Guest Blog — Immersed in Africa: How Moving To Niger Shaped a Woman’s Life
December 7, 2017
Guest Blog by Dr. Holly Richter, WFF Board Member
Joining the Worldwide Fistula Fund board this year was as much a no-brainer as seizing the opportunity to live in Africa in 1983.
Newly married and fresh out of graduate school, my husband accepted a position in Niger studying optimal fertilizer applications to improve farming success in the arid terrain of the Sahara. I was amazed to find how quickly the locals accepted us into their community.
Before I learned about WFF and the devastation caused by injuries, I had an acute “psychotic event” and made a life-changing decision. I returned to school to pursue my MD. After 4 years of graduate school to get a PhD, definitely a life-changing event.
That life-changing decision is why I am writing to you today. Without my “psychotic event,” I would not have become a Urogynecologist and learned about childbirth injuries. Just like how, without all the wonderful support we receive, WFF could not have healed and trained more than 4,000 survivors, doctors and advocates.
I know firsthand how difficult a place sub-Saharan Africa is to live. Over the years, I’ve been to 7 African countries and treated hundreds of women. Women with childbirth injuries face the same isolation and ridicule no matter the injury or country.
On my September trip to Danja Fistula Center, my team and I provided 16 healing surgeries for women suffering from fistula and pelvic prolapse. I plan to return in 2018. WFF provides nutritional meals, safe accommodations, counseling and Empowerment Training that teaches Danja Fistula Center survivors literacy and vocational skills.
More than 40% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than $1 a day. There are as many as 20 million women and girls each year who suffer maternal morbidities: when a woman survives childbirth, but endures chronic ill-health or injuries.
Such widespread suffering may seem overwhelming, but there is hope.
The generous support we receive from people like you allows us to expand our services. We launched programming in the West African country of Burkina Faso this year and have committed to continue aiding women in what is one of the world’s least developed countries.
Dr. Itengre Ouedraogo — our former Chief Medical Officer at Danja Fistula Center for 7 years — treated 20 women and girls during the one week intensive fistula camp he completed in November. He is now working with our reintegration/vocational skills local partner to complete our whole women approach to services and is excited to help develop more programming in Burkina Faso into 2018.
It’s because of our WFF supporters that hundreds of women and girls will start a new life in 2018. A life they never imagined was possible.
No matter how long they’ve suffered — 1 month or 40 years — there is nothing more wonderful than telling a woman, “You’re healed.” I’ve witnessed the fear of rejection in women who smell because of preventable fistula in Niger. I’ve watched women struggle to perform daily activities such as walking or sitting because of treatable pelvic prolapse in Uganda. It’s heartbreaking.
Like you, I choose to help the world’s most vulnerable women.
Many of our supporters will never meet the women and girls we help, but they will never forget you and are so empowered after surgery.