Throughout her life, Jeanette Schofield has strived to find new ways to give back. For four decades, Jeanette has been supporting the work of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia through fundraising in her local community. In doing so, Jeanette has given back to our global community. Her support, and the support of her late husband Ronald, has helped raise awareness on obstetric fistula and helped transform the lives of women in Ethiopia. For decades, Jeanette has been giving back to her community in small and big ways. Since 2012, Jeanette’s efforts have helped raise over $30,000 for fistula patients!
A desire to give back
“We just wanted to help others. We knew we had a very sheltered and blessed life, and just to be able to help others was real joy to us all our lives,” says Jeanette. From early on, Jeanette always took a shining to (global) community service. As a child, she would help out in a girls’ group to raise funds for numerous causes. “I was about six or seven when I first started fundraising. If there was a good cause, you put your heart and soul into it and thought about things to do to raise funds and engage people in it,” Jeanette reflects. Jeanette was keen to inculcate a similar giving spirit in her children. “When my boys were little, they were always involved in walkathons; these things have always been a part of our lives and how we grew up,” recalls Jeanette. One of the causes that Jeanette has championed over the years is Hamlin, with whom Jeanette shares a long and storied history.
A local community gets crafty and gives back
In 1980, Jeanette joined a local women’s club in Roselands, Sydney, which raised funds for disadvantaged women in various parts of the world. One of the first overseas projects that the club supported was Dr Catherine Hamlin’s work to eradicate obstetric fistula from Ethiopia. The Roselands group arranged street stalls that sold handmade knick-knacks and homemade jams and cakes; and hosted events, including fashion parades, dinner parties and garden parties. The funds from the group’s initiatives would be distributed to a number of causes, including Hamlin.
Jeanette was keen on transforming her love of handicrafts into something that gave back to the global community. In the 1990s, when they moved to the Southern Highlands in New South Wales, Jeanette and Ron set up a fundraising group that would engage with their newfound community and their love of giving back. Every weekend, at markets and fairs, the group would sell hand-knitted and crocheted pieces, jams, pickles, and relishes. While locals and tourists would browse the wares, Jeanette and Ron would explain the challenges that many women in Ethiopia were facing. Even after Ron’s passing, Jeanette’s efforts have continued apace: “I started a knitting and crocheting group when we first move to the highlands called ‘Craft and Chatter’ which made a lot of rugs [which were] donated to the hospital. I started a ‘Knit and Natter’ group which is still going; it’s a group of ladies that are crafty and want to help,” says Jeanette.
COVID-19 hasn’t slowed down Jeanette’s fundraising efforts. “I have four outlets in Bowral and one in Mittagong selling my jams. I was busier than ever last year, making jams. It was unbelievable! To be able to tell people of Catherine’s work is a real joy,” remarks Jeanette.
The special significance of fistula
For Jeanette, supporting fistula patients holds personal meaning: “Catherine’s work was very dear to my heart and to Ron’s because our fist son was a difficult birth… we were just thankful that I was in a hospital when my son was born. Had I been in Ethiopia, and in that situation, I could easily have been one of those fistula patients, so it’s always been something that I feel very close to.”
There is a universal kinship between mothers and expectant mothers that motivates much of Jeanette’s compassion for fistula patients. “It’s a very moving thing for someone who has ever given birth and had difficulties, to understand the horrors that the women [with fistula injuries] go through. I think every woman probably does empathise, but no woman who has experienced problems in labour and has had access, here in Australia, to immediate attention, has never had to go through what those women have gone through,” Jeanette muses.
Jeanette was able to personally meet with Catherine a number of times. When Catherine would visit Australia, she would often meet with supporters whose fundraising efforts made her work in Ethiopia possible. In some instances, Catherine would be a guest speaker for various groups; other meetings would be more informal catchups between the two ladies. Catherine and Jeanette also corresponded via letters and birthday cards, which Jeanette recalls as “lovely. She was a person who truly loved people.”
Through these meetings, Jeanette was able to see a more relaxed version of Catherine. “She was just a lovely person who you could just sit and talk to. I don’t think I ever felt in awe of Catherine because she was such a person-to-person person who you could speak to. Obviously, you know that she’s done these wonderful things, but she’s was still just Catherine, who you could just sit and chat with. She was a real person to somebody, not just a [celebrity] that you’re in awe of,” reflects Jeanette.
Giving back, today and tomorrow
For decades, Jeanette has been giving back to her community – both local and global – in small and big ways. Since 2012, Jeanette’;s efforts have helped raise over $30,000 for fistula patients. Jeanette’s advice for other people wanting to make a difference for the global community? “Don’t look at the big picture, it will overwhelm you. Just look at what you can do for somebody else and multiply that by the people interested and it grows.”
Jeanette’s story is truly inspiring – and it’s not over yet: “I can’t go and serve over there, in Ethiopia, but I can do what I can here to help, the best way that I can use my talents. As long as I can, I will do what I can and keep encouraging people about what I do and who I do it for. As Catherine said, fistula will be eradicated eventually and people who care will make it happen.”
Follow Jeanette’s lead and become a fundraiser for Hamlin! Click here to learn how you can engage with your local community and give back through the Hands On for Hamlin fundraising program.