The Close of Summer Brings a New Fall

538_3858857 As schools start and vacations end, Labor Day draws a close to summer and welcomes in fall, while Rosh Hashanah ushers in a new year. The beginning of fall is the traditional time to say goodbye to the laid-back pace of summer, and kick off a new beginning. As an organization, WFF works throughout the year to bring new beginnings to women across Africa who, for some, have spent years of their lives battling the stigmatisms associated with having Obstetric Fistula.

This summer was a busy time for us here at WFF. As many of you know, WFF was featured in the New York Times in a beautiful and moving article by Nicholas Kristof. We were also honored by our upcoming inclusion in the Giving Library’s collection of organizations, and their wonderful video production of our Board of Director’s Chair, Nancy Muller, BA, MBA, PhD. And finally, Dr. Lewis Wall, the founder of WFF, was featured in an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

While much attention has focused on the Danja Fistula Center in Niger, WFF has also several other important programs that we support across Africa. Our work is to prevent and repair Obstetric Fistulas, and to develop programs to assist women with their new lives after fistula. What we want is a world without fistula, and a world where women who have suffered the injury in the past can live successful, dignified lives.

This need stretches beyond Niger. Therefore, our attention and assistance stretch as well. In the coming months, we will include information and new voices from our programs and projects in our newsletters, letting you meet and know the wonderful partners with whom WFF works, and the ways in which we offer assistance to women across Africa, such as Terrewode, an organization which assists women with Obstetric Fistula in Eastern Uganda to receive counseling, support and treatment. In Ethiopia, WFF has established relationships with Hamlin Hospital in Addis Ababa and Makalle University College of Health Science. There is also an ongoing need for better understanding effective pre- and post-operative therapy for the pelvic floor muscles and other effects of obstructed labor.

WFF is fortunate to have a wide variety of generous, dedicated supporters, and we look forward to introducing these programs and people to our many supporters throughout the world. One of the joys we have at WFF is being able to read all the notes and emails that arrive in our mailbox daily. It is a pure joy to know that we are supported by such a wide variety of generous and dedicated people, and that we are then able to extend that generosity and dedication to help women across Africa. If you would like to share your story of supporting WFF, we encourage you to send us an email. Selected stories may be included as excerpts in future newsletters.

Some Valuable Links Include:
Aid for Africa
FIGO Article
The Giving Library
Great Nonprofits: Top-Rated Program
Great Nonprofits: Write a Review
New York Times Article
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Article

Nicholas Kristof Visits Danja Fistula Center

Thanks to all the work and incredible generosity from all our supporters, Worldwide Fistula Fund was able to realize a dream last year in the opening of the Danja Fistula Center in Niger. Several years ago Nicholas D. Kristof first wrote about Worldwide Fistula Fund and recently returned to the center to write a new op-ed for his column in the New York Times.

The fistula center was the dream of Drs. Steve Arrowsmith and Lewis Wall, and in keeping with the original vision of having the center be run by Africans, Dr. Itengre Ouedraogo, a surgeon from Burkina Faso, has been trained to be its medical director. Danja Fistula Center handles some of the toughest cases of obstetric fistulas in the region and offers so much more to its patients than just surgery, with the reintegration program teaching women skills that will ultimately help them become better prepared and educated to what they can achieve in life.

Operating Room

Nicholas Kristof highlights the story of Hadiza Soulaye who doesn’t know her age and was married off to her uncle before she started menstruating. A year after marriage, she was pregnant and developed an obstetric fistula during three days of labor. Not only did she lose her baby but when she returned home she was ostracized from her community and kicked out of her home by her husband. Recently, Hadiza learned of the Danja Fistula Center and received the surgical treatment that would allow her back into her life and community without the humiliation she had previously endured. However, on her return home, her husband summoned her to bed, and even though Dr. Arrowsmith had warned her not to have sex for six months after surgery, Hadiza was left with no choice and had the fistula torn open. As a result she was again thrown from her home by her husband and returned to the fistula center with hope that this injury can be mended again. Hadiza vows not to return to her husband this time. This kind of story exemplifies the need for education, which Worldwide Fistula Fund sets high among its goals to not only offer surgery but to help prevent surgery from ever being needed.

Without the generosity of our donors none of the work Worldwide Fistula Fund do would be possible, and we would like to thank everyone for their continued support.

Click here to read Nicholas Kristof’s full op-ed!

Reintegration Program at the Danja Fistula Center

One of the most devastating aspects of fistula for women is the social isolation that often comes with the injury, coupled with a loss of financial support from family. Often, we hear of women coping with this injury who have been sent away from their family, and who must suddenly find a way to support themselves removed from traditional support systems.

WFF is committed to providing “Whole Person Care,” to women suffering from a fistula injury. As Danja Fistula Center has become known as a “last chance” option for women with particularly complicated fistulas and women who have previously undergone multiple unsuccessful fistula repairs, this approach has particular significance. The more traumatic a woman’s experience, the more important it is to create a treatment plan that will address the myriad difficulties faced by women with fistula.

One of the programs at the Danja Fistula Center that reflects this commitment is the Reintegration Program. Women who are at Danja Fistula Center awaiting surgery, who are receiving follow-up care from fistula surgery, and women who have been deemed incurable, have the opportunity to join the Reintegration Program. In this program, women have the opportunity to attend classes in literacy and math, basic health and hygiene, and appropriate-scale basic business that will be utilized for income-generation, protection of health and advancement of her well-being. For women who remain at Danja Fistula Center for longer, the opportunity exists for them to join the vocational skills class, which teaches sewing, knitting, embroidery and soap making, with follow-ups after the women return home. Women who graduate from the vocational skills class are supplied with a “starter kit” of supplies to help her establish a means of support for herself and her family following her return to her home community.

WFF Starter Kit

WFF is very pleased to join in celebrating the graduation of the first class of women from the Reintegration Program on Wednesday, June 19, 2013. We continue to be amazed at the strength and determination of these women, and celebrate their new success!

The Danja Fistula Center is Up and Running!

As another week draws to a close, we are pleased to report that everything is going swimmingly at the Danja Fistula Center! We sent a newsletter out on Wednesday, but for those of you not on the list, we thought we’d recap the contents here:

As many of you know, the Danja Fistula Center opened its doors last week to the women of west Africa. So far, each day has been an exciting and special treat as community members and civic leaders have poured onto the grounds not only to offer assistance but also to show their support for both the DFC and all women suffering from fistula. Highlights of this incredible time include:

  • The Minister of Health of Niger cutting the ribbon for the clinic and spending time encouraging patients to stay strong and live with purpose after their surgeries.
  • The first day of surgery ending with three successful operations! With the best training, equipment and facilities, the DFC doctors and nurses are confident that many more successes are to come.
  • The official dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring speeches by our founder, our clinical consultant, the Secretary General of Niger and the U.S. Ambassador. A large and happy crowd gathered to cheer the historic event. When the Ambassador cut the ribbon to the operating room, it was clear that the final step in the long journey to open our first fistula hospital was taken.

One of the most special moments in a very special week was the Friday before the official dedication, which the WFF devoted to a celebration of fistula patients. In the middle of the day, staff members brought roasted lamb, juice, treats and music to the “village” where nearly 70 women had gathered awaiting treatment. The dancing, eating and singing went on for hours. As executive director Mark Shaker said, ‘These ladies often are not honored or even respected in their daily lives. We were able to give them the tribute they deserve for their courage and perseverance.” 

Later that evening, a ten-person band began to play on the front steps of the hospital. Within 20 minutes, hundreds of people arrived and began to dance. DFC staff, patients, locals and visitors celebrated the momentous occasion with each other for more than three hours. Mark wrote, “It was as exciting and emotional of an event as I’ve ever seen.”

The hoopla and hubbub has been a wonderful start to the hospital, but we know there is a lot of work to be done to keep giving the women of west Africa the care and support that they need to live healthful, happy lives free of the horror of obstetric fistula. Please continue to help us spread the word about this condition — and what’s being done to fight it. We have already come so far; now let’s do even more.  

Join our e-mail list today to receive news and updates from the Worldwide Fistula Fund directly in your inbox! More and more women arrive at the hospital for treatment every day, and we will bring you their stories and successes as the Danja staff relay them to us.

News From Niger!

After several days of travel (and a couple of misplaced bags), our team has arrived at the new Danja Fistula Center in Niger and the news is good! There are about 20 surgeries scheduled for this week as well as a number of post-operative check-ins with our past patients. While some of the women who have shown up at the facility can’t be fit into the schedule for this trip, they either will be operated on during the next trip in November or as soon as the hospital commences year-round care (January 2012). The mood is hopeful and everyone is very excited to get the procedures underway and bring some measure of hope and healing to these ladies.

Our lovely intern, Kim, who is down in Niger learning about obstetric fistula and the Hausa culture, sent along a few pictures of patients who will be treated on this trip:

Our team has been spending a lot of time with the women and their families, talking to them about their lives and experiences with obstetric fistula. The women are very supportive of each other and seem to be at ease among others who share their condition.

More good news is that the hospital is in the final stages of construction and, apparently, so clean that you could “eat off of the floors” in the operating rooms (not that that’s recommended). Ta-da!

Please keep checking back for more updates as they come in. And, as always, if you would like to contribute towards our work with obstetric fistula patients in Africa, please donate today.

Nurse Karin With Families Outside the Fistula Hospital

Field Report From Danja: Wrapping Up (and Dressing Up)

There are currently 14 women still receiving obstetric fistula treatment on the ward, and while nothing is guaranteed in the medical world, they are doing exceptionally well and the team is on schedule for a completion of services on Monday.
On that same day, the women who underwent fistula surgery will participate in a dress ceremony wherein they will all be given beautiful new dresses to mark this new stage in their life. For many of these women, the dresses will be the first new clothes they have ever had and serve to replace the soiled rags they were wearing when admitted. The community is invited to gather and witness this incredible celebration of life. Traditionally, women have shared their personal stories, sang songs and danced and cheered with the staff, community and each other.
After the Dress Ceremony, May 2010
The medical team is excited to attend the dress ceremony and usher these women into a new era of health and happiness. They are an incredibly diverse bunch, including a surgeon from Alabama, an operating room nurse from Texas, ward nurses from Portland, Chicago and Dallas, the Netherlands and New Zealand, as well as an operating nurse from Australia, a surgeon from Burkina Faso and a surgeon from Grand Rapids, MI.
Medical Team, March 2011

Field Report From Danja: Family Ties

There is a space in between the fistula hospital ward and the operating room where family members of the patients have congregated for over a week. They support one another, bring food to their loved ones and greet the women with great happiness when they come out of surgery – regardless of whether or not they know them. They are a wonderful addition to the facility, and have a very positive impact on both the fistula patients and the staff.

The family members also have a favorite cheer that they shout to all of the medical staff when they walk by: “Barka da Aikey,” which means “Blessings on your work.”

Meet Namu

Although all of Namu’s family members warned her not to travel to Danja to see the Western doctors, the misery of her obstetric fistula outweighed the discontent of her family. She first came to get screened by the Worldwide Fistula Fund’s team during their August 2010 surgical trip. During that appointment, she was treated medically for the first time in her life and heard first-hand accounts from women who had previously been treated. While the WFF doctors couldn’t fit her in the schedule until the March trip, her experience at the fistula hospital the first time assured her that the team had her best interests at heart. When she arrived this week she was greeted by the same nurses who saw her in August and told us that she now has an aspiration of becoming a fistula nurse. Namu received surgical treatment on Monday and is recuperating well and in great spirits.

Meet Bamile

Bamile is nearly 30 years old and has been living with an obstetric fistula for over a decade. She has five siblings but since her fistula developed, they have refused to recognize her existence. She lives in a small shack behind her family’s house and does odd jobs in exchange for food and shelter.

We met Bamile because she heard a radio ad that the Worldwide Fistula Fund’s team was coming to Danja, and borrowed money from her parents to take a two-day long taxi trip to receive treatment. To make sure that she didn’t miss the opportunity, she arrived at the fistula hospital five days early.

Bamile has a bubbly personality and spends her days chatting with her new friends on the ward and trying to figure out what she is going to do with her life now that she is not perpetually leaking.