The Hamlin Ethiopian Adventure is the trip of a lifetime and one not easily forgotten, but don’t take our word for it. Hear from Kate, a Hamlin volunteer and 2019 Hamlin Ethiopian Adventurer, about her experience as a participant on the March trip of a lifetime.
My trip was entirely awesome, from meeting patients at the hospital by the river in Addis Ababa to seeing the Hamlin College of Midwives and meeting students, to seeing the books we helped fund in the library at the Midwives college. Our visit to a Hamlin clinic (90km north of Addis Ababa which took us 2.5 hours to get there as bus driver had to dodge chickens, donkeys, horses and vehicles of all types) was a real eye opener. While conditions were not what you’d see in Australia, we met a newly delivered mother (and babe) who were totally safe and thriving due to the presence of a Hamlin midwife throughout the birth.
The midwife Nestanet works as part of a team of three (two on, one off, 24 hours a day) who regularly walk across rough ground for five hours to visit remote villages to give pre and ante-natal care to young women. There are no roads, just a narrow path and they have to carry all their gear on their backs. These ladies are true heroes and still smiling! They can call an ambulance (using their own mobile phone) but it takes one hour to get to the clinic and at least one hour to get the patient back to the nearest hospital.
Visiting the world-renowned Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital
At the Hospital by the River in Addis we were shown the wards, operating theatres, laundry, kitchen and Chapel and given a very tasty and HUGE lunch prepared by the staff (many of whom are past fistula patients). We then had the opportunity to just sit and spend time with the current patients – holding hands, exchanging kisses, smiles and handshakes, and just generally enjoying the moment. A past Hamlin Adventurer had donated a Polaroid camera and the 70 shots of film brought from Australia was not nearly enough for these ladies, each of whom wanted a pic of themselves, plus a shot of their friend, their nurse/midwife and their new friend from Australia. Definitely a new feature of future Hamlin Ethiopian Adventures!
We also visited the Hamlin Fistula Hospital at Bahir Dar (50 mins flying north of Addis and on the southern shore of the beautiful Lake Tana). This is one of five regional hospitals established by Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia and although not as big as the original Hospital by the River in Addis Ababa it has the same feeling of calmness and care with lovely gardens surrounding and light and airy ward, physio room and space for the ladies to sit with friends and family. We met some patients who had returned to the hospital for follow-up surgery (repair of a fistula can mean 3 or 4 surgeries over a number of years, especially if a subsequent pregnancy has occurred) and some of these ladies had their young children and babies with them. The care and dedication shown by all staff and other patients towards these children was lovely to see.
My favourite visit was to Desta Mender (Joy Village), located on outskirts of Addis. Here, in a series of small cottages, ladies who are unable to return to their home villages straightaway are accommodated and given appropriate medical care (they may have a catheter or stoma, neither of which is able to be maintained in a remote village setting). Here they are given literacy and numeracy lessons and encouraged to develop skills to run a small business enterprise. One lady has opened a cafe on the grounds of Desta Mender – very popular with staff and visitors! The ladies at Desta Mender also work on growing vegetables and running a dairy and knit the most beautiful scarves and wraps which we sell in the Hamlin shop.
Although the work of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia was our main focus, we did get to visit several museums, many markets and at least one local bar, so there was plenty to enjoy and a range of places to visit and appreciate on this trip. A drive through the Mercato (largest open-air market in Africa) was fabulous – everything from food to jewellery, shoes, sheet metal, roof tiles, clothing, furniture (esp. mattresses) to rugs, hats, buckets and knives- probably not where non-Ethiopians should go to shop but a colourful, exciting, interesting place to visit! Mercato merchants are also experts at recycling – we saw old tyres being turned into shoes, all kinds of broken electricals – jugs, toasters and mobile phones – being repurposed and repaired for a new generation of users.
Celebrating International Women’s Day in Ethiopia
On our last day in Ethiopia we participated in the International Women’s Day 5km run with the tagline of ‘I Lead!’ So much fun to be part of a crowd of thousands of young Ethiopian women and girls all very excited to be running or walking 5km through the streets of Addis. 5km took us about 1 hour and 20 mins but only because we stopped to listen to the bands and singers and to join in the dancing and have our photos taken. Lots of smiles and laughter and a lovely opportunity to fly the Hamlin flag as we walked to great reactions once other participants realised who and what we represented. Catherine Hamlin really is a household name in Ethiopia.
Our group of 16 was diverse: Hamlin volunteers, three doctors, nurses, a midwife and a retired geography teacher. We listened, cried and stayed together for the whole trip and learned heaps from each other and from the gracious, beautiful Ethiopians. I would highly recommend this trip to any of you who is looking for a ‘holiday’ like no other. You will laugh, cry, smile, wince, sing, dance and relate to your fellow human beings in a totally new way – it’s like nothing you have ever done or anywhere you have ever been.
At the beginning I thought what I was doing was helping the women of Ethiopia by raising money, volunteering and spreading the word but, now that I am back and I look over the pictures and think about who I met and what we saw, I really think it was Ethiopia (and its women) who have helped me.
Author: Kate, a Hamlin Volunteer and 2019 Hamlin Ethiopian Adventurer