In 1958, Dr Catherine Hamlin began working as a gynaecologist at the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital in Addis Adaba. Almost 60 years later, her legacy is nothing short of remarkable.
During her long career, and since her passing in 2020, Dr Catherine was fortunate to have the support of a powerhouse of determined, caring, energetic, and passionate women.
Women who recognise that ending obstetric fistula is not just a maternal health issue, but a human rights issue. Women who are committed to supporting women.
In ways both large and small, these women are a force for good, helping to bring hope, joy and dignity to women who have suffered horrific birth injuries while continuing to work towards Catherine’s vision of a fistula-free Ethiopia.
These are the Women of Hamlin, and here are some of their stories.
The protégé: Mamitu
Mamitu Gashe, one of Dr Catherine’s earliest patients, arrived at the Addis Ababa hospital aged just 14 years, suffering with horrific obstetric fistula injures. Grateful for the care she received, Mamitu remained at the hospital to help other women. Seeing something special in Mamitu, Catherine and Reg provided Mamitu with the opportunity to assist during surgeries, offering skilled guidance and training as part of their mentorship. Today, Mamitu is one of the world’s most acclaimed fistula surgeons, receiving a Gold Medal for surgery from the Royal College of Surgeons in London.
“There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.”Michelle Obama, attorney and author
The volunteer: Lynne Acworth
Having spent 3 years teaching in Nigeria, Lynne knows all too well the challenges facing women in low-income, rural communities. An educator and advocate for obstetric fistula patients, Lynne has been a long-time supporter and volunteer, talking to community groups about the work of Hamlin, and lending her time at the Hamlin store. Lynne has also developed a fantastic, and award-winning learning resource for high school students. It’s no surprise that she is now a Hamlin Champion.
Behind every great woman… is another great woman.”Kate Hodges, author
The rural midwife: Tizita
Tizita works in the Kura Chele Midwifery Clinic in rural Ethiopia. Her training at the Hamlin College of Midwives, which included attendance at more than 100 births, means Tizita has been able to gain the trust of the local community and overcome long-held misconceptions about medical intervention during birth. She says: “The high-quality training we received at the College and the exceptional clinical placements we took made us proud and confident professionals. Here, in our community, we are making progress in supporting pregnant women and healthy children and are also preventing fistula – so it’s very important!”
“I can promise you that women working together – linked, informed and educated – can bring peace and prosperity to this forsaken planet.”Isabel Allende, writer
The knitters: providing comfort and care
The Hamlin Model of Care considers the whole person with respect and compassion, treating the psychological and emotional effects of fistula, while also offering physical treatment through surgery. A woman’s healing starts as soon as she arrives at a Hamlin hospital, when she receives a colourful hand- knitted blanket, symbolising her life being woven back together. Our community of knitters around the globe (like Rachel who got her whole family involved!) make each and every woman feel special, loved, and cared for. An incredible gift for which we are so grateful.
“I raise up my voice—not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. … We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”Malala Yousafzai, education activist
The midwife mentor: Emebet
After graduating from the Hamlin College of Midwives more than a decade ago, Emebet now works as a midwife mentor in the Hamlin Yirgalem hospital. Her working week involves ultrasound scanning, managing the distribution of medical supplies to rural clinics, and visiting small clinics to provide support to working midwives, who are often the only source of maternal and child healthcare in Ethiopia’s rural villages. Emebet says: “They are strong girls and they are confident. The best thing about Hamlin midwives is they are trained to manage any complications themselves so they reduce unnecessary referrals to hospital. This is better for patients as most do not have the money to leave their communities.”
“Every woman’s success should be an inspiration to another. We’re strongest when we cheer each other on.”Serena Williams, athlete
The Project Zero Team Leader: Hanna Tesfaye
A trained midwife with a master’s degree in public health, Hanna is now leading a team for our ambitious new program to end fistula: Project Zero. Hanna and her colleagues go from house to house, woreda (district) to woreda, to find women living with an obstetric fistula injury, and organise care and treatment. Passionate about her work, Hanna says: If a woman is free from obstetric fistula, she’s a backbone of the family. She’s a woman. She’s a sister, a mother, and a wife. The family will be productive and future generations will be productive.”
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”Audre Lorde, activist
Towards the end of her life, Dr Catherine remarked: “When I die, this place will go on for many, many years until we have eradicated fistula altogether – until every woman in Ethiopia is assured of a safe delivery and a live baby.”
The women of Hamlin are making sure Dr Catherine’s vision becomes a reality.