Solidarity groups save survivor from homelessness
July 30, 2019
By WFF Staff
Elizabeth hovers between disbelief and joy as she stares breathlessly at her new home. She jumps suddenly, exclaiming, “Is this really my house? Are you all here just because of me?”
The other survivors smile. Yes, they say, we’re here for you.
Elizabeth is a fistula survivor and member of a solidarity group called Matungu Fistula Survivors of Hope in Kenya. The roof of her house collapsed a few weeks ago, leaving her homeless.
All 11 of our solidarity groups in Kenya pitched in to help, donating their own time and money to build Elizabeth a new home.
I’ve lived a lonely and very difficult life, [but] being treated of fistula wasn’t my only miracle. My greatest miracle is having such a big loving family.
Obstetric fistula devastates Elizabeth
In 1999, Elizabeth became a widow. The 26-year-old mother of 2 was also 2 months pregnant with twins. When her childbirth became obstructed, a hole tore between her vagina and bladder. Elizabeth’s babies survived, but she could no longer control her body’s most basic function. She leaked urine uncontrollably.
Like the other 2 million women worldwide who suffer from obstetric fistula, Elizabeth endured ridicule and worsening poverty. Although Kenya’s economy has improved over the last decade, approximately 35% still live below the international poverty line, $1.90 per day, according to the World Bank.
Elizabeth bucks tradition
Shortly after developing fistula, Elizabeth’s house collapsed. She moved into the nearby kitchen hut with her children, which is common to keep separate from the main house because of the smoke.
Elizabeth refused to be inherited by her late husband’s brother. This tradition also prevents all but the man who inherits her from building on the matrimonial land.
Elizabeth endured fistula for 12 years, but was finally treated through Let’s End Fistula, our on-the-ground partner in Kenya, and joined one of its solidarity groups.
For 17 years, she lived in her kitchen hut until a few weeks ago when that roof collapsed, too.
Others encouraged to buck tradition
Let’s End Fistula Initiative (LEFI) Executive Director Sarah Omega says leadership meetings LEFI hosted over the last year helped forge the bonds that encouraged the groups to support Elizabeth.
Solidarity groups like Elizabeth’s meet monthly or more. They are managed by Regional Representatives who are mentored by LEFI leadership and in turn mentor their groups on topics such as health, leadership and business management.
It is unbelievable how so little can go a very long way. I am so proud of the survivors, how they stood for their [own]…defying even the cultural and customary beliefs.
Survivors weren’t the only ones who showed up to rebuild the house. Spouses helped out, too. The villagers marveled at the group that turned out for Elizabeth. News reached a local politician who was challenged and contributed 10 iron sheets for the roof!
The survivors in the solidarity groups each contributed their own cash to help Elizabeth, raising about 64,000 Kenyan shillings to build her a new home.
The day of building the house it was so clear that they are almost unstoppable! I feel so blessed to be leading a program whose member have such positive energy!
Photos by Sarah Omega