This is the year that I decided I wanted to “do amazing”. I tweaked the slogan from Qatar’s 2022 World Cup Bid which is “Expect Amazing”. I really liked their slogan. Mine just takes it a step further by taking action. Going through medical training leaves little time for personal development let alone other projects. Did I mention it also cures you of most sleep disorders. Upon graduation from residency, I had decided I wanted time for me. I wanted to fall in love, have a family, reconnect with friends, and sleep! I thought it was “just enough” to take care of patients. Why should I give anymore of myself? Weren’t the past 11 years enough? This was the wrong way to think and I knew it. Throughout the past years, there has always been something tugging at me to return to volunteering. I had even researched organizations like “Doctors without Borders” not once but multiple times. I managed to make excuses, how could I commit to one year away now that I a married? Now that I have a child? The list went on. But this is the year I wanted to start giving my time (and hopefully skills) to a good cause.
A little while back, a good friend of mine, Kimberley Sheedy (pictured third form the right in the group photo) said that this year she wanted to take 10 women to Ethiopia. Kimberley has been going to Ethiopia to bring goods, and monies to the Fistula Hospital and a local orphanage, Yezchlam Minch, for years. I had attended a presentation about Kimberley’s Ethiopian Journey several years ago. Her presentation with its beautiful photographs had a profound effect on me. I was 8 months pregnant at the time and knew that I would likely go on to deliver a healthy baby and not develop a fistula. Whereas these young girls in Ethiopia would not only have a high chance of developing a fistula but their baby would also likely die in the process. I am additionally passionate about this cause as I have performed close to 300 deliveries in the first half of my career. None of the babies I delivered died and none of their mothers developed fistulas.
A fistula is a communication between two body parts that normally does not exist. Another way to explain it is that it is that is a hole between the birth canal (vagina) and the internal organs(bladder or rectum) which leads to incontinence usually of urine. A majority of women who develop fistulas are abandoned by their husbands and ostracized by their communities because of their inability to have children and their foul smell. It is largely unseen in the western world. But in Ethiopia, it occurs at a rate of 9,000 per year with approximately 100,000 total untreated women in the country. It occurs because of the lack of medical care when there is a complication of delivery. Poverty and malnutrition contributes by not allowing a girls skeletal pelvis to fully mature which leads to this obstructed labor. Sadly, over 90% can be treated with a simple surgery which costs approximately $450 USD.
In 1959, Dr Catherin Hamlin and her late husband, Dr Reginald Hamlin, two Australian obstetricians, went to Addis Abba to establish a midwife college on a three year contract with the Ethiopian government. They too had never seen or treated a fistula but soon developed a surgical procedure to repair them. These fistula sufferers touched their hearts and in 1974 the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital was opened. The hospital has treated over 30,000 women over 33 years. In 2007, the Hamlin College of Midwives was opened. Dr Hamlin believes that the only way to eradicate obstetric fistula is to put a midwife in every village.
What happens to the approximately 10% of fistulas that cannot be repaired? In 2003, Desta Mender, “Village of Joy” was opened for these long term care patients. Desta Mender was built on donated land 8 miles from the Fistula Hospital. It is a purpose built village farm. The women earn a wage for their work and are provided an education. In Desta Mender, they are not ostracized.
On November 24 on the eve of the American Thanksgiving, 10 women from Qatar will travel to Addis Ababa to bring goods and funds to the Fistula Hospital, the Hamlin College of Midwives, Desta Mender and the Yezchlam Minch Orphanage . Perhaps it is our way of showing our thanks for all that we have in life that many of the beautiful people of Ethiopia do not. There is a common thread amongst us: the desire to empower women and the desire to increase awareness. Here is a look at the women traveling.
Kimberley Sheedy, an Australian is organizing the trip (third from the left in the group photo, individual photo coming soon!). This whole blog and more can be written about Kimberley and her achievements. She is an accomplished business woman running 2 nurseries here in Qatar: Starfish Lane Kids. In my opinion they are simply the best nurseries. She is also a mother of two children and is heavily involved in many fund raising activities. Did I mention, she is a Clinical Child Psychologist as well? Kimberley will be taking her niece Erin on the trip. This is just another example of Kimberley’s dedication to inspire women! But it is not only her accomplishments that are so admirable, it is her whole persona. She is charismatic and everyone in Doha seems to know Kimberley. She has a signature style rarely being seen without a frangipani flower in her hair.
Christina Zini, an American, was so inspired to empower women she founded the Qatar Professional Women’s Network (QPWN, www.qpwn.org) in February 2010 “to help Qatar’s professional women expand their networks, develop their skills and benefit from cross-cultural sharing”. (Incidentally, both Kimberley and I are on QPWN’s core team.) A mentor program is currently being established within QPWN to pair young women with established professional women. Recently, two amazing women in Christina’s life passed away, one was her mother. What Christina does not realize is she is just as amazing herself. Her devotion to QPWN has been an inspiration to us all.
Margie Moore, an Australian, a mother, and a former nurse fell in love with Africa and its people in the 80’s as a backpacker. Her and her family lived in Angola, West Africa for almost 6 years in 2002. While living in Angola, she volunteered on numerous fronts: within the local communities, the local orphanages, the Government TB/Aids hospital and for Amizad, the Luanda based International Women’s Group whose mission was to help the needy in Angola. Margie was inspired by reading Dr. Hamlin’s “The Hospital by the River” years ago. This along with her African experiences has “opened her eyes to the harsh reality of life in the third world and the kindness and charity of its own people.” She, as do all the women, hopes to have the privilege to meet Dr Hamlin.
Bonnie Morrice, a Canadian, is also a mother of two adolescent boys. Bonnie is passionate about travel and in particular about Africa. After hearing Kimberley’s presentation she was inspired to make a difference. I had the chance to spend an evening chatting with Bonnie at fundraiser (Yes, you guessed it organized by Kimberley). I remember not only chatting but laughing the night away with her. She is charismatic and just the easiest women to talk to.
The remaining 4 women I have only just met. I look forward to getting to know them better. They all have interesting backgrounds and stories. Karyn Andrews, an Australian, shares in our mutual cause. I have spoken to Karyn only a few times but really love her subtle sense of humor. She organized charity drinks at her home for the trip and received over 30 kg in donated items along with funds. Karyn reminds me of a dear friend of mine (Jennifer). The similarity is so much so that I am sure she has caught me staring at her and observing her mannerisms.
Kaewruethai Collings, a Thai Australian was adopted 3 days after her birth in Thailand because her mother who lived in a small rice farming village could not afford to cover her basic needs. Now a mother of her own three beautiful children, Kaewruethai realizes the opportunity she was given by her adoptive parents and how it changed her life. She says: “Now, it is my turn to help change people’s lives.”
Kemela Joass, a native New Zealander is also a mother to 4 children and works full time as a teacher at the Al Khor International School. She is looking to “make life long links to both individuals and charities in Ethiopia”. Kemela or “Kem” is quiet and kind. What struck me about her is her humbleness. Don’t tell her but, I am looking forward to picking her brain about how she does it with 4 children and full time work.
The last woman to join the trip is Zainab Sultan. She is the youngest next to Kimberley’s niece at the age of 22. She is an Indian who grew up in Saudi Arabia before moving to Qatar to attend University. In her junior year at Northwestern University in Qatar studying journalism, she already has a list of accomplishments. Her breast cancer documentary was screened at Al Jazeera Documentary Film Festival and currently at Women Voices Now (http://womensvoicesnow.org/watchfilm/breast_cancer_in_qatar_-_overcoming_cultural_boundaries/), a Los Angeles based film festival. Two of her short films were also selected by CNN. Zainab developed an interest in fistula at the age of 15 after watching a documentary. “I remember crying after watching the film and wished that one day I could do something for these women.” She never knew that, that day would come so early in her life. She will be bringing along camera equipment. Perhaps our goal to produce a documentary to further increase awareness will be met!
I have given you only small pieces of these women’s lives. I fear I have left off critical portions of their story. Join me as I chronicle our amazing journey in real time and more importantly chronicle the plight of the Ethiopian people. Please help us to increase awareness. If you wish learn more about the fistula foundation or to make a donation visit: www.fistulafoundation.org Do amazing, expect amazing, be amazing!