What does it take to heal a broken woman?

In a word? $450.

That’s the cost of an operation to repair a fistula, a condition unknown in the West but afflicting more than two million women in the developing world. Quite simply, fistula is about the most horrendous thing that can happen to a woman. The result of either neglected, obstructed childbirth or sexual violence, fistula results in holes in the bladder, vagina or rectum through which urine and/or feces pass uncontrollably. The stench is almost unbearable and women are often abandoned by their husbands and families and left to suffer in shame and isolation.

Catherine Hamlin & nurses at Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.

The good news is, fistula is being treated every day at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, founded in 1974 by Reginald and Catherine Hamlin, two gynecologists who moved from Australia to Ethiopia. It was then and is still the only medical center in the world dedicated exclusively to fistula repair. Although Reginald has passed on, Catherine Hamlin, now 84 years old and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is still doing the delicate reparative surgery that she pioneered.

Women waiting in a clinic in Congo. Photo by Paula Allen.

The Fistula Foundation is the largest supporter of Catherine’s hospital, as well as other hospitals in Ethiopia, the Congo, Angola, and Afghanistan. I read about the Fistula Foundation in Nicholas Kristof’s column on Mother’s Day and I heard about it from one of my readers, Ramona Lichtenthaeler in Germany, who with her friends Kalantha in England, and Charmaine in Norway are raising money for the Foundation and the first graduation of the Hamlin College of Midwives — a beautiful celebration, since untended birth is what causes fistulas in the first place. (Great work on training nurses and midwives is also being done at the Edna Maternity Hospital in Somaliland.)

Graduating nurses at the incredible Edna Maternity Hospital in Somaliland.

Ramona asked me to ask you to click on this link because every click means an additional cent for the Fistula Foundation. The page is in German. You will know that you have been successful with your click when you read “Super, Du hast etwas Gutes getan!” meaning: “Great, you have done something good!”

Recovering patients in front of the main ward.

My suggestion, (since in 100 clicks you’ll only be raising $1), is just to cut to the chase and donate $10 or $20 (or $450) to the Fistula Foundation through Ramona’s Kiva group — but then again, I’m the mom who never sold wrapping paper or Girl Scout cookies, but just wrote a check. Ramona’s goal is to raise 400 € during the next 3 months for one complete fistula repair, including a new dress for the woman and a bus ticket home (women generally walk for days to get to the hospital since they are shunned on public transportation).

Afghani women (the younger women have babies, the more likely they are to suffer fistula).

If this whole story sounds sadder than anything you can imagine, you’re right. It is. But the flip side is that you have the power to write a happy ending, by donating right now.

To watch a profoundly touching 5-minute video on fistula: From Despair to Dignity, click here: To learn about the award-winning NOVA documentary, A Walk to Beautiful click here

To give directly to the Fistula Foundation, click here (and type in “Team Fistula” so Ramona can continue her fundraising!)

A Four Star Charity Navigator charity.

One thought on “What does it take to heal a broken woman?

  1. Betty, Thank you so much for doing this. Ramona and I thank you. Anyone who wishes to donate can do so through the link you provided https://www.fistulafoundation.org/donatenow/index.php and enter “Team Fistula” in this box of the online donation: My donation is part of a group (Circle of Friends) fundraiser called, or in the message line of a check or paypal. This will run through August 1st.

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