Stories of the World

Off to Ethiopia... again!

Today I’m leaving for Ethiopia for a month after traveling there a year ago to highlight the issue of women's reproductive health, and specifically Obstetric Fistula. Fistula is a childbirth injury caused by prolonged, obstructed labor (we met women who had been in labor for 7- 10 days!) which results in death of the baby and the mother being rendered incontinent. Because of the fecal smell and stigma of her injuries, women suffering from obstetric fistula are filled with shame, unwelcome on public transportation, and often cast off by their husbands and communities.
The condition is treatable with surgery, and Hamlin Fistula Hospital in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa is a marvelous facility that provides holistic treatment including physical therapy, counseling, life skills and income generation opportunities, and a new dress and bus fare home. Women who are able to make it to this world-class facility are among the lucky ones; many from the outer rural areas are not so fortunate.
A year ago I learned about a 22-year old girl who had managed to have fistula repair surgery but whose husband and family would not accept her back home again. In her desperation she attempted suicide. I also met an Ethiopian engineer whose company constructs hydro-powered mills that grind grain in rural communities. Each of these mills serves about 800 families and allows local women to bring their grain to a central location to be ground, rather than having to do this back-breaking work by hand.
From hearing the stories of Ajayibe and Tsega and learning more about fistula survivors who have nowhere to turn, the idea of building a water-powered mill and a living compound for obstetric fistula survivors came into being. The vision, which Tsega and I whole-heartedly share, is a practical solution that helps rural women and families have reasonably priced access to grain for food, and that provides a safe haven and a sustainable income source for obstetric fistula survivors.
Over the last year I have been working alongside Tsega and the two of us have opened a joint bank account in Addis Ababa for project funds. We've also had an Ethiopian architect draw up plans for the living compound of the mill, and we are working with BGS- a Christian church in the rural community of Begi with an existing fistula program that has offered land and other helpful resources.
My upcoming trip is a fact-finding mission. I have meetings scheduled with Hamlin Hospital, the Ethiopian in-country director of global health organization PATH, our architect, and the church leaders at BGS. I'm also very much looking forward to meeting with the women who will potentially live at our mill compound to discover their thoughts, hopes, and fears. There is much I don't know: cultural sensitivities of the broader community towards the fistula survivors particularly when it comes to handling the food source of grain, inter-faith dynamics between Muslims and Christians, cooperative attitudes toward shared housing, land and water usage rights, and a host of other issues and questions that I don't even yet know to ask.
To date, I have raised just over $4,000 toward an original estimated goal of $10,000. That amount did not include the cost of the living compound itself or other working capital and travel expenses. I’m hoping that this journey will provide a much clearer picture of the actual hard costs for the entire endeavor, which could easily run double.
As passionate as I am about this mill project and its impact on thousands of hard-working Ethiopians is the broader possibility that this model of a mill compound could potentially be replicated elsewhere in the country and across Africa. My biggest desire is that functional, beautiful, self-sustaining compounds like I imagine this one to be will provide a framework for obstetric fistula survivors to rebuild their lives, purpose, and sense of hope.
Currently, the Seattle-based non-profit Crooked Trails is serving as fiscal sponsor for this project which allows donors tax-deduction status. This project receives funds if donors earmark their donations accordingly. However, I’m moving closer to believing that I’ve been called to create my own 501c3 so that I can continue sponsoring projects like this one and others around the world. I will be speaking and fundraising in earnest when I return and welcome any and all support in this endeavor!
All best wishes and many thanks,
Link to Crooked Trails donation site:
Please mark all donations “Ethiopia Water Mill Project” under the Notes section!