While many obstetric fistula sufferers can be cured with a single surgery at a Hamlin Hospital, sometimes it is not enough to heal every woman. Some women require multiple surgeries and many cannot return to their communities or live independently.
That’s why in 2002 Dr Catherine Hamlin founded Desta Mender (‘Joy Village’), a recovery centre where long-term fistula patients with severe injuries can continue to heal as well as gain vocational training and income-generation skills to support independent living and reintegration back into their communities.
When Silenat came to Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, she had been suffering with a severe fistula injury due to a prolonged, unrelieved, obstructed labour. After hundreds of kilometres of travelling, three surgeries at Hamlin’s Bahir Dar and Addis Adaba Fistula hospitals, and several months of care and rehabilitation at Desta Mender, she was finally healed and able to return home with hope.
The Tragedy of Fistula
Silenat grew up in a small city called Finoteselam. She never had the chance to attend school and was married at a very young age.
She first fell pregnant at age 14, and with limited access to a hospital or clinics, she didn’t receive any antenatal care. Instead, she delivered the way her mother and grandmother had – at home, assisted by a traditional birth attendant.
Silenat endured a painful labour for three long days, before delivering a stillborn baby. After the birth, Silenat found that she had become incontinent of urine, but believed this was the effect of the long labour and would eventually stop.
“I never expected that it was a permanent injury of seven years long… fistula damaged all my life and had thrown me on the edge between life and death,” she recalls.
Silenat’s Journey to Recovery
Months later, Silenat’s father heard about Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, and he took her to the closest facility 150km away in Bahir Dar to be treated by the Hamlin team. After multiple surgeries for her severe fistula injury, she was finally cured in February this year at the Addis Abada Fistula Hospital.
A New Hope
Silenat went to stay at Desta Mender, Hamlin’s Rehabilitation and Reintegration village set among juniper trees on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, where for three months she participated in education classes, counselling sessions and business skills training.
“I never mixed socially in those years [with a fistula], I was left away from my husband and struggled with life,” she says, “But most of all I couldn’t withstand the shamefulness and isolation. The extraordinary support I received here pulled me out from the shamefulness I had been in.”
Silenat returned home in May this year, having finally recovered enough physically and emotionally from years of struggling with a persistent and difficult fistula. Thanks to the Rehabilitation and Reintegration team at Dester Mender and the business skills she acquired in her time there, she plans to earn an income by fattening sheep.
“My heartfelt thanks to you all who have been involved in fixing my life,” she says.
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