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.

Going the distance for Ethiopian women


Thank you to everyone who donated to Hamlin Fistula and supported Sarah as she ran the World Marathon Challenge!  It was an amazing feat for her and an incredible show of support for Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia.  Check out the Facebook page to see all of the amazing media coverage of Sarah, including an interview during her third marathon in Miami!

We recently asked Sarah what her favorite part of the Challenge was and she quickly replied: “The finish line.” After laughing, she said that there were many amazing experiences, and difficulties, along the way.

Sarah Ames at the finish line in Antarctica

Sarah at the finish line in Antarctica

In Antarctica, a race that Sarah has run four times before and truly loved, she struggled.  But the race that she was most nervous about – Marrakesh, because she would have to run this race on the same day as the Madrid marathon – was much easier and more beautiful than she had expected and became her favorite leg of the trip.

Sarah with the other WMC runners in Miami

Sarah with the other WMC runners in Miami

Sarah was incredibly grateful to friends and family who cheered her on along the way.  Close friends in Miami encouraged her along during the third leg, her mother was there to support her in Madrid, she met with a friend in Dubai, and the finish line in Sydney was a crowd of close friends, and supporters from Hamlin Fistula’s Australian fundraising partner.

Through the money raised, we are able to transform the lives of more than 30 women like Medina in Ethiopia.


Medina suffered a double fistula and is now back in her village

Medina developed a double fistula after three days of obstructed labor at home. By midnight of the third day, Medina was lucky to be alive but sadly her baby was stillborn. Crippled and unable to walk, Medina was confined to her mat in a small hut. After three long months, Medina’s mother learned from a friend that she could be treated at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa.

Medina arrived at the hospital underweight and unable to walk. After nine months of physiotherapy, Medina was able to walk again unassisted. Medina has since received multiple surgeries and treatments, and is now in better health. After learning business skills at Hamlin’s long-term rehabilitation facility Desta Mender, Medina has opened her own small shop in Meraro, a small town near her village. She now lives off her own income, which is very rare in this region of Ethiopia.

“Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia has not only brought me out from where I had been thrown out, but provided me with skills and money to make life easier. What words could express my gratitude?” asks Medina.

The World Marathon Challenge is over, but women like Medina continue to be treated and cared for by Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. Become a regular donor to Hamlin Fistula USA to make this amazing work possible. Compared to running seven marathons, taking a few moments to donate is an easy way to bring health and dignity to Ethiopian mothers.

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.


Hamlin Fistula USA is excited to announce two new board members!

HFUSA recently added two exceptional individuals to our board of directors. We’d like you to meet them:

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.”

Sarah Ames is an attorney and partner at Quarles & Brady LLP in Chicago where she provides legal services to multi-national clients with regard to corporate, commercial, employment, and immigration matters.

Sarah’s connection to Ethiopia began with marathon running.  She is an avid runner and has long admired Ethiopians for their achievements in the sport. Sarah has been a generous donor to HFUSA for two years, and recently traveled to the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa with her mother. They had the opportunity to meet Dr. Catherine Hamlin, patients, and staff, an experience Sarah describes as “very touching and at times heart-wrenching but also very inspirational.  It was encouraging to see the very specific results that raising awareness and funds can bring. Patients are lovingly cared for with a holistic approach and  great compassion in an environment that allows body and soul to heal.”

HFUSA Board Member Sarah Ames (back row, center) and her mother Gudrun Adelhelm visit the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa.

HFUSA Board Member Sarah Ames (back row, center) and her mother Gudrun Adelhelm visit the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa.

Sarah is also a high achiever and has run four marathons on all each of the seven continents, including Antarctica, as well as a marathon at the geographic North Pole.  In January 2016, Sarah plans to run the World Marathon Challenge, which entails running seven marathons, on all seven continents, in seven days.  She is planning to use this opportunity to raise funds for Hamlin Fistula, so stay tuned for more information on how you can be involved later this year. 

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)