Tuesday 30 September 2014

A Walk to Beautiful

The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital has been on the edge of my consciousness for some years on and off, especially when it receives media attention. I noticed it a little more when I joined the birth world and a little more again as I realised that a high profile and well respected doula had become the CEO of Hamlin Fistula Australia so when I was given the opportunity to attend a charity screening of "A Walk to Beautiful" I jumped at the chance.
Obstetric fistula is a complication of long and obstructed labours and it causes incontinence (urinary and sometimes fecal) in affected women. These women are unable to work or socialise and become completely isolated by their condition. They are commonly shunned, often rejected by their husbands and sometimes feel that death would be easier than life with a fistula.
The obvious cause of fistula is the enormous difficulty the villagers of Ethiopia have in accessing medical care: many villages are many hours walk from any road and even further to reliable medical help. The documentary makes it clear that the women of Ethiopia are not only victims of poor infrastructure but of cultural norms. Early marriage and childbearing means that mothers are often little more than girls and are physically too underdeveloped to birth safely. Complicating things further, Ethiopian girls and women work very hard, carrying firewood and water from a very young age and although their diets are of good quality they don't receive the calories needed for growth so many are extremely small even when they are physically mature.
The film demonstrates the scale of an almost insurmountable problem but it also showcases the life changing, life restoring work of the hospital as well as the courage and tenacity of some remarkable women.
Fistula became rare in the developed world a full 120 years ago, the first ever fistula hospital closed in New York almost 90 years ago but it is still a major problem in Africa and in other impoverished parts of the world. The film freshened my resolve to be grateful for the privileged life I was born into, to "pay it forward" and to continue teaching my children, especially my daughters, that in no way has feminism finished it's job or become outdated, that in fact, we have only just begun.

As one critic wrote
 "A Walk to Beautiful will leave you speechless two times over — first with despair, then with joy. Neither unmentionable subject matter nor nonexistent commercial prospects can keep this documentary from having a power over your heart that is unparalleled"


  1. This wonderful hospital first came into my consciousness when a person leaving work asked that instead of being given a farewell gift the money collected should go there. And I have been sending them money at intervals ever since. And hoping, against hope, for a time when it can close because it is no longer necessary.

  2. EC,
    the vision of everyone involved is to see fistula become non-existent. I think that is an almighty goal and may take a long time to achieve but I am sure it will happen.
    Thanks for supporting them!

  3. I am unable to get a DVD of this film nor is it scheduled to be shown anywhere close by. I shall continue my efforts to get to see it somehow.

  4. ramana,
    there is an hour long version on you tube but the cinema version is longer. it's worth seeing if you can get hold of it

  5. I've been aware of this problem for some time. That so many suffer so needlessly and hopelessly is one of those things that makes me wonder how anyone can put much stock in prayer.

  6. Snow,
    the suffering in the world would make one question the existence of a loving God every day.
    Interestingly, the women featured in the film were all quick to thank God for their treatment, their doctors, their friends at the hospital: every aspect of their care.
    Confirmation bias makes you all the more questioning because your mind sees and reinforces suffering.
    For people who want to believe, we see an answer to prayer. It might be inexplicably slow coming but we see it and our faith is reinforced.
    I decided I would rather live with the upward spiral of hope than the downward spiral of despair. Sometimes it is an effort but that is ok, that is the human experience.

  7. I'd never heard of obstetric fistula so that was very informative. And it's sad to learn that a problem now non-existent in more developed countries is still common elsewhere. As you say, in no way has feminism finished its job.

  8. I'm sure that part of the reason I'm going to church is that I would like to take a rosier view, but I can't begin to imagine believing in prayer because no doubt for every person who thinks their prayers were answered, many more live and die miserably while God remains mysteriously silent. I will point out that not all Christians believe in interventional prayer for this very reason. It portrays God as being all-powerful but at the same time unresponsive to suffering in every case but those in which the prayer (or those praying on her behalf) somehow manages to influence him/her/it.

  9. Nick,
    watch the extended video on you tube, if you get a chance, or maybe read "The Hospital by the River".

  10. Snow,
    You seek harder and understand religion as well as theology better than the vast majority of church people I have known. I wanted to say that maybe you need to just relax into your spirituality and then i realised that work is your thing!

    I have no answers to the problems of prayer except to say that those who apparently die unanswered at least had hope for their time here.

    I wish you all the best with your church going. Maybe you will get a sense of community, a feeling of connectedness, a spiritual revelation.....something

  11. I knew what a fistula was, but I was not prepared for what I read. It is a horrid condition. I watched the eight-minute trailer and then read on the internet for an hour or so. I have read lots about women in history and their problems, health and otherwise, but not about obstetric fistulas. Do you know what the affliction/condition was called in the 15th and 16th centuries.

  12. Practical Parsimony,
    I don't know what it was called but somehow I think it would have been derogatory and gross?


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