When a woman endures prolonged labor while giving birth, her bladder or rectal tissue rips or tears, forming a fistula, a hole between her birth passage and internal organs. A simple surgery costing $300 can fix the problem, but without access to care—90 percent of fistula sufferers live in the developing world—the woman is left incontinent, unable to have children, and stigmatized in her family and community. Christian physician L. Lewis Wall wrote about fistulas—faced by 2-3 million women worldwide—in this month's issue of Christianity Today, connecting their plight to that of the unclean woman in Mark's gospel (5:25-34).
Thankfully, two Christian doctors, Reginald and Catherine Hamlin, have been at the fore in the effort to make fistula repair surgeries available to more women, founding Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia in 1974. A Walk to Beautiful, a 2007 Emmy-winning documentary, highlights their work, capturing day-to-day life for Ethiopian women with obstetric fistulas. (The DVD is 85 minutes; about 50 minutes of it is available online.)
The documentary follows five women on their journeys to have their fistulas repaired and their dignity restored. Their stories are somewhat similar—how they got fistulas, their hurt and shame, their thoughts of suicide—but each of the women is unique. Ayehu, a 25-year-old mother, lives in a makeshift hut because her husband kicked her out and her mother will not allow her to stay in the home. Fikre, a friend, suffered from a fistula for ten years before going to Addis Ababa for surgery, and convinces Ayehu to do likewise. Ayehu marvels, "How can they bring you back to life?"
Alone, Ayehu walks six hours to the bus station. ...1
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