“There is no doubt in my mind that Catherine Hamlin’s ambition to eradicate fistula will one day be a reality.” – Nadia
I had never even thought of going to Ethiopia before, despite having travelled quite extensively. Yet as soon as I saw the ad for the Hamlin Ethiopian Adventure pop up on the Hamlin Facebook page, I just knew I had to go. I had been moved to do some fundraising for Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia years earlier after reading The Hospital by the River, and the chance to go and see it for myself was too great an opportunity to pass up.
I did some double checking – Was it safe? Would I be able to raise the money in time? Tick, tick. I signed up and took on board the advice of the Hamlin staff – “People will find out what you are doing, and they will offer to help. Just say yes to everyone who offers”. They were right and seeing the generosity of others encouraged me to keep going and raise as much as I could.
Once we hit the ground I realised it was safer, more beautiful, more rich in culture and in history than I had every realised or imagined. Our trip was a perfect blend of Hamlin insights, tourist experiences and impromptu adventures that have only whet my appetite to go back.
The first word I learned in Amharic was not hello or thank you, it was konjo, meaning beautiful. It was the most useful word in my desperate yet pitiful attempts to convey what I was seeing and experiencing. From the beautiful, shy but smiling patients at the hospital, their colourful knitted blankets, the local children whose curiosity was raised by a bus full of ferenji (foreigners), the amazing countryside and views, the baskets and scarves that we took home as souvenirs, my new travel buddies– konjo summed all of them up perfectly.
Since I’ve been back a common question has been ‘what was your favourite part of the trip?’ I don’t really have an answer as every day you just thought ‘well tomorrow can’t possibly be any better than today’. And yet the next day always managed to blow you away as well.
The strongest memory I have however, is a wave of emotion while visiting Desta Mender – the rehabilitation and reintegration centre where patients with complex fistula cases go to rebuild their self-esteem and learn skills that will enable them to live with confidence and independence. I can’t say it was a highlight, more like an emotional low point. After listening to the Program Manager Beletshachew talk with such passion and enthusiasm, I suddenly had to leave the room. She told us that all of the women who come through their program would prefer to be HIV positive than have a fistula. Why? Because you can hide that from people – they can’t see or smell it. This simply broke my heart.
Since that day I have spent a long time thinking about that moment and why it, above all others, got to me so much. At this point in time my answer is guilt. I couldn’t see how I was going to return to my life in Australia, knowing that there are women in Ethiopia and around the world living this horror.
The good news
I’ve only been home for a bit over a month so I don’t have all the answers yet. But rather than dwell on the injustice, I am channelling that energy into thinking of new ways I can be involved and keep supporting the newly renamed Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation.
After meeting the Hamlin staff in Ethiopia and seeing how passionate, dedicated and incredibly competent each and every one of them are, there is no doubt in my mind that Catherine Hamlin’s ambition to eradicate fistula will one day be a reality. We can all help Catherine Hamlin with this goal, and that is the good news.
Author: Nadia Jarv – Hamlin Ethiopian Adventure participant, November 2017
To help Dr Catherine Hamlin and her team eradicate fistula forever, please consider donating today.
Interested in joining our 2018 Hamlin Ethiopian Adventure? Find out more here.