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home Publications Blog Guest Blog — Ending Fistula One Week at a Time

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Guest Blog — Ending Fistula One Week at a Time

May 22, 2016

Guest blog by Olivia Bowen

Olivia Bowen co-founded One Week to End Fistula in Washington DC, a nonprofit that worked to raise awareness and fundraise for obstetric fistula during the week of International Day to End Fistula and is a strong supporter of Worldwide Fistula Fund.


WFF reached out to One Week to End Fistula Founder, Olivia Bowen, to learn why she joined the movement to end fistula and why she chose to partner with Worldwide Fistula Fund. Her story is the perfect explanation of why May 23rd, International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, is so important.

Mahabouba’s Story

It started with a book. I’d picked up a copy of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky, and was gripped by the devastating — and inspiring — stories told in its pages. But one story stuck with me more than the others.

When Mahabouba was a young teenager in rural Ethiopia, she was raped, became pregnant, and, because her pelvis had not yet fully developed, was unable to successfully deliver her child. For over a week the baby was lodged in her birth canal, which led the tissue between her pelvis and the baby’s head to rot. She lost her baby, and lost control over her bladder and bowels due to the obstetric fistula she developed. She was abandoned and left to die, but ultimately made her way to a hospital where she could receive a fistula repair surgery.

After reading Mahabouba’s story, I could not stop thinking about her, the heartbreak and horror she experienced, and life she lives now thanks in large part to the surgery.

A few months later, I told my husband that I wanted to set everything else aside and found a nonprofit to help women and girls with fistulas.

One Week to End Fistulas

The idea was simple: raise awareness, raise funds, pay for life-changing surgeries.

So many people in the U.S. have never heard of obstetric fistulas. But when they learn how common it is in the developing world, and how devastating the condition can be — everyone can agree that leaking your waste is something no one should have to experience — they ask what they can do to help. Unlike many health conditions that affect the world, we have an answer for almost 90% of obstetric fistula cases: a now-routine surgery.

And the treatment is affordable! We called our organization One Week to End Fistulas because we wanted to show how manageable it is to fund a surgery if we band together. Take one week, educate your community about obstetric fistulas, and host a fundraiser to raise $450, the average cost of a surgery.

People heeded the call. A woman in Georgia worked with a local restaurant and arranged for 10% of one night’s proceeds to be donated to One Week to End Fistulas. A family in Toronto hosted a pot-luck and literally passed the hat. A young woman in Connecticut threw a party with a silent auction using goods donated by local businesses. One of our cofounders taught a donation-based yoga class. I “donated” my birthday on Facebook and asked people to make a contribution instead of sending me birthday presents.

Passing the Torch

We were gaining traction but we were overwhelmed. We realized that the way to do the most good was by supporting another nonprofit with a proven reputation.

After researching a number of fistula nonprofits, we all agreed that we wanted to support the Worldwide Fistula Fund based on their track record, established infrastructure, and transparency. We disbursed our funds to WFF, and are looking for opportunities to continue supporting their tremendous and valuable work. WFF now has some additional funds to support their mission, and, most importantly, we, together, can help more women and girls in need.

Join the Movement

In honor of this International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, I’d like to ask you to join me in spending One Week to End Fistulas or donate now. Whether it’s donating your birthday or passing the hat at a party, a small lift on your part can change the life of one woman or girl in need. You can find fundraising support and ideas here. Then stop by the One Week to End Fistulas or Worldwide Fistula Fund Facebook page and let us know how you spent one week ending fistula.