From the field – a visit to the Hamlin College of Midwives

“I felt so proud to share with the group the incredible work of the Hamlin prevention pillar. Our midwives, staff and students are passionate and world class.” – Emily

A vision realised

When Catherine and Reg first arrived in Ethiopia in 1959, their plan was to set up a midwifery school in Addis Ababa. But, as you know, their attention soon turned to obstetric fistula patients – an injury they had never seen before.

Forty-eight years on, having treated tens of thousands of fistula patients, Catherine Hamlin realised this initial vision. In 2007, the Hamlin College of Midwives was born.

Just two weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting the college with our group of 17 Hamlin Ethiopian Adventurers. We were able to see first-hand just how vital, and effective, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia’s prevention pillar is in the fight to eradicate fistula. Forever.

It’s simple. Midwives save lives.

I can only imagine how proud Reg would be of Catherine and this world-class institution today. Since it’s opening 10 years ago there have been 125 graduates who are now working in four regions across Ethiopia – Oromia, Amhara, Tigray and in the south. 92 students are currently studying.

Upon arrival, the college Dean, Ato Zelalem Belete, greeted us and spoke to our group about the progress the college has made since its inception and its vision for the future. He has a calm and composed demeanour and answered every question fired with thought and passion (and there were many, with four midwives amongst us!).

Zelalem spoke about the curriculum and the rigorous theoretical and practical examinations Hamlin students must take before they can graduate – including each student delivering a minimum of 40 babies. Apparently one past student delivered 163 babies before her graduation!

The four-year Bachelor of Science Degree in Midwifery offered at the college is the best of its kind, producing quality midwives who are able to handle the most complicated of situations. And sadly, in Ethiopia, there are many.

Despite being 2017, fistula injuries are still far too common. 10 women every single day develop a fistula in Ethiopia. Maternal mortality rates are also very high with a staggering 420 women dying per 100,000 live births.

With Zelalem’s leadership, his team of 12 educators and the continued support of donors around the world, Catherine Hamlin’s dream for a midwife in every village of Ethiopia is getting closer and closer.

Last year alone, Hamlin midwives delivered over 22,500 babies and not a single fistula injury occurred in women under their care. With more midwives in the field, fistula injuries will be prevented and maternal and neonatal deaths reduced.

A conversation with Vice Dean, Sister Marit

During our visit we were lucky to meet the incredible Vice Dean of the college, Sister Marit. She has been at Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia since the 1st of January 2009 (yes, she remembers the date exactly). Sr Marit told us of how she came to work at Hamlin, her love for Catherine Hamlin and how important midwives are in preventing fistula.

“I had grown up loving and admiring Dr Catherine Hamlin and during my prac as a nursing student I visited the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. This was it. My passion started here, when I was young.

After graduating, I spent six years working as a nurse and then later I studied again and worked as a midwife in very remote areas of Ethiopia. I did this for over 13 years, so I know first-hand the issues that our midwives here at the college must be equipped to deal with.”

Sr Marit went on to do her Master’s in Midwifery and Reproductive Health and trained in Uppsala, Sweden for some time. One year after the Hamlin College of Midwives opened in 2007, she applied for a teaching role.

“I remember receiving a phone call from Hamlin. I did my interview over the phone, the next day I found out I got the job and 10 days later I started. I was so excited.

I just love teaching and above all, I love the profession. I have to commit myself to produce professionals to help Ethiopia’s women. Midwives are the first caregivers for mothers. If midwives are giving appropriate care, mothers won’t enter obstructed labour and fistula won’t happen. For this we need committed midwives. It’s my job to ensure this.”

Sr Marit coordinates all of the teaching and academic units at the college. She also teaches a 3rd year class and regularly travels to our remote Hamlin Midwifery Clinics to visit midwives and understand the contextual challenges of each location.

Sr Marit has three children of her own and is expecting her 3rd grandchild in January 2018! She is also a plant-lover and has even snuck some into other staff members’ offices (see pics!).

When we asked Sr Marit her feelings toward Dr Catherine Hamlin, she responded… “If it was possible to extend the age of a human being, I would. I wish her a long life.”

Hallelujah for midwives! 

Students like Hallelujah give us hope that one day every woman in Ethiopia will be able to deliver her baby safely.

During our visit, we were lucky to chat with 3rd year student, Hallelujah Tesfa. Hallelujah knew she wanted to be in a medical profession from a young age. She comes from a family of doctors and has always wanted to give back and care for her community.

We asked Hallelujah about studying at the Hamlin College of Midwives and why midwives are needed in Ethiopia.

“It’s great studying here, I am very happy. As a student, you have to work hard.

I am really looking forward to becoming a midwife. The area I will be deployed back to, where I grew up, is more urban that many others, however there are still many childbirth complications.

Women need us. There’s a gap that needs to be filled, and I’ll fill that gap.

Midwives are so important. Health coverage in this country is very low and not enough women are getting to health centres. They are risking their lives because of a lack of awareness and a lack of access. Midwives engage communities and can help improve this.” 

Like everyone in the Hamlin community, Hallelujah adores Catherine Hamlin, who is affectionately known as ‘Emaye’ (meaning ‘Mother’) by all.

“Oh my God. I love her so much. What can I say? I guess I’d describe her by saying amazing and helpful.” 

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, every single student is on a full scholarship for their four-year degree at the college. This is incredible.

Hallelujah is just one of the many impressive students we met during our visit to the college. I felt so proud to share with the group the incredible work of the Hamlin prevention pillar. Our midwives, staff and students are passionate and world class.

Click here to view a video of Hallelujah saying ‘thanks’!

The curse of the biting ants

Here are some fun pictures of our group members and the 1st year midwifery students being attacked by biting ants which haunt the college lawns. In the first picture I was trying to take a photo of our four midwives from the group under the college sign. The attempt failed miserably as they erupted into screams/laughter and jumped around, having being bitten multiple times.

You’d think I would have learned not to take another photo on the grass, but alas I didn’t, and the exact same thing happened when taking a photo of our first years. We got there in the end.

Our focus this Christmas is to train more midwives to prevent fistula. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation by December 25. 

Author: Emily Tweddell – Communications Coordinator, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia (Australia)

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