Today’s post is written by Brooke Sulahian. Brooke and I have never met, but every time I receive an email from her I stop and read it. Because Brooke has a passion and a mission: to see women who are suffering with fistula healed and whole. She began an organization called Hope for our Sisters, Inc. with a mission statement that is simple and enormous:
“Changing the lives of women, one woman at a time”
I hope this post by Brooke brings you both hope and a challenge. In fact, i would love for this post to generate funding for one more surgery! just $450.00 to give hope! You can read more about Hope for Our Sisters, Inc. by going to the website.
My heart broke in Angola, but it was not Angola itself. Abject poverty, lack of sanitation, and poor medical care options abound. However, Angolans display pride in late-night celebrations and the care invested in each basket made and produce sold. The paradox of pride and joy midst sadness and need.
My heart broke anew when I dove deeper into the realities of fistula, a medical condition caused by obstructed labor and/or trauma leaving women incontinent, resulting in isolation from family, friends and society, lack of dignity, and loss of hope. Lives destroyed.
My door was open. My first trip to Africa. I dreamt of this journey since reading about fistula in 2010. Friends and family supported me with prayers and financial aid. Yet, constant questions took residence in my mind.
Why was I going to Angola? I’m not a doctor. I don’t speak Portuguese. I am simply a wife and mom who said, “Yes”, when called to speak out for our sisters with fistula. Was that enough? Through God, Hope for Our Sisters, Inc., (HFOS), had been fruitful, but I still had questions. In the end, I went.
I traveled with three HFOS team members (Kristen and Paul Coats, Jean Campbell) to visit the Evangelical Medical Center (CEML) in Lubango and bush hospital in Kalukembe, where we fund fistula surgery. We hoped to meet fistula patients to enable us to more effectively raise awareness, help others find healing, and work to prevent this horrific condition. God surprised us as we met fifteen precious fistula patients! Through Audrey Henderson, nurse, fistula advocate and interpreter, we respectfully captured their stories through pictures and video.
Another surprise awaited us as Dr. Steve Foster invited us to watch fistula surgery. Ana* was first to the operating room. Filled with fear in a new environment and unable to speak Portuguese, what amazing courage it took for her to come to CEML. At 20, having lost her first child during labor, Ana* longed for healing from fistula. Joy replaced her fear as she took this brave step towards restoration.
Celia* developed a fistula after her sixth pregnancy. In December 2012, at 29, abandoned by her husband and damaged by fistula, she left her three children with family to travel all day to the hospital. As Celia* awaits healing at the Patient Village, she displays amazing resilience; smiling, laughing, and teasing with fellow fistula patients, living as one victorious.
Luisa*, 32, stays at the Patient Village of the state hospital in Kalukembe, the one remaining former missionary hospital of the 150 before Angola’s civil war. Abandoned by her husband in 2009 after developing fistula and losing her child, Luisa* arrived in December of 2010. After nine unsuccessful fistula surgeries, she remains hopeful. Successive surgeries often decrease the chances of healing, but Dr. Foster recently helped a patient become dry after eleven surgeries. There is hope. Luisa* and fellow fistula patient, Joaquina*, have become each other’s “family” as they await healing.
As for me, I returned with a broken heart. A cost we must all be willing to pay when pursuing justice and healing. An incredibly minor cost in comparison to that paid by those robbed by injustice, but a true cost nonetheless. However, it can make us stronger.
I return to America with greater passion as we continue to raise awareness of fistula. Since these sisters cannot afford to pay for surgery, HFOS’s donors and supporters enable us to fund free fistula surgeries. For less than the cost of a new iPhone ($450), the life of a woman or girl suffering from fistula can be physically restored, paving the way for social, emotional and spiritual healing.
160 fistula surgeries funded…many lives restored…more to come…
*Names have been changed to protect these sisters who so openly shared with us.
Brooke F. Sulahian is the President and Co-Founder of Hope for Our Sisters, Inc. For more information about Hope for Our Sisters, Inc., or fistula, please go to the website at hopeforoursisters.org or visit the Hope for Our Sisters, Inc. page on Facebook.
- UN Aims to Help Fistula Patients in Malawi (voanews.com)
- MALAWI: Women receive better comprehensive healthcare for obstetric fistula (womennewsnetwork.net)
- An Afternoon of Hope Tea Party