Would I go again? In a heartbeat!

The Hamlin Ethiopian Adventure is the trip of a lifetime and one not easily forgotten, but don’t take our word for it. Hear from Liz, a participant on our November 2019 trip to Northern Ethiopia. 

My sister told me she was thinking of doing a trip to Ethiopia in November 2019 to support the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation, already I was intrigued. I have travelled to Africa before but never to this amazing corner of it.

Over the years my sister and I had both supported the foundation on and off. This was a chance to discover more about the foundation, raise some money and the profile of the foundation and go on an adventure together.

I had my annual leave approved by my family and we were off and fundraising. It is surprising how many people know the name Hamlin but also how many do not know what obstetric fistula is, but also what if means to live with obstetric fistula in a third world country. Obstetric fistula is virtually non-existent in Australia.

The trip was fantastic!! We had a fabulous group of like-minded women from all walks of life and one very patient fantastic husband who has supported the foundation for many years (imagine poor Phil waiting for all 18 of us to finish shopping!!). Our amazing guide Elias was outstanding, and Em and Kate from Hamlin made this trip spectacular. Nothing was too much trouble for these three and I’m sure there was a lot of work behind the scenes to have the trip run so smoothly.

Our first day was spent at Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. The hospital is like an oasis in the city. Addis Ababa is a very busy, crowded city with many dusty construction sites and ongoing roadworks. The hospital is quiet, green, uncrowded and with a lovely caring feel about it.

We were welcomed with a coffee ceremony and a presentation from the CEO, Tesfaye Mamo and others on the work they do within the organisation. It is completely run by Ethiopians and employs 550 locals across the country. All of this is run on donations from around the world. Tesfaye was able to explain their role now and their plans for the future. We were impressed with the professionalism and pride with which they showed in their organisation.

We then had a tour of the hospital and met some of the patients. Most of the patients are very shy and we do not share their language(s). Em and Kate had brought a polaroid camera to take some photos for the patients to keep. Initially I thought they weren’t interested but then you could see them straightening their shawls, sitting up straight and I could tell they were interested in us and interacting with us. Some just wanted photos of themselves and some with us to share with their friends. It was a lovely moment to have a connection with these women. Some of our group were happily knitting with the patients whilst they were doing their handicrafts. All have a Hamlin blanket to wrap around themselves.

We were very privileged to meet Dr Catherine Hamlin, she generously invited all of us into her living room and was distressed when we left without being offered a cup of tea!! An amazing woman, always thinking of others. Mamitu, also a world expert fistula surgeon was there to meet us as well and to care for Catherine.

We visited the Amarit Health Centre outside Bahir Dar (north west of Addis Ababa). The health centre employs two Hamlin trained midwives. Feven and Mahlet and their mentor Sister Hirut. They deliver 50-60 babies per month in clean but basic facilities. The standards are based on WHO guidelines. They can stay on site in basic accommodation whilst they are on call and can walk up to four hours through their local community to provide ante and post-natal care to women. There are mostly no roads just dirt tracks.

Most of these health centres have “solar suitcases”. One solar panel can provide two lights and one power point to charge the midwives mobile phone (to call for assistance as required). Before this often the midwives were attending a birth with only the torch of their mobile phone to provide light.

At Bahir Dar we visited Hamlin’s Bahir Dar Fistula Hospital. The senior nurse and patient identification officer met us and explained how their hospital is changing the lives of women locally. Bahir Dar used to be the busiest of the outreach hospitals but the number of women presenting has decreased with the hospital able to treat those that need it and access to midwives to prevent this tragic injury.

On our return to Addis Ababa we visited Desta Mender and the Hamlin College of Midwives. Desta Mender provides longer term rehabilitation and reintegration for patients that need this. The staff were passionate and provide education and then seed money to help the women support themselves after leaving the haven of Desta Mender.

The Dean of the Hamlin College of Midwives, Zelalem Belete, explained how the students are recruited and supported through their four-year degree. He also discussed the future and their plans to offer a Masters course in midwifery. The staff were all very professional and proud of their world class facility and quality of their graduates.

Of course, not all the trip was purely related to Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. We also travelled through Ethiopia as tourists.

The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are astounding and need to be seen to be believed…

Walking in the Simien Mountains north of Gondar was very special. We saw Gelada baboons, stayed in an amazing eco-lodge and enjoyed drinks with this view every night.

The largest market in Africa is in Addis Ababa, the Mercato. They sell everything, and I mean everything. They have large areas that are devoted to specific goods – baskets, metalwork, recycling, food. Below is a man selling individually packaged steel wool.


Yes, that is eleven mattresses this guy is carrying!

This guy was welding with a cardboard “protective visor”.

The end of the trip highlight was the “Great Ethiopian Run”. This annual event was set up by world famous Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie. It is a 10km run through the streets of Addis Ababa. It was so much fun! I had trained for a year but was still not sure if this was something I could do. With 40,000 participants we ran as much as was possible, but it was so busy often it was just dodging around other participants.

The Ethiopians sang, danced, hula hooped, walked and ran their way around the course. At one point there was meant to be a “water stop” which was a man standing on top of a water tanker hosing us all with water! There were four bands on the course keeping us upbeat and singing, the final one at the 9km mark was a reggae band singing “just keep runnin’!!”.

Would I go again? In a heartbeat! Sure we had some issues with hotels being more “Fawlty Towers” than the Hilton, the power and water would go out, the power points fall out of the wall when you remove a socket but we all just laughed about it and got on with it.

The inspiring people that work for Hamlin both here and in Ethiopia feel like a tight knit family who have a holistic attitude to this issue which changes the future of these heartbroken women one at a time.

As a group we raised more than $142 000 AUD and I hope we raised the profile of this worthy cause enough to inspire you – yes you, to go on an adventure like this too.

To learn about our trips to Ethiopia in March and November, click here. 

Author: Liz, November 2019 Hamlin Ethiopian Adventurer

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