My selection this month has a very special place in my heart. It all started about one year ago. My husband records the Nova television shows on PBS. Usually I roll my eyes and find something else to do while he watches them, especially when they cover scientific topics that are over my head. One week I happened to be laying on the couch, dozing on and off, when he turned on the episode, "A Walk to Beautiful." Figuring I'd probably fall asleep soon, I didn't object. As the episode began unfolding, I found myself intrigued. It features the stories of women, suffering from obstetric fistula, trying to make the harrowing journey to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. If you're like me, you had never heard of a fistula. Basically it's a hole that forms either as a result of prolonged, obstructed labor or sexual violence, that causes bodily fluids to pass uncontrollably. While the physical effects are devastating, the psychological trauma is immense as well. Women who suffer from obstetric fistulas are exiled from their communities. Their husbands, families, and friends abandon them. They lose their dignity and self-worth, and are usually forced to raise their newborn in complete isolation (assuming the child survived). Can you imagine that? Can you EVEN imagine that?
If any of us ever developed this problem, we'd probably be treated before we ever left the hospital after giving birth. There would be no incontinence, no isolation, and probably no one outside our very immediate family would ever even know. Things are a little different in Ethiopia. The women in the film (and countless others) don't have the luxury of giving birth in a hospital. The Fistula Foundation website says that less than 6 in 10 women in developing countries give birth with any trained professional. Also, the poverty and malnutrition that women in these countries experience contributes to a stunted pelvis, which can lead to obstructed labor. We are quite sheltered from these experiences.
Fistulas are preventable if women receive adequate obstetric care during labor. They are also treatable, thanks to Reginald and Catherine Hamlin and the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. But, because of the limited treatment centers available, many women go untreated or have to spend days making the treacherous journey by bus to reach a center. Some women aren't even aware that a treatment exists, as we discover through one woman's heart wrenching story in "A Walk to Beautiful." By some estimates, there are currently at least two million women suffering from a fistula, with 100,000 more developing it each year. From the Fistula Foundation website, "The world capacity to treat fistula is estimated at 6,500 fistula repair surgeries per year." That's quite a large gap.
Now here's the kicker: How much does it cost to treat obstetric fistula? $450. Yes, that's right. $450 for the operation, postoperative care, a new dress, and bus fare home. That's a ridiculously small price to pay for a woman to regain her family, her friends, her dignity, HER LIFE.
So here's what you can do:
1) Go to this website and watch "A Walk to Beautiful." Make sure you can set aside one hour to watch it from start to finish. It'll be worth it.
2) Go to this website and find out more about the Fistula Foundation.
3) Donate. What better time to make a donation, than around Mother's Day? Donate on your mother's behalf to really show your gratitude.
4) Tell someone else.