There is always at least one emotional breakdown on every trip I take to visit W2T projects. This time, it happened at the Mekele Fistula Clinic.
The clinic helps women who suffer from obstretric fistulas. Fistulas are holes created by prolonged labors. The hole is created by the pressure of the fetus on the uterus which results in a hole between the uterus and bladder or intestines. This leads to leadage of urine or feces through the vagina.
The stigma is social, economic, even spiritual. Husbands divorce them and they return to their original families. They can’t attend church because they are considered unclean. They are ostracized. Their families give them a tukul, or traditional hut, and there they live. As the surgeon described it, they are treated like dogs and only have human interaction when someone brings them food. It is a terrible situation, and one that is so important to address. In fact, Water to Thrive board member Lynne Dobson has long been spearheading an effort to build a fistula hospital in Uganda as well.
Mekele hospital provides a welcoming environment with green space. The garden allows the women to feel at home, to get their hands in the earth, and gives them a safe place where they are not judged.
The doctor explained that 90 percent of the surgeries to correct fistulas are successful. I asked about the other 10 percent. He explained that he performs second and even third surgeries to repair the issue.
Water to Thrive is working with the Hamlin Foundation (founders of the Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia and pioneers of the surgery) to address the water issue at the clinic. They have a source of water that is inadequate and is corrosive to the instrumentation (as evidenced by the photo of the sink).
So far, we’ve dug a deep borehole well, but the water analysis results are outside of the World Health Organization standards. We are currently researching water filtration systems to make the water within acceptable standards.
Out of respect for the privacy of the women, I didn’t take their photos, but they were smiling and waved as we walked through the clinic. The doctor is truly performing God’s work.