I'd heard about Catherine Hamlin a few years ago, and each time I read stories about her work I cry. An aussie obstetrician and gynaecologist in her 80s she works tirelessly to help women injured in childbirth in Ethiopia. Some of her patients walk for hundreds of kilometres to seek her help, some of them have been living with their injuries for decades.
Women whose births are difficult and prolonged and who receive no medical aid often lose both their child and their health, especially when they are young. They develop fistulas, holes between their bladders or rectums and their vaginas. They most often become outcasts because they smell and leak and are sometimes cast as cursed. Their husbands and families frquently abandon them and they are often still just teenagers.
Catherine Hamlin and her husband Reg opened the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital 35 years ago and have cared for, operated on, educated, housed and in every imaginable way worked for a better life for the 32,000 women who have come to their door. All treatments are free and women who can't be cured are provided with long term accommodation and purpose for their lives.
I think I feel particularly affected by this issue because if I hadn't had surgical help to birth my children this almost certainly would have happened to me. How unfair is the world that we live to complain about the medicalisation of our births while women routinely lose their babies, their husbands, their dignity and place in society for lack of it.
This work is so so important, and sadly still so incredibly vulnerable. They do not have the kind of financial backing to ensure their ongoing survival let alone fully realise their plans to train midwives to help prevent these kind of injuries at the village level. They really need our help, and Catherine's 50 years of hard work needs to be rounded off with the confidence that her work matters and will continue after she is gone.
While $450 isn't enough for one night's stay in most hospitals in Australia or the United States, it is enough for Hamlin Fistula Hospitals to provide one woman with restorative surgery, postoperative care, and classes in health and basic literacy while she recuperates. It's even enough to provide her with a new dress and bus fare home.
If you give to just one charity this year, make it this one.