Extending the Circle of Humanity – Starting with Moms

In January, we began a series focused on our dedicated donors, our “Heroes of Hamlin.” This is our second post in this series.

Jessica Fortin and her husband Brian Greenough met while attending Dartmouth College, and their shared sense of adventure led them to Ethiopia. For ten years, they have been living in Addis Ababa, the capital, and working at ICS Addis, an international school.

Jessica and Brian have a self-described “simple but comfortable” lifestyle. They live across the street from the school where they work – Brian as a teacher and Jessica as an admissions director. Jessica and Brian are well-aware that they have a lifestyle that most Ethiopians do not enjoy; they have the resources to cross country borders for modern health care, and their children will have access to high-quality education.

Many Americans or Europeans do not understand the challenges facing Ethiopians daily. This became clear to this family during visits home to the US, where friends and family were largely unaware of what life is like outside of the US. Brian gets impatient when people back home consider Ethiopia’s challenges to be “out of sight, out of mind,” especially since knowledge about lives in different countries is just a Google search away. In his words, “Many people don’t want to extend the circle of humanity to people they can’t immediately see.”

Their knowledge of their good fortune led them to become regular donors to Hamlin Fistula USA (HFUSA). As Jessica explained: “We’re confronted daily with our luxury, relative to many of the people around us. So, we’ve made a pledge to give 10 percent of our income annually to help those who are less fortunate.” Support for HFUSA is part of that pledge.

Through this pledge, Jessica and Brian are dedicated to “extending the circle” and believe that it begins with maternal health. The need for increased access to maternal health care in Ethiopia was clear to them when it came time for the births of their two young children. After realizing the lack of high-quality care available in Ethiopia, the couple flew to Kenya for both births. Jessica explained why maternal healthcare for Ethiopian women is so important to them: “Birth is the most basic thing. That maternal health is perceived as solely a woman’s issue is ridiculous; it is the reason the human race continues. Just because I have an American passport shouldn’t mean that I get to experience safe births, and women here do not.”

Jessica and Brian first visited the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in the spring of 2014, only a few months after the birth of their first child. They were motivated to donate after learning that obstetric fistula is completely preventable and treatable – they feel like their money could truly make a difference. They also strongly believe that Hamlin’s work is about restoring the conditions where women can live with dignity, as women living with fistula are often ostracized from their society. Then they began sponsoring Ethiopian women to study at the Hamlin College of Midwives after learning that Hamlin midwives can bring the occurrence of fistula down to nearly zero.

Not everyone can live in Ethiopia and witness firsthand the poverty and the urgent need for increased access to better health care in the region. But Brian and Jessica insist that everyone can help to extend the circle of humanity – and what a great way to start by supporting HFUSA and helping to end fistula for good.