During the Thanksgiving holiday in 2014, I returned to Ethiopia for the second time within five months as an employee of Habitat for Humanity International’s Global Village program. Having arrived in-country early, I joined a few of my fellow Habitat volunteers on a private tour of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, with Dr. Catherine Hamlin having been recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. I vaguely remembered hearing about obstetric fistula previously; Dr. Hamlin had appeared on an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show advocating for the global health concern, and Oprah subsequently visited the hospital in Addis Ababa herself. However, I didn’t truly grasp the gravity of the issue until that tour. I returned home that December and watched a documentary – A Walk to Beautiful – which followed young women and girls suffering from obstetric fistula in Ethiopia. I knew I was now part of the fight to eliminate obstetric fistula and that I would need to help raise more attention to the issue.
During the first year of my master’s, I returned to Ethiopia and spent seven months living in country and volunteering with a nonprofit that helped rehabilitate survivors to gain deeper insights on obstetric fistula for my capstone project.
Dr. Hamlin’s work influenced my academic and professional work. Photographs that I took of fistula survivors during that time have won awards.
But I’m more appreciative of the door that was opened for me when I toured that hospital initially. It led me to the work I did – a cause I remain deeply passionate about – and to meeting women with some of the strongest and most beautiful spirits I’ve ever encountered. My heart is sad for the loss it feels, but it hurts more for the women in Ethiopia and beyond who’ve lost their ultimate champion.
“These women have suffered more than any woman should be called upon to endure. To meet only one is to be profoundly moved and calls forth the utmost compassion that the human heart is capable of feeling.”