Deborah was one of the 2018 Hamlin Ethiopian Adventurers who committed to raising $10,000 for the work of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. After months of raising awareness and fundraising, she and the group of 14 travelled around Ethiopia for 19 days of adventure. It was a trip full of life changing experiences that are not easily forgotten. Read about Deborah’s trip below.
An experience of a lifetime
Having the opportunity to travel across Ethiopia on the Hamlin 19 Day Ethiopian Adventure was an experience of a lifetime. Currently listed as the 7th poorest country in the world (1), Ethiopia is a land-locked country with coffee as the humble major export. Women, of course, face the hardest of life’s circumstances. Yet with a new and popular female President for the first time, there is hope for a brighter future.
The shining star for Ethiopian women for the last 60 years is the eminent Dr Catherine Hamlin. Now 95 years old, Dr Catherine Hamlin has established a world-renowned teaching hospital for the treatment and management of obstetric fistula, a life-altering complication of childbirth. My trip to Ethiopia was to support Dr Catherine Hamlin in her quest to make childbirth safer for the women of Ethiopia.
While travelling in the southern regions of Ethiopia into the Omo valley we visited and spoke with women from various tribal groups. Here life is extremely difficult for them. Challenging is the sight of women, old and very young, carrying extremely heavy loads on their back. These loads, which are often carried for many miles in steep terrains, no doubt contribute to the number of prolapsed uterus’ the Hamlin team manage.
In Addis Ababa, we were excited to be visiting the “Hospital by the River,” described in Catherine’s book. What a privilege that Catherine was able to welcome us into her home, nestled in the beautiful hospital gardens. There she was sitting in her armchair, a cup of tea and biscuit next to her and her old dog, Buni at her feet. We were all misty-eyed travellers, quite overwhelmed by the experience of being in the presence of a truly great human – a hero to women. Catherine, of course, was humble – impressed we had travelled from Australia on our fundraising quest for the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation.
We were then given a tour of the hospital and met the staff. It was wonderful to be able to speak to the women themselves, mostly through gestures and smiles. We were given an overview of the work done by the foundation to treat fistulas and then rehabilitate women back into their communities with seed funding for business opportunities.
The power of midwifery care
The major goal of the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation is to eradicate fistulas by 2030 – pivotal to this goal is an educated midwifery workforce across all areas of Ethiopia.
The dire lack of obstetricians in Ethiopia has meant Hamlin midwives are skilled in managing obstetric emergencies, with hospital treatment generally being well over an hour away. The midwives at these clinics live on site, and often manage 50 or more births a month. We had the great opportunity to see and speak to some of the Hamlin midwives at a Hamlin Midwifery clinic.
As a midwife myself, I felt a sense of pride and sisterhood. Hamlin midwives have made such a difference to Ethiopian mothers and babies with their skilled, compassionate and affordable care. The fistula rates have reduced to 0% in areas where Hamlin midwives have been deployed. Such is the power of good midwifery care!
An adventure filled with memories
In joining this adventure I learnt many things. At the very beginning, with fundraising, I learnt just how generous and kind people could be. Then in joining my little group of fellow travellers on the Hamlin Adventure, I learnt that fun and laughter could be had in the most unlikely of places.
In Ethiopia there were many memorable moments. One special memory was the unlikely meeting of a young father while stopping to look at a view from on top of a mountain. A young man emerged from seemingly nowhere urging us to visit his home, explaining to our guide that his wife had given birth the previous night. Three of us, eager to see the newborn, followed him into a little acacia wood hut with a thatched roof and earth floors.
There, nestled in his mother’s arms, was a beautiful, healthy boy – his father’s pride and joy. It was a precious moment for us but we did wonder just what the young mother must have thought of three foreigners peering down at her. It seems this woman had birthed her baby with only the father to help; there was no clinic nearby. We wished her a healthy and safe recovery, silently hoping that in the future all women in Ethiopia will have access to midwifery care and thereby safe motherhood. That’s the promise of the work of the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation.
Author: Deborah Nicholas, Hamlin Ethiopian Adventurer 2018
You can find out more about coming on the Hamlin Ethiopian Adventure here.