After enjoying a cup or two of invigoratingly strong buna (coffee, which got its name in Ethiopia), we set out on one of the most MDG-laden days to date on our trip. None of us really knew what to expect when we pulled up to the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, so we were fortunate to have a great contact who taught us all about the mission of this special place. She explained that obstetric fistula, virtually eradicated in the U. S. in 1895, is a complication that develops with prolonged labor, especially seen in young or small girls. Medically, obstetric fistula, caused by pressure on the birth canal, results in stillbirth 95% of the time as well as a condition where urine and sometimes feces leak uncontrollably from the woman. Psychosocially, fistula is devastating, leading to isolation, divorce, and depression. Even more, the way these depressed women deal with their problem—lying in a curled position for long periods (sometimes years)—leads to contracture or tightening of their tendons, resulting in immobility and a gnarled appearance, worsening the psychosocial effects.
The treatment for obstetric fistula, both biologically and psychosocially, is a simple surgery. In 1974, Drs. Reginald and Catherine Hamlin (gynecologists) established the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital specifically to deal with this tragic but curable problem. The hospital is still going strong, treating up to 1500 patients per year. (84-year-old Dr Catherine Hamlin is still working here!) Physical therapists administer physiotherapy to those with contractures, making sure they can walk and are strong before they leave. Also, psych nurses counsel the women, assuring them that they are not cursed and that the loss of their baby is not their fault.
Maternal health, infant mortality, and improving gender equality, the Fistula Hospital was an amazing place to look at the MDGs being addressed. The way they’ve set up their hospital is so well thought out that it’s touching—separating mothers whose babies survived and those whose did not, putting those who speak the same language next to one another, etc. They not only treat these women physically, but they bring healing to their hearts offering community to women who have been stigmatized, divorced, and alone for as long as they can remember. Because the minimum stay at the hospital is 3 weeks, women are also taught reading and writing, some basic business skills, lessons on their rights and duties as Ethiopian citizens, as well as Bible study if they’re interested. Even more, these women become educated about obstetric fistula and are viewed as “ambassadors of health” as they leave, treated, to rejoin their communities.
This place was truly amazing, an example of holistic healing. It is also an example of an aid to Ethiopia where the agency sought first to listen to the needs of these women before trying to help them. Altogether, it was an energizing dose of hope, showing our team that God is at work here and that these MDGs are being tackled slowly but surely.
After lunch, we headed to Desta Mender (which means Joy Village), the rehab facility for women who, because of permanent damage, cannot rejoin their communities after their surgeries at the Fistula Hospital. Just a quick drive outside of Addis Ababa, this place looked like something out of a dream. Lush, green, cool, and fragrant, Joy Village is a beautiful place where women are empowered by learning a trade while they continue to experience community with other women who have the same problems. Ephraim, our guide and the agriculturist here, showed us around and explained the details of the sustainability of this place. We were blown away—these people thought of everything! One example: there’s a lake at the bottom of the valley where Desta Mender sits; the fish in the lake re-nitrify the water; a windmill generates the power to pump lake water up to the apple orchards at the top of the property, irrigating and eliminating the need for fertilizer; rain water runs down the intricate drainage system and replenishes the lake. Ta-dah! We met the cows and chickens these women can learn to farm and looked at their amazing gardens. David showed us a special plant in their garden, Artemesia, that can be made into a tea and to prevent or cure malaria. Joy Village was truly that—full of joy and hope for the 100 women who live here and for their families when they go home.
After our time with Ephraim at Desta Mender, Annette Bennett showed us around the very new midwifery school she just started exclusively for Ethiopian women who have completed high school. Again, her answer to the need for midwives is painstakingly well thought out, ideas derived from present successes and lessons learned from past failures. A three year program, the plan is to educate 20 midwives per class (the optimal class size, according to the WHO), able to care for pregnant women, deliver babies, and care for children up to age 5. These midwives will only work within 2 hours of a hospital where an emergency C-section can be performed, and each midwife station (containing 2 midwives and nurses) will be equipped with an ambulance. Once these midwives are in place, more women and children will survive childbirth healthily. Our time with Annette was a huge blessing to the team, most of us speechless at how precisely her plans address the MDGs.
After dinner at the Milk House, a restaurant that overlooks Addis Ababa, Damalesh came to speak to our team about his work with the Evangelical (in this case meaning non-Orthodox) Church Fellowship. He spoke encouraging words about how the church and the people of Ethiopia are uniting to help address the needs of their own people.
There is so much going on here in Ethiopia. Though the statistics are still depressing and seemingly hopeless, people are working together to repair their country, their church, their people, and their lives. Please continue to pray for our team as we travel around the crazy streets of Addis learning about God’s people here. Today was a hopeful day.
posted by Fran Staffford
Thank you so much for the posts, Jacob, Fran, and Amy. So good to have news and to know that you’re safe. The sensory and information overload must be overwhelming. Our prayers continue that God will sustain you as you move among His people and His work. Last week, a new friend in Christ, Donna, reminded me of Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.'” May this promise apply to the team, the people of Ethiopia, and missionaries and medical personnel.
Greetings family and friends. The team is unable to blog while in Ethiopia due to technical issues. As they have opportunity, they will email the text to me and I’ll post for them. I have spoken with Amy several times. She has commented each time on how well the on-the-ground coordinators have done at coordinating the individual legs and how great the team is at responding to conditions and experiences. They are an exceptional group. I look forward to connecting with them again this weekend in Uganda. We greatly appreciate your comments, prayers, support and encouragement. – John Derrick
Reading about your experience at the Hamlin Fistual Hospital took my breath away. I happened to watch an Oprah episode last year that focused on Dr. Hamlin and the hospital. Incredible. I am so thankful that you all had this opportunity to visit this honorable work. Meredith, tears came to my eyes as I thought about what you would see and sense.
We pray for all of you daily! Hope you are all healthy now.
Thanks for sharing. Fran – You and Rosie are benefitting from all those years in a medical household! Great description of the hospital.
It is wonderful to hear more news from the team! Those of us addicted to your blog were getting a little desparate. Your experiences come alive for us in print, so I can only imagine what it is like to be there. Again, you give us direction for our prayers as you bring the people and the issues of Ethiopia to us. Be assured that you are all on our minds, in our hearts and in our prayers.
Thanks for the insightful updates. I am learning so much already through ya’lls experiences, and I can’t wait to hear more when you get back. You are in my thoughts and prayers.
Fran, thanks for a wonderfully moving description that allows us to share this with you. I could see and feel the hope and optimism flowing through your words. How wonderful to see how such simple technical procedures can change the course of a person’s life. More importantly, feeling loved, wanted and accepted after years of abuse, neglect and abandonment demonstrates God’s love in a way no preacher can. You are all in our prayers as we journey with you in Spirit. Go in God’s peace and power. We love and miss you but are proud of your part in this important work. Love, Dad
Thanks for the update. Its so wonderful to hear your stories. i cant wait to hear it from you when you come to new york. i have to see you and rosie!
thinking of you