Life After Fistula

Desta Mender

September 23, 2019


Elfinish has been running her shop for the last three years, where she sells a wide variety of products needed for life in the rural Ethiopian town of Begi. You could find just about anything you need in her small shop – from spices to soap, cooking oil to safety pins. Hanging from the roof are small packs of washing powder and sachets of yeast – an ingredient often added to make injera (an Ethiopian bread similar to a savoury crêpe).

Although Elfinish’s shop may be small, it allows her to lead a life of independence and provide for her 10-year-old daughter Netsanet – who is really excited about starting year six at school.


Elfinish’s shop is located just outside her hometown in the northwest of Ethiopia. She moved away from home in her early twenties when she got married, and gave birth to Netsanet shortly thereafter. It wasn’t until Elfinish’s second pregnancy that she began to face complications. After enduring a prolonged labour, Elfinish was faced with the agony of losing her child and suffering a double fistula.

In need of treatment, Elfinish made the journey to Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia’s capital where she underwent a series of treatment procedures. Although most obstetric fistula injuries can be treated with a single surgery that can take less than an hour, Elfinish’s injury was so severe that she required a treatment program that spanned six years, including several complicated surgeries.

“Because of this injury I get divorced, discriminated by my own family, unable to follow up my only daughter, I used to lead a desperate life in general. But Hamlin has fixed not only the injury but also my life. No words of mouth have the potential to express my gratitude,” said Elfinish.

From surviving to thriving

For many fistula survivors, their injuries aren’t merely physical. This is why every woman who undergoes fistula surgery at one of the six Hamlin hospitals also receives counselling, physiotherapy and basic literacy and numeracy lessons as part of The Hamlin Model of Care. But for long-term fistula patients like Elfinish, the damage and suffering caused by obstetric fistula means they require additional support.

Elfinish who had not only lost her child, but was socially isolated, shunned by her husband and family and left without a source of income, was not in a position to return home, even after a successful surgery that repaired her fistula injury.

Instead, Elfinish moved to Desta Mender, Hamlin’s rehabilitation centre that provides ongoing treatment and skills training to long-term fistula survivors. Here, she received an individually tailored program to equip her with the skills needed to reintegrate into her community and lead a life of independence.


While at Desta Mender, Elfinish took classes on business management which gave her the tools she needed to run her own small business. She was given a start-up grant, to open her shop in Begi. Three years later and Elfinish has a stable source of income that allows her to provide for her daughter Netsanet.

Elfinish is now in regular contact with her family who have welcomed her back and regularly visit her shop. In fact, her strength of character and ability to overcome adversity has really inspired her older brother Gezahgan who moved to Begi to be closer to his sister.


“Following the support from the hospital Elfinish regained the strong personality she had before fistula and struggles hard to change her life. She is doing well with her business showing improvement through time which is a proud for the whole family. My deepest thanks to those of you involved in restoring the life of my sister. It was Elfinish who encourages me to start working in the same city she is living in and we now, as family, are supporting each other in every possible ways,” said Gezahgan, Elfinish’s brother.

Between raising her daughter and running her own business, Elfinish still finds time to visit the Hamlin staff at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. She continues to have follow-up appointments at the hospital, the latest report: Elfinish is thriving.

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