In the News
Executive Director Returns From Africa Trip to Advance Programs
March 26, 2019
Schaumburg, Ill. — Worldwide Fistula Fund’s Executive Director has fought to advance the cause of women and girls with childbirth injuries for nearly five years. She will share her experiences meeting fistula survivors in Africa for the first time at An Evening to Restore Dignity on May 2 in Chicago.
“These injured women feel humiliated and hide themselves, but after free surgery, they are reborn and begin earning their own income through WFF’s empowerment programs that include farming, raising animals, and more,” WFF Executive Director Soja Orlowski said.
Orlowski is a Northwestern University and University of Illinois graduate. She has nearly 30 years of marketing and development experience and previously consulted for multiple Chicagoland nonprofit organizations. She first learned about WFF when she applied to become the Director of Marketing and Communications in 2014.
“I was horrified when I first read what obstetric fistula was,” Orlowski said. “No woman should have to suffer in their own waste just for trying to bring new life into the world.”
WFF is a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention and treatment of childbirth injuries such as obstetric fistula. A woman can develop an obstetric fistula after prolonged, obstructed childbirth. Pressure from the baby creates a hole between her vagina and bladder and/or rectum that will leak urine and/or feces uncontrollably. A woman with a fistula often faces ridicule and rejection by friends and family because of the smell. Impoverished women and girls are at an increased risk to develop this devastating ailment because they lack access to quality emergency obstetric care.
After less than one year with WFF, Orlowski was promoted to Executive Director. Once in the top job, Orlowski began making big changes that paid off. She’s achieved a seven-point improvement in donor retention rates, delivered 11 percent growth in annual revenue which now exceeds $1 million, and expanded programming from three countries to five. She also led the organization through a 2018 merger when another fistula organization and its programming were brought into WFF.
Now Orlowski is back from her first visit to Africa.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Orlowski said. “More women can begin new lives of purpose and actively participate in their communities through our solidarity groups.”
WFF currently operates in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, and Uganda. Orlowski visited Kenya and Uganda in March. She met with community solidarity groups supported by WFF to learn first-hand of their economic empowerment successes. Communities collaboratively raise poultry and goats, create crafts for sale, rent land to farm vegetables, and provide microloans to their members. Orlowski also toured our 9-year local partner’s new women’s hospital, which will open this year.
The two-and-a-half week trip might be over, but Orlowski said she knows the spirit and determination of the women she met will stay with her for the rest of her life.
Orlowski, Board Vice Chair Dr. Tracy Spitznagle, and Board Director Mary Rose Keller will share their experiences meeting the women and girls of Uganda at WFF’s largest Chicago fundraising event. An Evening to Restore Dignity features:
- Margaritas, sangria, and taco bar
- Raffle prizes from the Shedd Aquarium, Brookfield Zoo, and City Winery and more
- Live music by Hero In Eden
- Survivor-made artisan goods for sale: bags, jewelry, skirts, textiles
- New this year: Photo booth
WFF hopes to raise $20,000 to support its treatment, empowerment, and prevention programming at the event. The 4th annual cocktail party is May 2 at Moe’s Cantina. Tickets are $50 each or $40 when you buy three or more.
About Worldwide Fistula Fund
WFF protects and restores the health and dignity of the world's most vulnerable women by preventing and treating devastating childbirth injuries. WFF strategically partners with local leaders and organizations in low-resource countries to increase capacity to address women’s healthcare needs.