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.
If you try and put yourself in their situation, you can see how huge a change this can make. Imagine if tomorrow you simultaneously lost all of your friends and family and became a social outcast. Then try to picture living the rest of your life (lets say 40 years) like that. 40 years of solitude, hopelessness, despair, that can be completely fixed in less than a week for less than $500. "We could either eat at a fancy restaurant tonight, or we could help give someone 40 years of quality life." I realize I just sounded like Sally Struthers, but if you were on the other side of the coin, wouldn't you hope 10 people would give up a fancy dinner so that you could have 40 years of your life back.
Obstetric fistula is truly devastating problem and I a mvery pleased that A Walk to Beautiful highlighted the plight of these women in Ethiopia. The simple truth is that the problem is far greater than Ethiopia and has at least 2 million women living in absolute hell. I run a startup non-profit based in Austin that is focused on help these women - all of them. Not just one country, but everywhere. Besides funding local doctors to treat these women, we fund local social workers to help reintegrate them. Check out www.operationof.org for more details.
Thanks Seth! The more awareness, the better.
As someone who works for a non-profit, I am always conscious of how other charities spend the money that is donated to them. I'm delighted to see the Fistula Foundation is a 4-star charity. In our world, that is a great testament to the fact that the group is spending money the way they should. According to the Charity Navigator website, the FF spends 80 percent of donations on mission-related programs, and only 20 percent on administrative and fundraising expenses. That is a very respectable ratio, one not always reached by non-profits. People should research charities before deciding where to give, and if you research this one, it looks like they are a good place to make your money really do some good.
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