Selam from Addis Ababa,
A visit to the Fistula Hospital was the main reason I travelled all the way to Addis Ababa. When I arrived in the taxi, the cautious guards politely advised that there was no entry without a prior appointment. “Hmmm, I’ve come a long way,” I said, worried that the journey had been wasted. No entry. “What if I wanted to make a donation?” I asked. Still no entry. And then a brain wave: “But, I’m Australian”. Oh, that’s different! Please come this way, Sir.
The Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa represents the life’s work of Reg and Catherine Hamlin. They arrived from Australia in 1959 as doctors answering a call for an assignment. The contract was for three years. When Catherine died in 2020 at the age of 96 (and still operating!), the pair had left a stupendous legacy.
Fistulas are often debilitating infections resulting from childbirth. It is treatable by fairly simple surgery but in Ethiopia, many women were not treated and ostracised by family and community. The Hamlins saw an immediate need and devoted their careers to making a difference. Their legacy at the Fistula Hospital is impossible to exaggerate. I’m told that almost all of the funds for the hospital come from donations to the foundation (hamlin.org.au).
After I was ushered into the grounds, Mihiretu Miressa was keen to show the Australian around. Mihiretu is a man with a passion, borrowing gleefully from the ethos which built this hospital and the other five around Ethiopia. He told me about the hospital’s care for the stricken women who suffer from obstetric fistula. “Not only do we fix their medical problem but we restore their dignity,” he said.
One of the most impressive elements of the facility is the way they provide holistic care with three pillars of care, encompassing nine stages of treatment. The surgery is one stage in a series aimed at full rehabilitation. Included in the nine stages are “psychological care and empowerment”. Many of the women acquire sufficient skills here to allow them to start businesses back in their villages of origin. There have been innumerable successes.
It was also gratifying to see the knitted and crocheted blankets being put to constructive use. My mother has made many such blankets and donated over the years. Any readers who can knit or crochet, please think about this cause.
I was glad to make the trip, and especially glad to have the brainwave. It’s great to know that being Australian can open doors in some places. It isn’t just our eucalypts for which the Ethiopians are grateful.
Dehina Hunu from Addis Ababa