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



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.


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.


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.


Young girl in Sheno, Ethiopia

The Passage


Ethiopia: Education & Health Care Support

In rural Ethiopia, a young girl marries early, often by the time she is ten years old.  She often becomes pregnant before having her first period, yet her pelvis is not large enough to give birth.  Many severe maternal health conditions occur in rural Ethiopia; some can be devastating and ostracizing such as fistula. And too often, young girls die during childbirth.

A rural Ethiopian girl’s common purpose is to become pregnant and raise her family.  Over the years, her body will bear the brunt of extreme water and wood gathering pressures as well as childbirth injuries, and she rarely is offered the choice to not have more children. However, it is a great honor to bear a child and nurture it with vigorous focus and determination.

To witness a young woman struggling hard to stay well enough to feed her children here is very disheartening.  A human life is precious, and when I look into each child’s face I encounter – whether found wandering on the streets, or in the arms of a loving mother, or working hard to shepherd a herd of cows – I feel a sense of awe in that they are able to survive at all despite so many obstacles.  And yet, they continuously find reasons to express an easy smile.

According to Partners In Health, nearly 1600 women and more than 10,000 newborns globally die every day from complications of pregnancy or childbirth.  And it is well known by now that statistics indicate that poor education aligns with fertility issues.

As I contemplate the needs of Ethiopia in particular, I think of several priorities right away: educating young girls, establishing reproductive and health awareness, getting more doctors and midwives to be willing to train and work in rural areas, building more rural hospitals, obtaining sources for clean water, and developing better transportation options for those who are ill.

It can be overwhelming to see so many problems intertwined and having a domino effect upon each other. People frequently ask me why I become involved with such difficult and seemingly dire conditions.  When I take the time to think about this, the thought of new spring growth comes into my mind. Is the crocus intimidated by the cold, hard, winter packed earth?  No, the fragile flower transforms into new life by slowly pushing a tiny bit of dirt away at a time in order to make its way to its fullest expression.  How does that flower break through the heavy earth?

Perhaps this is how we can all work together to help a young girl in Ethiopia: one small gesture at a time. Ethiopians teach this lesson every day as they move forward navigating one obstacle after another, one small step at a time, consistently focusing on solutions rather than the issue they face.

Please join us during our time in Ethiopia by reading about the forthcoming stories we will encounter during our extended stay.  We will be visiting schools, hospitals and programs where devoted support has been established for many young girls and women in rural Ethiopia.

We welcome your comments and ideas.  Together, one small gesture at a time, we can work toward effective solutions.

Screening of “A Walk To Beautiful” and Our “Footsteps To Healing” Video

The screening of the movie “A Walk To Beautiful” and our own “Footsteps To Healing” newly released video drew a large crowd at the Hollywood Theater last week.  We are humbled by the response many people have to the maternal conditions that occur in Ethiopia and other parts of the world.

The video I shot for our film was the first time I used the Canon 5DM2’s video capability, and I was amazed at the quality results.

Footsteps To Healing Book Published

We are pleased to announce that our book, Footsteps To Healing, has been published!  This book relays the intimately personal stories of three Ethiopian women and the maternal health issues they each endure.  In the book, we also outline solutions to help alleviate and heal the various conditions.

Maternal health issues in Ethiopia and other developing nations around the world are devastating to women.  Help us take steps to provide medical training to local health officials, donations of materials, and medical attention to those countries that need it most.

Purchase the book here:  http://stores.lulu.com/ethiopianwomen

Many thanks to David Maier’s Mt. Hood Community College Integrated Media class for taking on the design project, and to student Julia Art for her beautiful design work.

Return To Ethiopia

It looks like we will be going back to Ethiopia in early 2011 to stay a month.  I will travel with a team of doctors and nurses to a very remote area, where we will focus on obstructive childbirth issues.  I will also be documenting the lifestyle of a rural Ethiopian woman, in an in-depth manner.

Global Soul International, a 501c3 organization, will help us with fund-raising for this effort.  Donations are also accepted online here under the Projects section.

Ethiopia: A Baby Is Abandoned

The hospital staff is clearly concerned and something is very wrong.  I hear that the mother who just delivered her first child and is threatening to kill it, has been taken into isolation to be watched.  I find the young girl sitting in a stark room, with her baby at her side.  The attending assistant translates for me, and I ask her why she wants to kill her child.  Tears run down her face, and she says that her mind isn’t capable of taking care of a baby, and her father is very upset with her for having a baby. Her mother died when she was 8 years old.  We get little else from her.  When her tears subside a bit, she smiles hesitantly, and looks at the baby beside her, reaching her hand out to touch the newborn girl’s hair.

Just then, I am called into the OR to photograph a particularly odd medical case, and I am torn about fulfilling my duties to the surgeon and staying near this mother. The attending assistant assures me that he will stay with her, and she will not harm the baby.

Soon I am scrubbed in and heads down with my macro lens into an ulcerated prolapse, my mind on rote as I try to figure out the difficult lighting conditions to get a good medical photo. We all get caught up in this surgery, and time flies by.

When we finally exit, we hear that the young mother has left the hospital, abandoning her baby.  The nurses have the baby swaddled in blankets, and we all take turns holding her. We do our best to make her feel loved.

Copyright 2018 Joni Kabana. All rights reserved. Site by TD