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.

Darina Byrne, a Pillar of Hamlin

Our efforts would not be possible without the support of our amazing donors. We want to shine a light on one of these dedicated donors, Darina Byrne, a Pillar of Hamlin with tremendous passion for our work. Originally from Ireland, Darina is a chemist who moved to California with her employer Johnson & Johnson. Darina has been at the company for 22 years working in quality systems and operations.

A close friend introduced Darina to the work of Hamlin Fistula in 2013. She was shocked that women still suffer from these types of preventable childbirth injuries in Ethiopia, when they are nearly non-existent in the US. Darina has two college-age sons, and she remembered having top-quality care during their births, and being able to make critical choices about her time in labor. The fact that some women do not have these choices troubled her greatly.

She is also touched by the depth of care Hamlin provides:

“Hamlin Fistula’s work resonated with me because it’s not just about physically repairing the women. Hamlin provides holistic care to improve their quality of life, bringing back their dignity and enabling them to return to their community.”

Darina is part of the Hamlin Fistula Pillar community, giving $1,000 (including company match) or more each year. Her generous support is augmented by Johnson & Johnson, which matches employee donations 2:1 through its corporate giving program. Darina encourages other donors to grow their impact through matching gifts.

Darina continually shares Hamlin Fistula’s mission and work. It’s as easy as sitting down to dinner with friends and explaining how fistula happens and its devastating impact on women. “People know childbirth injuries are preventable and curable – your small donation can make a huge difference in the lives of women and girls. You can choose between spending your money on a pair of shoes or that impact.”

Thank you to Darina and to our Pillar community. Together with all of our extraordinary donors, we work towards a future where all women’s bodies are healed and their lives restored. Donate now to help make childbirth injuries a thing of the past.

End the Shame. End the Isolation. End Fistula.

This Saturday, May 23 is the 3rd annual International Day to End Fistula.  The United Nation’s theme for this year is “End fistula, restore women’s dignity” and we can’t think of a better way to describe the work of Hamlin Fistula.

In the 41 years that our hospital has been in operation, we have repaired obstetric fistula free of charge for women more than 43,000 women in Ethiopia, many of whom have not only lost a child, but have also been isolated by their communities. Our hospitals are joyful places where women are not only treated for their condition, but their senses of self-worth and dignity are truly restored.  The Ethiopian health ministry estimated that there are nearly 20,000 remaining cases of obstetric fistula in Ethiopia and a single, standard surgery costs $600.

But repairing fistulas isn’t enough.  We also work to prevent childbirth injuries like fistula by sending out graduates of the Hamlin College of Midwives to rural health clinics, giving pregnant women the pre- and post-natal care that they need to deliver their children safely.

Very few of us can imagine the trauma of losing a child or the devastation of living with this debilitating condition, but the hope in a woman’s eyes when she learns that she is whole again is universal.

Help us bring that hope. Help us end fistula.

fistula

Hamlin Fistula USA is excited to announce Steve Sockolov as a new board member!

HFUSA recently added a new member to our board of directors.

HFUSA Board member, Steve Sockolov

HFUSA Board member, Steve Sockolov

Steve Sockolov is a retired director of marketing and engineering from Analog Devices, Inc.  During his time as director, his team grew the business to become the world leader in a major market.  He is most proud of developing young engineers and providing opportunities for women engineers.  The percentage of women electrical engineers in the United States is about 12 percent; the groups he managed consistently had two times that many.

Throughout his career, Steve contributed a significant amount of time and resources to causes including environmental protection and conservation, global health, and anti-drunk driving campaigns. He has been a loyal supporter of and volunteer for Hamlin Fistula USA for several years. Now that he is retired, he is excited to contribute more of his time and expertise to HFUSA.

Steve is excited to join the board: “It’s great to work in an organization with such dedicated volunteers. We all believe that eradicating fistula in Ethiopia within a decade is a real possibility. In addition to helping women regain their health and the ability to again become self-sustaining members of their communities, HFUSA also trains women as midwives. The ability to see such direct results for the donations and efforts is incredibly rewarding.”

We’d also like to send out a special thank you to long-time board member Abaynesh Asrat, who has decided to step down to pursue other volunteer opportunities.  Thank you Abaynesh for your dedicated service!

Hamlin College Of Midwives Graduate Fourth Class

The Hamlin College of Midwives is proud to announce the graduation of its fourth class of highly trained midwives this past Saturday. This year’s class consists of 24 women who will now be deployed at government health centers in rural villages across Ethiopia.

With only 1,000 qualified midwives in Ethiopia for a population of nearly 80 million, investing in training is crucial for reducing high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity.

The College plays a major role in Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia’s strategy to prevent childbirth injuries, and supports the Ethiopia Government’s goal of eradicating fistula. According to Dr. Catherine Hamlin, founder of the College and the network of Hamlin Fistula hospitals in Ethiopia, “This is the Hospital’s most important long-term initiative so far towards preventing the scourge of obstetric fistula.”

The class of 2014 will join 34 previous graduates working in 17 health centers across Ethiopia. These midwives have assisted more than 5,700 mothers with safe deliveries. The College plans to continue graduating midwives every year to fulfill its vision “a midwife for every woman.”

Grad 2014 oath

(Photo by Harriet Andrews)