For the last seven years, Denise Pratt has been knitting Hens for Hamlin. What started with Denise selling a handful of papier-mâché chickens has grown into an online community supporting Denise and the movement to eradicate obstetric fistula. Recently, Denise reached the incredible target of raising $50,000 for fistula patients in Ethiopia!
Determined to make a difference
Denise first came across Dr Catherine Hamlin‘s work when she saw Oprah’s interview with the Australian obstetrician-gynaecologist. Learning about the nature and extent of obstetric fistula in Ethiopia left a lasting impression on Denise: “What stood out for me was the misery and grief the women experienced once they had been through the trauma of childbirth and loss of their child and the isolation in the following years. Also the age of the women giving birth, such young women, doing this alone without medical support and follow up.” Years later, after reading ‘The Hospital By the River‘, and learning more about Drs Reg and Catherine Hamlin’s work, Denise felt inspired to help.
For Denise, the urgency to act is clear: “obstetric fistula is cruel. Not having the medical support required for a safe labour and delivery is heartbreaking. The suffering, isolation and distress that the women and their families endure is unimaginable.”
Inspired to act
Since 2014, Denise Pratt and her mother Thelma have knitted an array of items – from chickens to children’s socks – to raise money for the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation. Denise sells her Hens for Hamlin on her Facebook page, where you can also see a knitted chicken or two roaming around her garden. Today, Denise’s Gorgeous Girls Virtual Garden Party facebook page hosts a community of over 550 members.
Knitting has been a well-loved pastime in Denise’s family – “I was taught to knit by my mother and grandmother. We are a family of knitters,” she says – however, her Hens for Hamlin journey started by making papier-mâché chickens who were given delightful names by Denise’s friend Kerry. After seeing a documentary on the healing role of knitted chickens for children in the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires, Denise decided to pivot to knitted chickens: “I love chickens and I decided to use my stash of wool to knit a few chickens to add to the total of the fundraiser.”
Denise’s initial target was $10,000. “I am a retired Registered Nurse/midwife and secretly hoped to raise enough to support the training of a Hamlin Midwife.” As the fundraiser continued, more people began sending Denise wool for her avian creations.
Committed to continue her good work, Denise has set herself a new target: “Having reached $50,000, I am now setting my target big and aiming for $100,000. I will knit until people are no longer interested or my fingers will no longer allow me to knit.”
The power of Hens for Hamlin
Contextualising the impact of Denise’s fundraising highlights how extraordinary her efforts have been. $50,000 is the equivalent of providing 71 patients with life-changing fistula repair surgery. It is the equivalent of giving 416 women with numeracy and literacy skills training. When asked what she would say if she could speak to the women whose lives she has transformed, Denise responded: “You are an amazing courageous woman and deserve the very best life has to offer.”
Denise’s motivation for her Hens for Hamlin has been quite simple: to help brave fistula patients. “I know that people love the work of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia and the marvellous work the Hamlins, and that is where the generosity of the donations for the fundraiser comes from. When I knit, I think of the women who endure fistulas, the efforts that they go to once they are aware their fistula can be repaired, to reach medical care. Their courage stay with me. I love reading the stories of the successes and rebuilding of their lives once they have the support they need. The articles on the work of staff are also an inspiration,” says Denise.
The Hens for Hamlin journey has not always been easy for Denise but the knowledge that her actions will benefit women in unimaginable circumstances. “Occasionally there are times when I think it would be easier for me not to do this fundraising. Then I think of the amazing midwives dedicating their lives to making a difference, the staff and patients who are making a huge difference every day, the enormous contribution the medical and other services provided make to the lives of so many women, their babies and families. Then clickety-clack, back to knitting. I love knitting the chickens. People love receiving the chickens and the money raised goes to helping support the years of dedication of the Hamlins and the people who are ensuring that the programs and services are ongoing. It is not me who has made a difference, it is the people who donate for the chickens and support me to continue to knit,” Denise reflects.
Anyone can get involved!
The process of setting up a fundraiser was not as daunting as one might expect – and support can be found across the community. “I had great support from the staff at Hamlin when I was setting up the page and planning the initial fundraising activity. I have found people to be very generous. The virtual ‘Garden Party’ Facebook page has been a wonderful way to reach people,” says Denise.
Throughout the years, Denise’s Hens for Hamlin community has come together to support Ethiopian women in new and exciting ways. “There are so many memorable chicken moments. One of our fun activities came from a passionfruit grower. A passionfruit was selected and people were invited to guess the ripening date of “Charlie” the passionfruit. The highest bidder and closest to the date won a box of first of the season passionfruit,” recalls Denise. The incredible generosity of the Hens for Hamlin community was a delightful surprise. Of particular note was Kaye, a loyal supporter who donated over $6,500 for the first batch of ten chickens she bought and has continued over the years to be a generous and committed supporter of fistula patients!
Her advice for other people considering a fundraiser? “If you have an idea, just put it out there, seek some support and do it. Perhaps you are an artist and you have a particular skill that has been admired by your family and friends it could be a great idea to be a fund raiser. I urge others to take up the needles, paint brushes, crotchet hook, (whatever your tool of trade), and start your own fundraising activities. Start with family and friends first and word of mouth will quickly spread,” says Denise.
True Hamlin Champions
Denise cherishes how the Hens for Hamlin project has been a family project. “Mum and I are a great knitting team. Mum was a fabulous knitter. She could knit any pattern. Lace patterns were her specialty. Macular degeneration has stolen that skill from her now. She still knits beanies and squares for blankets. I know she misses not being able to knit the intricate work she used to be able to do,” reflects Denise.
To celebrate reaching her incredible target of $50,000, Denise has created a special series of silk chickens. “I have eight chickens remaining and I am asking for a donation of $400 or more for each one. I have knitted ribbons of sari silk and denim into most of them and used special yarn and embellishments in each of them,” she explains.
Thank you so much to Denise and Thelma for all your hard work. Your beautiful chickens are not only putting a smile on the faces of those who buy them, but also changing the lives of women suffering with fistula. Denise is still knitting her Hens for Hamlin: she plans to continue knitting for “as long as there is interest in the chickens (and other items) and the donations keep coming in.” Thank you for being the ultimate Hamlin Champion!
Channel your creativity into making a difference; kickstart your own fundraiser and get Hands on for Hamlin here.