The taxi bounced down the side street over large rocks and dips in the road. Through the window I could feel the hot humid African sun beating down…
I slowly opened the car door and when I got out I couldn’t believe where I was standing. Is this really it? Am I actually here? The sign in front of me read Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. It was hard to believe that only a few months ago I was on my patio in my small town of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, entrenched in my book, reading about a hospital in Africa that provides care for women with childbirth injuries. Never in a million years did I imagine I would ever be at this hospital!
â–º SEMI FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
I traveled to Ethiopia earlier this summer with my Mom and stayed with friends from the U.S. who were working in Ethiopia. We had many plans including volunteering and learning about the culture of the Ethiopian people. I came across the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital while reading the book Half the Sky, written by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I was so fascinated by this book that I couldn’t stop reading it! The book focuses on the oppression of women all around the world and calls for an end to violence and injustices against women.
Luckily we were able to arrange a tour of the Fistula Hospital! I couldn’t believe it! Nervous! Anxious! Excited! I didn’t know what to expect, partly because I have a hard time going to hospitals in general. But this wasn’t a typical hospital. The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital is the only hospital of its kind in the world dedicated exclusively to women with obstetric fistula, a condition common in developing countries where maternal health care is poor. Women who develop fistula are often abandoned by their husbands and communities, and forced to live in isolation.
Inside the hospital grounds I saw luscious green gardens and I could hear beautiful chirping from the birds. This was in stark contrast to the loud and crowded streets of the city marked with shacks and tents that many called home. I instantly felt peaceful, inspired, and witnessed a sense of empowerment by the women I met. I learned about the fistula surgeries that are performed at the hospital, the therapies provided, and classes that the women take to learn about personal empowerment and advocacy. I was in awe by the sense of contentment and even joy I saw on the faces of these women despite the devastating emotional and physical injuries they experienced. The hospital was the cleanest of any I have ever seen and everyone was so kind and helpful. In a country with so much poverty, I learned of the hope that is present even in the middle of despair.
I have discovered that the more I talk about my Ethiopian experiences, the more I talk about the Fistula Hospital and the less I mention the experience of having my camera stolen out of my hand by a group of young boys while walking along the street. For me, the latter is merely a footnote in a story that reaffirms my belief in the power to make a difference.
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