Dr Catherine Hamlin‘s dedication, compassion and medical advances have been recognised several times over the years; she was awarded the prestigious Companion of the Order of Australia in 1995, Alternate Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, the United Nations Association of Australia Lifework Award in 2017 and the NSW Senior Australian of the Year for 2018, to name but a few. Yet it was her receipt of the Rotary International Award for World Understanding and Peace that would require Catherine to step out of her comfort zone.
Championing the eradication of fistula
During the early days of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, Catherine and her late husband, Dr Reg Hamlin, received support from Rotary Clubs across the world. One community group which was a particular champion of Catherine and Reg’s work to eradicate obstetric fistula was the Rotary Club at Terrace End in Palmerston North, New Zealand.
The club’s advocacy for fistula patients inspired them to submit Catherine for the Rotary International Award for World Understanding and Peace. When their efforts were unsuccessful, the Terrace End Rotary Club created a more robust submission that highlighted the stark reality of woman suffering a fistula. Their championing of Catherine’s cause had been successful.
In 1998 Catherine was awarded Rotary International’s Award for World Understanding and Peace; at the time, it was Rotary’s highest honour. Previous recipients of the award include Nelson Mandela, the International Red Cross and ophthalmologist Fred Hollows. In her autobiography, ‘The Hospital By the River‘ written with John Little, Catherine wrote with her characteristic humility, “I was flattered that they were going to so much trouble but I did not hold out much hope of winning.”
Speaking up for women in need
Catherine travelled to Indianapolis to accept the prize – and to give an acceptance speech. In Catherine’s opinion, Reg had all of talent when it came to oration; in the aftermath of his death, Catherine found that she needed to steel herself and advocate for the some of the most vulnerable women in the world.
In her autobiography, Catherine reflected on her nervousness: “…with my heart pounding, I stood up before a huge audience. I thanked them for the prize, told them about tour work and how this money would e spent. At the end of my speech I was amazed by a standing ovation… as always, the story of our sad patients had touched the hearts of the audience.”
Catherine’s receipt of the Rotary International Award for World Understanding and Peace was thanks in large part to the efforts of Hamlin champions, who knew that people needed to learn of the plight of fistula sufferers and recognise the work being done to eradicate fistula. Forever.
We’re determined to carry on Dr Catherine Hamlin’s work and finally eradicate fistula. Click here to help finish what Catherine started.