Category Archives: Maternal Health

[Guest Post] Sarah Omega: A Fistula Survivor

Written By Elizabeth Ralston, The Inspired Philanthropist

The Setting: One by One’s sixth annual fundraiser.

The lights dimmed, the audience soon hushed, and the speaker, a young woman from Kenya, came diffidently to the podium.

Sarah Omega Photo by Louise Lakier 2011

“My name is Sarah Omega, and I am a fistula survivor.”

The details of her life came out as she told her story in a measured, steady fashion. Sarah was raped and impregnated at age 19 by a religious leader from her community. When it came time to give birth, she labored for many hours before being taken to a hospital. Unfortunately, she ended up having a stillborn baby.

Because Sarah had labored for so long, she was left with a fistula, a hole between the vagina and anus, which causes leaking of urine and sometimes feces. What she had really needed was a Cesarean section, which is unavailable to so many women in developing countries.

“I had to live with fistula for twelve years.”

During those twelve years, she struggled with feelings of rage and shame at her plight. At one point, she ended up in a psychiatric ward, severely depressed, for several weeks. Ironically, being in that place saved her.

Staff at the ward told her there was a doctor who repaired fistulas and a month later, she had her fistula repaired.

“I realized I had something to offer back to the society in my capacity as a fistula survivor.”

After Sarah told the amazing and moving story of Sylvia, a Kenyan woman who had lived with fistula for 51 years, there weren’t very many dry eyes in the audience. Check out this seven-minute movie, “We Will Come to You”, about Sarah’s journey to find Sylvia in a remote village to bring her to the hospital for fistula repair surgery. This lovely film gave me goosebumps, especially the part when Sarah says Sylvia had been “expecting” her.

Currently, Sarah is One by One’s Outreach Manager in Kenya, training regional representatives to do outreach in their communities, refer women with fistula for treatment, and provide emotional support for these women when they come home after their surgery.

They’ve had amazing success in the short time since the program began in September 2011:

30 Regional Representatives were trained and have already educated 23,000 Kenyans in just six weeks.

Over 100 women with fistula have been found. You can learn more about Sarah’s story in the following video. Also be sure to learn more about fistula from our partner, Worldwide Fistula Fund.

If Women Ruled the World: How to Create the World We Want to Live In

Life oftentimes is about ideas and actions coming full circle.

In 2004 I wrote a chapter in If Women Ruled the World: How to Create the World We Want to Live In – Stories, Ideas, and Inspiration for Change. My chapter called “Female Genital Mutilation Would Cease to Exist” was in the section entitled “The Compassion to Embrace the World”. In the book I wrote alongside extraordinary women like Arianna Huffington, Gayle Brandeis, and Lisa Loeb. Being a part of this book is one of the highlights of my life. Little did I know then that I would be deeply immersed in global issues affecting women and girls today; but the groundwork was laid, the framework had already been set.

Today it is my intention to help solve some of the issues facing those in poverty in developing nations and even here in the United States. For me the best way I know how to lend my voice is to utilize the platforms I have created over the years to spread the word about the issues that matter to me and I am excited and humbled that over 600 women have joined me in this effort to help spread the word about the issues they care about.

This, no doubt, is a long journey. No problem as big as access to clean water and sanitation, world hunger or global disparities in maternal health will go away in a year or two. These journeys are for those who are steadfast and patient, but persistent and determined. I hope you  join me on this journey.

The Worldwide Fistula Fund Opens Fistula Center in Niger

Our newest partner, the Worldwide Fistula Fund, celebrated the opening of the Danja Fistula Center, its first freestanding fistula center last Saturday, February 11, 2012. A state-of-the-art fistula hospital in Niger, the Danja Fistula Center will provide free obstetric fistula surgeries, prevention programming and aftercare for women afflicted by this condition.

Founded in 1995, the Worldwide Fistula Fund is a not-for-profit public charity that provides medical treatment for women suffering from obstetric fistula in sub-Saharan Africa.

“The goal of the Worldwide Fistula Fund was to always create a freestanding fistula center and use it as a model center that can be replicated,” said Bree Neely, Director of Development for the Worldwide Fistula Fund. “If you can do it in a desolate area you have figured out the challenges and then can move on to create more hospitals in more populated areas.”

With the highest rate of maternal mortality Niger is in desperate need of services that will keep mothers and their newborns alive. “We will be doing prevention outreach within a 50 kilometer catch net,” Neely mentioned.  “We will spread the message to women that if the sun rises two times during their labor then they need to go to the hospital. We will be working on this from a prevention angle.”

The Danja Fistula Center will be open year round save for April through May, the hot season. All services are free for the women. In the first year there will be 400 fistula operations and then will gradually ramp up to 1100 surgeries annually.

In addition to performing fistula operations, the Worldwide Fistula Fund will also create curriculum for a social reintegration program. The program will teach women how to read and will also provide micro-financing opportunities.

“Most women who have fistulas have been left by their families,” said Neely. “They are full of shame, embarrassments and have no resources. It’s really our responsibility to not just sew up their fistula, but there is a broader responsibility to see if they are OK and can build a life for themselves.”

New Partner Announcement – Worldwide Fistula Fund

I am happy to announce our newest partner – Worldwide Fistula Fund. Founded in 1995, the Worldwide Fistula Fund (WFF) is a not-for-profit public charity that provides medical treatment for women suffering from obstetric fistula in sub-Saharan Africa. In February 2012, the WFF opened the Danja Fistula Center, a state-of-the-art fistula hospital in Niger to provide free obstetric fistula surgeries, prevention programming and aftercare for women afflicted by this condition.

Like Worldwide Fistula Fund on Facebook: www.facebook.com/worldwidefistulafund

Follow Worldwide Fistula Fund on Twitter: twitter.com/#!/FistulaFund

International Museum of Women’s Motherhood Exhibit

The International Museum of Women launched a global motherhood online art exhibit called Motherhood Around the World this week.

There will be a total of nine motherhood galleries throughout the duration of the exhibit. The first gallery is Mama to Be. The robust exhibit also features stories and voices from mothers around the world, fiction stories from women writers, stories about women heroes who are advancing the rights of mothers and women, as well as insights from thought leaders. There is also a beautiful motherhood art gallery.

You can also get involved by signing their pledge in connection with Every Mother Counts to save mothers’ lives. You can also donate in order to help the Internation Museum of Women continue creating online exhibits like this.

On the Net: mama.imow.org