The documentary From Fistula Patient to Safe Motherhood Ambassador premiered in New York last week as part of the anniversary celebration of Healing Hands of Joy, a non-profit organization founded in Ethiopia in 2009.
The film tells the story of Kindahafiti Slase, 49, a former fistula patient trained as Safe Motherhood Ambassador by NGO in the Tigrai region, Northern Ethiopia. As part of her work, Ms. Slase mobilizes communities to prevent fistula, raising awareness about the dangers of home delivery and other factors that might increase women’s vulnerability to the condition.
Kindahafiti Slase shares her testimony in Aratu, Ethiopia, as part of a community engagement campaign supported by UNFPA,including live dramas, debates and maternal health presentations on market days .
“The role of the ambassadors is to promote safe delivery and encourage antenatal care visits, educating about fistula to stop the unjust discrimination that comes from ignorance,” explains Allison Shigo, Executive Director of HHOJ.
After co-producing the documentary “A Walk to Beautiful,” which followed the journeys of five fistula patients in Ethiopia, Ms. Shigo visited the women profiled in the film. She discovered that they continued to be ostracized or were still dependent on their families for survival, returning to the same poor socio-economic and maternal health conditions that caused fistula in the first place. This realization led her to decide to work to empower them, so that they could get a better life after fistula.
Ms. Slase and other fistula survivors have taken part in a one-month training program at the HHOJ Center in Mekelle. They were taught about the causes of fistula, safe maternal health practices, hygiene and nutrition and participated in role-play to encourage other mothers-to-be to visit a health post or center for check-up and delivery.
To build further confidence and economic stability and status, the ambassadors are also taught literacy and income-generating skills training and given a start-up business loan.
After the programme, Ms. Slase started to regularly visit pregnant women in her own village and assists their visits to the health center. Given the health centers are at a far distance from the village, the staff are grateful for her help.
The initiative is a pilot program developed in partnership with the Tigray Health Bureau, Women’s Association and the Fistula Hospital. The goal is to build safe motherhood support networks across Ethiopia to reduce the prevalence of obstetric fistula while providing support to women who have suffered from fistula in the past.
Cover photo: Sara Forrest.
The report, recently released by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, calls for systematic notification of fistula cases and the creation of national registers to ensure proper care, follow up and support for all fistula patients.