Darkroom Gallery: Multiples Exhibit

One of my photos created while on assignment with Hamlin Fistula Hospital was selected by juror William Albert Allard to be in Darkroom Gallery’s “Multiples” show. The exhibit opens September 14 in Essex Junction, Vermont.

These women each had been treated for fistula and were living in Hamlin’s rehabilitation center, Desta Mender, where they learned new skills such as reading, writing and math after their surgeries were completed.

Many women are ostracized by their villages when they develop a fistula, and often they must find new ways of supporting themselves. Undaunted by their struggles, they form a bond while residing at the hospital and help each other heal emotionally. New confidence is found, and together they help each other find new paths to walk, unbridled by the injury they suffered.

Fistulas can develop many ways, but most often it occurs due to obstructed labor. Dr. Catherine Hamlin saw the great need for prevention efforts and developed a midwifery college where young village girls are trained in midwifery and other maternal health care actions in Addis Ababa after which they return to their villages to provide much needed care in their remote home areas.

It has been an honor to stand in front of these brave women, the fistula survivors and the new midwives, and realize how devoted they are to their own healing and to the healing of others.

 

Desta Mender graduates 2015

Desta Mender graduates 2015

Hamlin Midwife Stories

A large part of my work now entails more than just capturing the still image. I am often asked to collect video and professional sound so that the content can be edited into small video stories or other applications. Here are two examples from my work documenting Hamlin midwives in Ethiopia.

Scrolling story

Video

 

Hamlin Midwife

The Cadence of Motherhood

I watch her slip into a surgical cap and gown, and carefully wash her hands. This isn’t the first time she has been in the operating theater in Africa, nor will it be the last. She stands tall and confident, and moves about as though she has the experience of a lifetime.

But she is only 18 years old, and she is on a mission trip to Ethiopia to help with maternal care surgeries.

Brynn in surgery

As I watch my daughter work alongside deft handed surgeons, my heart pounds a bit harder. Here she is, whole and healthy and grounded, and had we lived in this same Ethiopian town at the time when she was born, most likely we both would have perished. She means the world to me.

I suffered obstructed labor with my first child, and luckily lived in a nation where I had access to emergency obstetrical operations. Two other children came after the first, born under the same conditions, and all three are now enjoying robust lives. And now I have a family to cherish. They mean the world to me.

Ben, Aaron, Brynn

My connection to women in Ethiopia runs deep. I am devoted to bringing their stories afar with the hope that more people will rally around global maternal care concerns. Each time I look into their eyes, I want to express my sorrow for the inequity of health care around the world. Why was I so fortunate to have had access to emergency obstetrics and these women, the women who teach me so very much, do not? In this day and age, it is unforgivable.

Fatumo

Yet, faced with so many problems and maneuvering a day’s hard work of fetching loads of wood and carrying heavy jerry cans of water while traversing rugged terrain just to get food on the table for their loved ones, these mothers show no remorse and reflect only astonishing resilience. In their eyes, I don’t see sorrow or resentment or desperation; instead, I see a quiet fortitude, boundless happiness, and flickers of hope.

Lalo

Ethiopian woman praying

One woman takes my hand and helps me learn how to milk a camel and cook over a fire. Another tells me that my attire will never attract anyone. And yet another mother shows me how to nurture a child through a tantrum. They all, each and every one of them, show me the virtue of grace and the benefits of choosing happiness over despair, even while experiencing dire circumstances.

Taiko Cooking

Joni and The Camel Milk Producers

The demand for good maternal care in Ethiopia is high. Men will carry a woman for days to a health post only to find no staff in sight due to a shortage of doctors and health care officers. Women will stand in line at rural health posts for weeks, waiting for assistance. I applaud organizations such as The Liya Kebede Foundation, The Hamlin Fistula Hospital and The Barbara May Foundation and many others as they work tirelessly to bring effective health care services to these women.

Women waiting in Gimbie

Woman waiting for health care in Gimbie, Ethiopia

Yet it is the young girls who are embedded in my heart the most. They learn early on to withstand pain and suffering, and to only focus on the positive threads in each day. It is these girls who need reassurance the most – that the world is here for them, and substandard and inequitable health care practices are unacceptable.

They deserve to know that they mean the world to us.

Fanta

Young girl in Sheno, Ethiopia

The Passage

 

New Storytelling Format

We just launched a new visual format for telling some of the stories we capture, incorporating several types of media: still images, video, sound, and slideshows.

Follow this link to view the first two we created!  The first story is about Degie, a young woman in labor in rural Mota, Ethiopia , and the second story is about Fatuma, a camel milk producer near Jijiga, Ethiopia.

Stories

A mother contemplates her long walk home after surgery in Motta, Ethiopia (For the Barbara May Foundation)

Camel milk

Dr. Catherine Hamlin Turns 90!

I had the honor of attending Dr. Catherine Hamlin’s 90th birthday party this month, and what a celebration it was!

Dr. Hamlin’s many decades of work surrounding maternal health in the area of fistula repair and prevention has earned her a well deserved Nobel Peace Prize nomination this year so there were many reasons to celebrate her life.

She was joyous and curious during the whole event, and even came to an intimate dinner party that same night.  She is an incredible inspiration to many!

Nicholas Kristof wrote an article about her, and Oprah made a generous donation to the hospital in her honor.

I am hoping to be able to devote more time to the organization she started.  First up: a redesign of their website and assistance with a revamped communications plan.

And yes, relaying more stories regarding how Hamlin Fistula Hospital saves and improves the lives of rural Ethiopian women.

Dr. Hamlin's 90th Birthday

Dr. Hamlin's 90th Birthday

Dr. Hamlin's 90th Birthday

Dr. Hamlin's 90th Birthday

Ethiopia: Meet Addiss, A Hamlin Midwife

Her name is Addiss and she is 21 years old.

She lives in a small village, Wotetabay, just outside of BahirDar, Ethiopia and she has dedicated the next six years of her life to helping rural Ethiopian women give birth to healthy babies. A recent graduate of Hamlin College of Midwives, she also knows the signs of fistula and will refer at-risk women to health centers and hospitals where they can receive the care they need to prevent this devastating condition.

She lives alone in a small thatch roof hut, after completing her three years of study at the Hamlin College of Midwives, and her dedication is unlike anything I have ever seen.

She sees patients as they arrive daily, helping them through miscarriages and difficult births and general health care issues.  Five times a month she walks, sometimes for seven hours each day, to outreach health centers where she educates the community on women’s health issues.

My heart reaches for her.

I watch her as she helps a women who has just had a miscarriage. She educates the women about hygiene and proper care, and she tends to the husband, answering each of his questions.

She thinks nothing of my words as I say I honor her and will work hard on her behalf.  This is simply her calling in life: to dedicate her time to the Hamlin philosophy of ensuring maternal health for all Ethiopian women. She looks intently, directly, into my eyes.  She has seen far more than I have.

I follow her to her outpost, walking through corn fields and forests and open fields. She asks for water, and I give her my bottle.  It is the least I can do for this girl, my hero. Confidently and with grace, she proceeds to traverse over harsh landscape, focused on arriving before too much time has passed.

The bush clears, and I see a large group of Ethiopians, celebrating church services. Addiss takes her place in the middle of the village people crowd, and when the priest gives her a signal, she begins speaking, educating those around her about maternal health. Clapping, cheering, declarations of promises break out, and the energy is so fervent, I cry. Look at her!

I hear that the village is building a new church, and I give a donation of 400 birr ($24) and the crowd cheers with heartfelt passion. A $24 donation really goes a long way for this village. They proceed to show me the base infrastructure that is in place, and as much as  would like to stay and look at every element, and I see Addiss in the distance beckoning me to come. She is late now, and I need to move on.

We walk further, in terrain more difficult to navigate. Finally, I see a break in the landscape ahead and there, nestled in a small field, is a cluster of small mud walled structures. The health outpost at last.

Women are lined up, having waited hours for Addiss to arrive. Pregnant women, mothers with babies, older women. They count on Addiss’ dedication to them.

Ethiopia: Brave Women

They have been called some of the bravest women in the world.

When a woman suffers obstructed labor in rural Ethiopia, she often has no place to go. She labors for days, and fistula can develop due to excessive and prolonged pressure on internal organs. The Hamlin Fistula Hospital is devoted to the repair of fistula and the psychological healing of women who suffer this devastating condition. They also are dedicated to helping to prevent fistula from occurring at all.

In November 2010, Dr. Hamlin’s dream came true when the first Hamlin midwife graduates started working in the field, offering prenatal care and a referral service to pregnant women in the countryside. The midwives work alongside the Ethiopian government to help reduce instances of fistula by providing much needed care to these women who live so isolated from health centers.

Each Hamlin health outpost has an ambulance to assist with referrals to regional hospitals where C-sections can be performed in emergency situations. The midwives, all coming from various villages around Ethiopia, are selected via a rigorous interviewing and testing process. Once they complete three years of training at the Hamlin College of Midwives, they return to their villages to work for six years. During this time, they are also educating villagers on maternal healthcare initiatives as well as building trust with the village as a whole. Their days consist of prenatal care, assisting with difficult births, education, and referrals of extreme cases.

It is not an easy job, living so far away from their colleagues and a team of ready support and modern equipment. But they are well equipped for support when they need it. This does not mean that they do not face extremely difficult situations alone. Rural women still prefer to give birth at home, and often go to receive help after it is much too late.

The Hamlin midwife becomes a wise health official rapidly.

Copyright 2017 Joni Kabana. All rights reserved. Site by TD