It’s Dr Catherine Hamlin’s belief that treating obstetric fistula patients effectively means treating the whole patient, not just the hole in their bladder.
The after-effects of a fistula injury are debilitating. Survivors are left leaking urine or faeces – sometimes both. These women are often stigmatised and shunned by their community and family due to the unbearable stench of urine that follows them. They are the lepers of the 21st century.
For most women, a simple operation taking around an hour can repair their fistula. But for some, the damage is more extensive and multiple complex surgeries are required, as well as intensive physiotherapy and rehabilitation.
In 2002 Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia opened Desta Mender in a bid to mend not only the physical damage, but also the mental scars. Desta Mender, meaning ‘Joy Village’, is a farm and training facility where patients with more complicated injuries can receive ongoing treatment, training and support to reclaim their lives.
Armed with restored health, income generation skills and opportunities, these women can go on to live independently with dignity and choices.
“Because of this injury, they’re ashamed. They won’t come out and talk about it because it’s to do with being incontinent of body waste and they feel ashamed. They feel that they’re unworthy to be women.” – Dr Catherine Hamlin
A place to thrive
Beletshachew Tadesse is Hamlin’s Rehabilitation and Reintegration Manager. She manages Desta Mender and knows that what the Desta Mender program provides for these women is incomparable. It’s not just about education, it also restores dignity lost through having an obstetric fistula.
Beletshachew recently wrote to us about Yeshi – one of Desta Mender’s first patients and one of the first women to benefit from the rehabilitation program. Yeshi’s story is powerful and embodies the core sentiment of Desta Mender – a place to thrive with guidance and support.