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Guest Blog: Message from Philanthropist of the Year

December 6, 2019

Dr. Christopher K. Payne

Guest Blog by Dr. Christopher K. Payne

In October, I was recognized by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) as their 2019 Distinguished Philanthropist. It was a great honor for which I am humbled and grateful. My work with the Worldwide Fistula Fund was an important consideration. Without YOUR support, WFF would not be where we are today. I am grateful to YOU and wanted to say “Thank you” for all your generous support of our mission of preventing and treating childbirth injuries for the most vulnerable women on earth. As 2019 ends, our programs will have transformed over 6,000 women’s lives through treatment and empowerment programs.

Something that I have learned over 20+ years in philanthropy is that real change is always difficult - it takes time and persistence. This is why I’m so proud of the approach WFF takes.

Our philosophy: to invest not only money, but also in mentoring, organizational development and sharing our expertise to help locals implement their own solutions.

We have repeatedly identified talented, motivated, local individuals and stuck with them. There have been problems and challenges. But, as we get to know our grantees better and better, we understand their real needs and how best to use resources efficiently and effectively. With our local program partners, we always have the goal of independence and self-sustainability.

When I met Alice Emasu of Terrewode in 2012 she had been a WFF grantee for years. As a graduate student at Washington University, she was mentored by Lewis Wall. Her Ugandan non-profit organization secured the capital funding partners to build a new fistula hospital which opened this year. It has the potential to triple their surgical capacity. With high start-up costs posing challenges, Worldwide Fistula Fund led by example with a new 5-year operating fund commitment; other funders have now followed. WFF’s continued partnership will be key to ensuring the hospital’s success.

Dr. Itengre Ouedraogo is one of very few FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics) qualified fistula surgeons in all of West Africa. WFF supported his custom training program and he served as chief surgeon at the Danja Fistula Center in Niger 2012-2017. We continue to support him as the most talented surgeon in Burkina Faso since his return home two years ago. ARENA, the non-profit he formed, continues to forge new partnerships, expand their national outreach and transform women’s lives through surgeries. This year, ARENA has secured both a new funder and a new in-kind donor.

Dr. Christopher K. Payne

Our Danja Fistula Center in Niger now enters its eighth year. Dr. Sunday Adeoye was named Interim Chief Surgeon in September with likely continuity into next year. Leveraging a strong working relationship with our partner, SIM, we are evaluating potential new services, implementing cost savings, and exploring new partnerships while continuing to provide high quality fistula care.

In Kenya, we support another dynamic woman, Sarah Omega (since 2011 and originally through One By One). Her Let’s End Fistula Initiative (LEFI) has officially secured their NGO certificate. Since developing their Safe Motherhood prevention curriculum, LEFI has received inquiries from other organizations and county governments requesting prevention training.  In Western Kenya LEFI is making motherhood safe for all women.

We have worked in Mekelle, Ethiopia, since 2013. With a generous targeted gift, we launched a new Gynecology training program at Mekelle University. That program is now effectively self-sustaining with the first five graduates hired as program faculty. We have dramatically improved the quality of medical student training and thus care for women in Mekelle. Similarly, our first two Urogynecology Fellowship graduates, Dr. Fekade and Dr. Melaku, will become co-Directors of the Fellowship program (we owe an enormous thank-you to Dr. Renate Roentgen who skillfully led this program through its early years). Also, after a final June grant payment, the Gestational Trophoblastic Disease (GTD) Center is a self-sustaining program. We can see that the strong, committed partners we have developed will be able to transform northern Ethiopia into a place where women receive safe, skillful, and patient oriented maternity care.

The common denominator in all WFF work is identifying, mentoring and committing to quality partners on the ground. To me, this is the key to effective philanthropy. Thank you, again, for being a committed supporter of Worldwide Fistula Fund.

Best Regards,
Dr. Christopher K. Payne