My interview with Professor Gordon Williams at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital was the perfect precursor to Desta Mender. Gordon Williams visited the HFH from London 25 years prior as a visiting surgical examiner specializing in Urology. He clicked with the Hamlins and visited regularly to offer his expertise. Not all of the Fistula surgeries are successful. Sometimes the women sustain 3-4 surgeries until they are repaired. Some women require a new bladder or experience stress incontinence brought on by laughter or coughing. I was surprised to learn Botox is being used to stop the muscles from contracting in these cases. If they cannot be repaired the women are taught to live with a Colostamy bag. These women often chose not to return to their village as living with a bag is culturally unacceptable and challenging in remote villages without access to clean water and medical care. Many of the women will ask their husbands to divorce them and keep their medical condition a secret from their family.
At Desta Mender, I interviewed Zuriash Aklilu, capacity building and re-integration coordinator.
Zuriash has been with Desta Mender for 6 years. Desta Mender was originally planned to be a permanent home for 100 women until recently. Now the goal is to retrain the women to live independently and survive on their own. Going back to their villages is not always a possibility; satellite programs have begun close to the Hamlin Fistula Outreach Centers so the women can stay supported medically. Mental Health awareness plays a large part in the recovery and reintegration program for the women. Women are introduced to Desta Mender prior to their first surgery showing them their ‘worst case’ scenario as a friendly, supportive environment. This helps prevent depression and fear if surgery does not provide a cure for their condition. Dependency is a big problem as most of the women who come to the hospital do not have life experience, education, or skills. Married young and now isolated from their families, the women lack skills with which to sustain themselves. The Non Formal Adult Literacy program was adopted. More about this program in my next entry.