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Hawwa’s story: “You brought me back to hopefulness”

Not every fistula is caused by obstructed childbirth. For Hawwa, her injury was caused by traumatic sexual intercourse.

Hawwa was only 13 when her parents arranged her marriage to a much older man. Although she had been lucky enough to attend five years of school in her rural village in Northern Ethiopia, marriage ended her education. Still virtually a child, she struggled to cope with marriage. Most of all, Hawwa found sleeping with her husband a nightmare full of pain. Not realising she had a rectal fistula, Hawwa remembers:

“I tried to adapt myself to my marriage, but I couldn’t stand the pain during sexual intercourse,” she recalls. After a terrible, long year of suffering she decided. “I told my mother about it and ran away from my husband.”

Following her divorce, Hawwa moved back in with her mother before migrating to Saudi Arabia to work and earn an income to support her family. After seven years she returned home, where her parents convinced her to marry again and start a family.

“When I returned home, I was still terrified of men because of the trauma in my childhood marriage. My second marriage had similar problems to my first one and didn’t last long.”

Her second marriage only made her fistula worse. Now she had urinary incontinence as well.

“The moment I knew I was unable to control urine, I felt ashamed of myself. I was isolated from social gatherings. I spent more than 15,000 birr searching for a cure, but none of the hospitals I visited could help me. Finally, a doctor referred me to the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Bahir Dar.”

Arriving at Hamlin’s Bahir Dar hospital with a double fistula, Hawwa received her first surgery two days later.

“Hawwa’s fistula is called traumatic fistula. It started right after her first underage marriage where she faced Rectovaginal Fistula, even if she didn’t notice it well. Her second marriage worsened the case and left her with a Vesicovaginal Fistula and urinary incontinence,” explains Hamlin’s Dr Bitew, senior fistula surgeon and urogynaecologist.

Hawwa is very happy to be cured of the urinary incontinence that worried her entire family and ruined her life. During her stay at the hospital, waiting for her final surgery, she enjoyed talking and being friendly with the other injured women and making fun for everyone.

“May this hospital grow over and over forever,” Hawwa exclaims. “The doctors and nurses as well as everybody here are really life givers. I was about to become hopeless, and you brought me back to hopefulness. You are giving us heavenly love and care for free. May God bless you and your hospital.”

Help us give hope to every woman.

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Hamlin Fistula NZ is committed to providing ongoing support for fistula surgery and for the preventive work of the midwives. The hospital in Addis Ababa has become a centre of excellence to which doctors from other countries come to learn and master the specialist skills of fistula surgery.

Photography credits to Mary F. Calvert, Kate Geraghty, Amber Hooper, Joni Kabana, Joli Wescombe, Natasha Meyer and Martha Tadesse.