Ethiopia: educational and recreational visit renews hope
16 December 2011

JRS staff serve a meal to refugees visiting Desta Mender, a rehabilitation centre for women with childbirth injuries. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Thomas Assefa/JRS)
The victims of fistula feel hurt, rejected, unworthy and misunderstood, but through properly managed healing exercises and support they began to realise they are not so different than others, and they begin to feel productive and worthy, said Desta Mender Manager, Ms Beletshachew Tadesse.
Addis Ababa, 16 December 2011 – With information and care, there is every reason to believe the number of women with fistula could be drastically reduced. This is what the more than 100 students from the JRS Refugee Community Centre (RCC) in Addis Ababa heard on a recent visit to a rehabilitation centre for women on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital.

The educational visit to the centre for women with childbirth injuries, managed by the charity Hamlin Fistula UK, sought to educate and inform refugees about fistulas, and demonstrate the positive outcome of the training and support offered at Desta Mender (village of joy).

"Visits such as these also help satisfy the need for interpersonal relationships, affection and attention in persons who have previously suffered the effects of persecution, marginalisation and rejection. We seek to provide refugees with the inspiration to achieve their own goals, and renew their belief in a positive future", said the JRS RCC Project Director, Mulugeta W Eyesus.

A fistula is a severe, but treatable, injury which commonly occurs during childbirth. Many women-sufferers in the developing world do not have access to the required medical care. Untreated, fistulas can result in incontinence, infections and ulcerations. Unfortunately, women often suffer in silence due to the fear and social stigma associated with the condition.

"The victims of fistula feel hurt, rejected, unworthy and misunderstood, but through properly managed healing exercises and support they begin to realise they are not so different than others, and they begin to feel productive and worthy", said Desta Mender Manager, Ms Beletshachew Tadesse.

At Desta Mender, women are shown how to manage their medical condition and are given counselling to help overcome feelings of shame. They also have the opportunity to learn other skills such as literacy, gardening and farming, helping them to live autonomously in the future.

Education changing lives

The day at Desta Mender started with an introductory briefing by Ms Tadesse who described the centre's structure, and outlined the causes of fistula and other related issues. Despite the debilitating effects of fistula, the refugees heard how sufferers, provided with training, counselling and support, were able to regain confidence and control over their lives.

In a balanced lecture on the physical and psychological harassment of women, including the impact of marital rape, Ms Eljona Sadiku, Community Services Officer from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) told the refugees how sexual-and gender-based violence (SGBV) can also cause fistula. Mindful of the sensitivity of the issue, she explained that many refugee women who seek protection from UNHCR have been repeatedly harassed by their own spouses.

As the day progressed, the group enjoyed a wholesome organic meal made from ingredients from the on-site vegetable garden and farm, and prepared by women in the rehabilitation programme at Desta Mender. It was clear that the centre's efforts to bring renewed hope to victims of fistulas, by providing them with a place to learn and grow, is truly helping them feel worthy and part of a larger community.

"Today, I have forgotten so many worries and the family burden I had carried without my will. At least at this moment, I am healed," said Congolese refugee, Ms Nadia Said, speaking after she took a moment to reflect on her experience.

Established in 1996, the RCC is a joint project of the UNHCR, Ethiopian government and JRS. The only centre of its kind in Addis Ababa, the RCC offers emotional support, including trauma counselling, computer, language and vocational courses, and a safe, welcoming space to socialise with family and friends.





Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
international.communications@jrs.net
+39 06 6897 7465