2003-06-15 - 8:16 p.m.
Subject: Re: Worldwide Fund for Mothers Injured in Childbirth
Date: Sun, 15 Jun 2003 18:59:32 EDT
From: a good friend of mine
I warned you I would get back to you about my current project.
It all started for me when I read an editorial about the problem of obstretic fistulas in the New York Times. I couldn't help it; it
brought tears to my eyes. The problem is epidemic in Africa, but not many people know about it. In Nigeria alone, it is estimated
that 800,000 women suffer from this. Some of these "women" are as young as 9 years. The average fistula patient is under 20.
You probably already know this, but these fistulas occur when a woman is unable to give birth normally because the baby is too big
to fit through her small cervix. Since it's not unusual for a girl to marry at, say 12, in parts of Nigeria, age is often the factor. These
girls may be able to get pregnant, but they are not physically women yet with women hips. Their bodies are still too small. The
same problem can occur when a women is a victim (and yes, I call it victim - I know ethnocentrism is a bad thing, but some things
are just wrong) of female genital mutilation. Apparently the scarring can cause obstruction.
So these are women living in traditional patriarchal villages where they obviously do not have what we would think of as "modern
medicine." So no C-section for these girls, just an elderly woman whose job it is to aid the birthing process, and who no doubt is
excellent as a traditional mid-wife when all is well.
But what happens is that sometimes the women can't push the baby out. Often they will be in labor for as long as four days. By
then, of course, the baby is usually dead. And many of the women die too. The ones that survive are often left with a horrible hole
in the vaginal and bladder area, leaving them horribly incontinent. Urine drips down their legs constantly, and there is nothing that
they can do about it. Some of them also have holes in the rectal area (I do hope this isn't too disturbing for you - - it's a horrible,
horrible thing, and no human should have to go through this), and so there is a double incontinence. (Did I mention the "footdrop"
that develops sometimes because of dead nerves? Some women lose all feeling in one of their legs, and their foot drags. You
should see the bruises on these women's feet because they can't tell when they have banged their foot into something and can't
move the foot anyway.)
These women do not understand what has happened to their bodies, nor does their village. Because they stink (no matter how
many times they try to bathe), they are quite often sent to live alone, having been rejected by their husbands. In fact, sometimes
the community thinks these women are either being punished by God or have some sort of horrible VD, a sign to the community
that they are in fact impure whores. Needless to say, they wind up alone - -pariahs in their community, even rejected by their
families (although perhaps given a hut at the edge of their community in which to live alone).
WFMIC (not affiliated with UC Davis, the town of Davis, my church, or anything in my life really) is trying to raise money to build a
fistula center in Plateau State, Nigeria. This would be a place where women suffering from obstetric fistulas could go and get free
medical care (including surgery to repair the fistula), free room and board, literacy training and vocational training. This way, the
women could take care of themselves after their surgery since many can't return to the society that rejected them, and many don't
want to do so. In addition, the center would be a place for medical personnel (sp?) from all around Nigeria to get training in how to
treat the problem. Finally, the center would also do research - medical research into the problem of this kind of fistula and the other
things it can cause, as well as anthropological research into some way to work prevention into the very traditional village cultures.
I downloaded the proposal for the site and read it over (they have a website: www.wfmic.org), and I am very impressed. One thing
that is really neat is that the center would be nonsectarian. There is a hospital in northern Nigeria called Evangel hospital that has a
ward for fistula victims. However, the hospital cannot afford to offer free room and board to the victims. Moreover, the hosptial is
evangelical Christian (was I supposed to cap evangelical?), and many of the Muslim women do not feel comfortable going to a
hospital so (shall we say) "overtly" Christian. At the future Plateau Center, everyone should be able to feel comfortable to go there
seeking help, and they would get everything free. The center would not be able to treat many women at one time, but hopefully by
training others around the country and by working toward prevention, these women can be helped.
I asked for and received a video with more information. One of the doctors in charge, Dr. Lewis Wall is a gynocologist and
anthropologist -- and one of my new heroes.
So anyway, I have decided to try to help raise some money to send to this organization. I already took the proposal to the St.
James Gospel Justice Committee (pause for chuckle at name here . . . - yes, it makes me chuckle too), and they were all excited
about it. I like these people; they are really cool, open-minded types.
I am going tomorrow to the different religious organizations around town (Presby, Method, Muslim, Jewish, Quake, Uni, etc.) and
see if any of their groups might want to get involved. I am also going to the women's organizations around town. I have to admit
that I am trying to be careful because, frankly, some of the religious groups scare me. (When you get on a religious organization's
website and they have a story about some guy who claims that he was once gay, but now that Jesus has "saved" him, he is
straight and "healthy," you know it's time to run for the hills and keep that group away with a water hose if possible. Ick! I want to
be tolerant about everyone's religious beliefs or lack thereof, but I could not work with people like that.)
So - this was probably more than you ever wanted to know. But I am so excited! In fact, I even am giving up my chance to go the
the SF opera (unfortunately already paid for) so that I can go to an inter-faith justice committee meeting with my friend Priscilla who
runs the justice group as St. James. Do you know, I am offering a $50 ticket to the opera for FREE and I am still having trouble
getting somebody to take it? I really wanted to go since I have never been in all the time I have lived here, and nobody will ever go
with me. Go figure that the one time I find a group willing to go that this meeting would come up. But this is important. Since
many of the religious groups (Quaker, Unitarian, Presby, Cath, etc.) will be there, this would be the perfect venue to advertise. So I
have to go. I just wish somebody would take my expensive opera ticket that I am willing to give for FREE. I would feel better if it did
not go to waste.