Bravery Exemplified: Semenesh’s Story


August 9, 2019


Life before fistula

School was never an option for Semenesh. The small, rural village in Southern Ethiopia where she grew up was so isolated that it would take seven hours to walk to the nearest school or bus stop.

The employment opportunities in her village were limited; Semenesh and most of her family members would spend their days searching for work in surrounding farms. The youngest of three, Semenesh spent her childhood doing odd jobs to help contribute to her family’s income. Her childhood, however, was cut too short: at the age of 13 she was married off to a man in a nearby village.

Semenesh’s first pregnancy was seemingly fine, even though she was unable to visit a clinic at any point prior to her delivery. The closest government clinic was seven hours away and, in her condition, Semenesh could not walk such a distance. In the final month of her pregnancy, a group of female elders, including her mother, arrived at her home to assist with the delivery. Like most mothers in her village, Semenesh planned to deliver her child at home without the assistance of a trained midwife.


The isolation of fistula

Semenesh was in labour for three agonising days without any medical assistance. On the fourth day of her labour, Semenesh was finally transferred to a government hospital where she delivered a stillborn baby while unconscious.

When Semenesh woke up, she was left with a double fistula and severe injuries to her legs, leaving her immobile.

“I had never seen or heard of such a shameful health problem in my life. We all believed it was incurable and went back home to await my fate. One year later, my husband left me. I was alone in my house with no one around to help me move or manage myself. There were times where I wished death over living in such agony, but I never gave up hope in God; I prayed day and night,” Semenesh recalls.

For three years, Semenesh remained isolated and uncared for, crumpled on a goat skin rug uncontrollably leaking urine and faeces. Save for a few villagers who would occasionally visit and feed her, no one was there to care for her.

“One day I woke up and simply prayed for God to help me. I started a desperate journey seeking for help from someone, somewhere. I preferred death to staying home in such a shameful way, so I walked for a full day to reach the closest government clinic. I was lucky that I found a caring health professional who helped me to reach the government hospital around,” says Semenesh.

Semenesh was then transferred to Hamlin’s Yirgalem Fistula Hospital.


A full recovery

Semenesh arrived at the hospital at Yirgalem. She underwent two consecutive surgeries which could not fully cure her extensive injuries. After undertaking physiotherapy and self-management training at Yirgalem, Semenesh returned to her village. Due to the severity of her injuries, she needed to go to Hamlin’s main hospital in Addis Ababa.

It was some time before Semenesh was able to make the journey there. She continued to work in her village until she was finally able to make the three-day bus trip to Addis Ababa in January of this year.

The journey to the hospital was not easy: “I have never travelled such a long journey in my life. Sometimes bus drivers would deny me service because of my stench. When I arrived in Addis, it was so much bigger and confusing than I expected. Language was also a big problem because I can’t speak the languages of the people in the city, so I couldn’t ask people to direct me toward the fistula hospital. I ended up having to spend the night on the street where I was robbed for all I had.”

She finally made it to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital where she was able to receive treatment. In April of 2019, Semenesh received the final diversion surgery that totally cured her from the double fistula which she had been suffering from for several years.

The hospital social worker identified her for rehabilitative training. Semenesh is now at Desta Mender where she is learning life and business skills in addition to her rehabilitation. When she graduates, she will be reintegrated back into her home village to lead an independent life.

Dr Catherine Hamlin, or ‘Emaye’ as the patients call her, has made Semenesh’s full recovery possible. “For me, this is like being born again. If I had not arrived here, I could have been dead by now. I see Emaye while walking around the hospital and I stare at her just to make sure she is human because I believe her life’s work, looking after poor women like me, is the deed of angels. I have so much respect and gratitude for her and for all of the staff,” rejoices Semenesh.


In addition to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia operates five regional fistula hospitals and 66 Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics. You can help us find and treat more women like Semenesh by donating today.