula in Ethiopia?
Meselech: According to a recent estimate by the Federal Minister of Health, over 142,000 women live with fistula in Ethiopia with an additional 9,000 new cases every year.
Q: What’s the youngest age of someone you’ve encountered who has fistula?
Meselech: The youngest I remember was 13. Her name is Emabate. Her fistula was caused by rape. This was a few years back. Luckily we were able to help Emabate. She got cured with the first surgery and then went back to school. She's a grown-up now, almost, and still going to school.
Q: What are the circumstances that lead to a 13-year-old girl developing this condition?
Meselech: Female genital mutilation, malnutrition, early marriage… All these things are contributing factors. It's mainly lack of awareness by people about what the consequences of giving a child up for marriage would be. These girls are physically and emotionally not in a position to have a child; they're practically children themselves. Female genital mutilation also makes it even harder to give birth at this age.
Female circumcision is prohibited by law, but it is still being done. [*Depending on the severity of the cutting, the birth canal may be obstructed and the pregnant women or girl may need to be cut open again to give birth.] Add to this lack of health facilities, inability to access those health facilities and poor nutrition.
These young women and girls are so tiny for their age. That's mainly also because they're not well fed, so the malnutrition is playing another factor.
Q: What work is Healing Hands of Joy doing to prevent fistula and make real, sustainable change?
Meselech: Healing Hands of Joy does rehabilitation, reintegration, identification and prevention. First, we have rehabilitation centres. We can receive up to 15 women at a time [at each centre]. We provide psychological support, life skill support trainings and income generation or business creation/training.
Second, we make sure these women are successfully reintegrated back to their communities. These were women who have been known as someone who is leaking wherever she is going. But now they go back as Safe Motherhood Ambassadors, so that means they can help women who have not had a chance to be treated and also [raise] the community's awareness about fistula. Plus, with the economic support they receive, they can make a living for themselves. For the first time in their lives, these women would be having some money in their own name.
This leads me to the identification of cases. The Safe Motherhood Ambassadors are the most powerful means of finding women who have not been treated. Our Safe Motherhood Ambassadors are amazing; they might be walking for hours and hours just to find one woman.
But the Safe Motherhood Ambassadors are not the only ones identifying the cases, which leads to the bigger prevention aspect of our work. This includes pregnant women conferences, school awareness programs and marketplace awareness creation. In addition, we engage local stakeholders like religious leaders, Women's Affairs Officers and administration, so they're aware and committed to helping our work.
It's all creating a big change; it’s a force that is growing within the community. We have over 2,800 women as Safe Motherhood Ambassadors and millions of people reached each year with awareness messages.
These are just some of the questions we put to Meselech in our recent Q&A. Click here to hear more about the priorities and limitations in the work you’re supporting.
Perhaps we’re biased but we think Ethiopiaid has the most passionate community of supporters in Australia. It certainly felt that way in February, when long-term supporter Maureen from Port Elliott, South Australia, hosted an information session on the back-to-back crises in the Afar region of Ethiopia. She was determined to raise awareness about the atrocities facing the Afar people, including:
Not only did Maureen succeed in spreading the word, she also raised $635 to go towards emergency relief, such as food, medicines and shelter, as well as long-term recovery projects such as the rebuilding of health facilities and agriculture programs.
Thank you so much to Maureen and everyone from Church of Christ in Victor Harbour who took part on the night.
What made this event extra special was that Valerie Browning, the Co-Founder of our project partners, the Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA) was able to attend live via Zoom while our CEO Sharon Elliott was there in person.
“It was incredible for Valerie to see firsthand how dedicated people across Australia are,” Sharon said. “It really helps to see everyday Australians standing in solidarity with the Afar people and doing what we can to bring some relief to this region.”
75 women treated for fistula and pelvic prolapse in Gondar
645 students attended rural literacy lessons in Afar
50 Safe Motherhood Ambassadors trained in safe childbirth & fistula prevention in Hawassa
50 male family members attended fistula sensitivity workshops in Hawassa
50 Women Extension Workers spoke with 1,224 women/girls in Afar about rights, health & safety
125 schoolgirls received reusable sanitary packs in Debre Berhan
15 social workers trained in child abuse support in Debre Berhan
72 low-socio economic women trained in business & leadership in Debre Berhan
Glenys, Beaudesert QLD