Dr Catherine Hamlin believed that treating an obstetric fistula patient isn’t just treating a hole in the bladder, but rather the whole woman. She believed every woman deserved loving care, respect and help to heal from the emotional and physical trauma of obstetric fistula.
That’s why she opened Desta Mender, Hamlin’s rehabilitation and reintegration centre, in 2002. Desta Mender means ‘Joy Village’ in Amharic – the name encapsulating the joy that fistula patients experience as they regain their health and acquire new skills and confidence.
The program embodies Catherine’s Hamlin Model of Care and empowers women to live a life with independence and dignity.
Establishing a place to heal and learn
Desta Mender was built on land donated by the Ethiopian Government, approximately ten kilometres from Hamlin’s fistula hospital in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. It’s a farm and residential facility next to a mountain on the outskirts of the city.
Catherine’s brother, Jock and his wife, Louise were integral to the establishment of Desta Mender. Experienced farmers, Jock and Louise arrived in Ethiopia and quickly got to work setting up generators, clean water supplies and a dairy farm.
They organised for teachers to come and show patients how to work in the garden and teach them skills so they could start the next chapter of their lives – after fistula.
Empowering women for life after fistula
Repairing a woman’s fistula injury is not the end of her story. Having lived in social isolation for months or even years, re-entering the community can be daunting and few have an income that allows them to live independently.
At Desta Mender, each woman’s program is tailored specifically to her needs. She is offered counselling, literacy and numeracy classes, as well as vocational and life skills training. The Hamlin team supports her to find sustainable employment upon reintegration to her community. Many women receive seed money to start their own business.
Since opening, thousands of survivors of obstetric fistula have received free physiotherapy, counselling, long-term medical care and vocational training at Desta Mender.
20 years on…the next chapter begins
Twenty years on, Hamlin’s rehabilitation program continues to evolve, enabling even more women to start the next chapter of their lives after fistula – just as Catherine wanted.
The groundbreaking new Women’s Empowerment Program invites former fistula patients in need of income support back to Desta Mender to learn vital vocational skills to support themselves, their families and communities.
This three-month residency provides women with a range of learning opportunities, including leadership and communications training, as well as small-business guidance and vocational training. Many women start their own businesses upon graduation.
Tigist Aman, Hamlin’s Rehabilitation & Reintegration Manager, believes the Women’s Empowerment Program complements the rehabilitation work that is already taking place at Desta Mender.
“The Women’s Empowerment Program was established to create a complete healing process for women with fistula after much needed medical procedure at our fistula hospital.
Through their training, I see physically and psychologically injured women become confident, empowered and ready to rejoin their home communities,” she says.
Every woman deserves to feel empowered and lead a full and meaningful life. With your support, they can. Click here to support this program.