If you could send out an email to thousands of strangers around the world, what would you say?
When Allie Pape finally got the chance through The Listserve -- an e-mail lottery where one person each day wins the opportunity to address thousands of strangers - she could have written about anything. But Allie chose to use her opportunity to write about obstetric fistula, a devastating childbirth injury that affects one million women around the world. As a passionate supporter of women's health and reproductive rights, and herself brought into this world by way of an emergency C-section, the stories she first read about in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn stuck with her.
Stories of women like Maryam, who is 50 years old and lives in Nalondo, a rural village along the Kenya-Uganda border. Nalondo has no paved roads, and is over 65 miles away from the nearest available health center offering emergency obstetric care. Maryam got married at the age of 20 and gave birth to six children, but it was her seventh delivery that took the most serious toll on her body. She was in labor for three days at home before relatives finally took her to a health center. Doctors performed an emergency C-section and, miraculously, her baby survived. The year: 1993.
Maryam returned home and noticed she had begun leaking urine, which continued for months. Her husband finally left her and took all their children with him, and her family and friends began to shun her. Maryam's condition left her stigmatized and isolated from the entire community.
But then she met someone who changed her life: a local community worker named Kenes. Kenes had come to her village to conduct an outreach session about women's health issues, including obstetric fistula, and helped Maryam to understand that her incontinence was actually a medical condition that was curable through surgery. Through the Action on Fistula program -- a three year, $2 million initiative designed to make a lasting impact on fistula treatment in Kenya, led by my organization, Fistula Foundation, and funded by Astellas Pharma EMEA -- Kenes was able to refer Maryam for free surgery at Cherangany Nursing Home in Kitale. After 22 years of living with fistula, Maryam is finally healed.
The people who made Maryam's healing possible are many. People like Kenes, or the expert surgeons at Cherangany Nursing Home, who are dedicated to performing this complex repair surgery that forever changed Maryam's life. All of these people could have turned their back on someone like Maryam -- alone, poor, trickling urine down her legs -- but instead they seized the opportunity to help. As did Allie Pape, whose email has so far generated an inspiring $2,345 in donations to Fistula Foundation from 47 strangers around the world.
In the end, I am moved that a bunch of strangers from all over the world came together like this to change the lives of women suffering needlessly. Aren't you?
Kate Grant is CEO of Fistula Foundation, which works in 29 countries to treat women who suffer from the childbirth injury obstetric fistula. Follow the organization at @Fistula_Fdtn.
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