I can talk a lot.
I can tell stories and entertain you with them however I struggle to write with the eloquence of authors of who have mastered the art of storytelling. So my prose will be simple, awkward and a little clumsy in places. I hope at the end of my story you will be able to feel the love I have for Africa and its beautiful people.
I constantly find myself being drawn to the exciting, vibrant and colourful continent of Africa. It is home to truly some of the most beautiful people I have ever been fortunate enough to encounter, both inside and out.
This is a story from Ethiopia tucked away in the Horn of Africa. I might have only travelled there for five days with ten other women, however the impact was extraordinary. In such a short time I was able to get a feel of the hustle and bustle of Addis Ababa. Driving through the streets I was mesmerized by the elegant long necks and willowy bodies of the women. These women would be supermodels anywhere else. My heart was torn in two by the harshness of life on the street in Addis. On these streets there are families lying in absolute squalor; with mothers frantically trying to keep their babies safe and out of harm’s way from the chaotic traffic.
On the second morning in Addis we found all eleven of us fairly squeezed into a minivan on our way to the Hamlin Fistula Hospital. After reading Doctor Catherine Hamlin’s book several years ago I have had a personal desire to visit this particular hospital situated on a river just out of Addis. With a background in nursing I was eager to go there. I was not disappointed. The hospital is truly an amazing place. It is a haven for women who suffer from obstetric fistula. The gardens are lush and bursting with color everywhere you look. It must feel like heaven to be brought to this hospital. There is an overwhelming feel for the genuine care and privacy given to each and every one of its patients.
This hospital freely accepts women and young girls who suffer from obstetric fistula. Here they are treated for their fistulas and given a chance of a normal life again. At the hospital we were told that 98% of fistula surgery is successful. Dr. Hamlin and her late husband Reginald should be very proud of those statistics. I feel enormously proud and grateful for their unrelenting devotion to the women of Ethiopia.
These women are looked after by nurses who were past patients of this hospital. It must be incredibly comforting for these women to know they are being looked after by other women who have gone through the same distressing condition. The tranquil everyday pace of this hospital is incredible. There’s not a whiff of antiseptic or anything else that reminds you of the sterile hospital corridors that I once worked within.
The beaming faces of the girls and women lying in their hospital beds are unforgettable. They are happy and we are for them. Their nightmare of feeling embarrassed and worthless is at long last coming to an end. In all honestly how can we even imagine what these girls have gone through?
We greet each of them all with smiles and hand out small gifts. As we make our way through the ward we spot amongst the beautiful pristine blue sheets, a little miracle is being cradled in her mother’s arms. We all look and admire this small buddle of joy, knowing too well this young mum has been blessed. At that moment I am quietly saddened that the others are without their babes but also mothers none the less. I feel a personal closeness to them because many years ago, I too was lying in my hospital bed without my baby.
Dester Mender, A refuge for those who require continued medical care post surgery.
The women whose surgeries are unsuccessful, will go to Dester Mender to live. This is where they will receive the ongoing medical care that they require. I am unable to articulate how mesmerizing this wonderful sanctuary truly is. I was blown away be Dester Mender’s ethos and how protective they are of the girls and women it is home to. The cottages are lovely and are set amongst a wonderful back drop of cliff faces and a waterfall when the rains come in winter.
In this community they will be schooled in literacy, farming and horticultural skills. They also run a small cafe open to everyone who visits. In the heart of Ethiopia we all enjoyed a good old fashioned Aussie meat pie, which previous Australian visitors had taught the girls how to make.
Photography at both the Fistula hospital and Dester Mender is forbidden. At first I have to say I was a little disappointed upon learning this, however when the reasoning was explained, I could not help but be in complete agreement. These women who suffer from fistulas have been humiliated and ostracized by society for years, that the foundations take the appropriate measures to prevent them from feeling this way again. They are protected from the camera’s eye and so I fully understand and accept this policy.
Like the hospital it is a lush heaven on earth. I can’t imagine how special the women and girls that live here feel after the ordeal they have been through. Dester Mender is beyond special, it truly is magnificent. The Hamlin’s received this land as a gift and I am so grateful they had the foresight to use this gift in such a wonderful way. Dester Mender is also home to a midwifery college. Here the girls live and study for 4 to 5 years. When they graduate they will return to their home villages to care for the women in their region.
Dr. Catherine Hamlin and her Husband, Reginald are both Saints to the women of Ethiopia. What an awe-inspiring team. You don’t see dedication like that of the Hamlin’s very often. It makes Australians and New Zealanders feel very proud indeed.
Dr. Catherine is now 86 and still works at this most incredible “The Hospital By The River”.
Dr. Catherine Hamlin is the author of “A story of Hope “‘The Hospital By the River” in which she tells her personal story of Ethiopia.
Hope you have enjoyed my first guest blog. I want to whole heartedly thank Margie who put beautifully into words what we all felt during our Ethiopian Journey. Margie Moore is a former nurse and mother to 5 children. She became passionate about Africa and its people after living and volunteering in Angola with her family for 6 years. Margie is currently residing in Qatar with her family and looking into ways to continue charitable efforts for the people of Ethiopia.