Now, imagine that you live in a village where young girls are married off between the ages of eight and eleven and that by the time you are thirteen you are pregnant. Your little body is not prepared for the process of birth. Imagine that you labor for days with no medical help. Luckily your baby survives but you are left with an obstetric fistula - a hole between your birth canal and other internal organs that resulted from the prolonged obstructed labor.
The hole causes you to leak urine or feces. Imagine that you are shunned by your husband and everyone you know because of your inability to work and the foul odor you can't control. Imagine you are left to live in an isolated hut all alone or worse thrown out of your village for good. This is the life of over 100,000 young women in Ethiopia. The rate has historically grown by another 9,000 new cases each year. Without surgery there is no cure or hope for a better life.
Since 1959 Dr. Catherine Hamlin has been a pioneer in the treatment of obstetric fistula. She and her husband Dr. Reginald Hamlin opened a hospital in Addis Ababa in 1974, the first of it's kind in the world dedicated to helping the thousands of victims who'd suffered in silence for so many years. Catherine Hamlin, now 84 years old, has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and the list of her humanitarian awards is impressive. She continues to oversee the work of the hospital and can frequently be found in the operating room performing the delicate fistula repair surgery she pioneered more than 40 years ago.
A film has been made that follows the journeys of five women as they travel to the hospital for help. A Walk To Beautiful was named Best Feature Length Documentary of 2007 by the International Documentary Association. I was lucky enough to catch the broadcast premier on NOVA and was deeply touched.
The hospital operates solely on donations and grants. If you'd like to help you can become part of the Love-a-Sister program, the donation is $37.50 a month and the yearly total of $450.00 pays the entire cost for one woman's surgery. You will have the satisfaction of knowing you have truly changed a life in a significant way.