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The Hamlin Fistula UK team recently visited Hamlin’s Desta Mender rehabilitation centre in Addis Ababa. Social worker Tigrist (pictured above, second left) and her team were excited to show us the work they are doing at the centre and how it is making an impact on women’s lives.

Surgery is only one step to recovering from fistula. Hamlin offers a comprehensive re-integration programme to help women regain dignity and self-worth.

Desta Mender was opened by Dr Catherine Hamlin in 2002. It is Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia’s rehabilitation and training facility where longer-term patients are provided with counselling and a skills training programme that is individually tailored for each woman.

Dr Hamlin has always believed that treating a fistula patient isn’t just treating a hole in the bladder but rather the whole patient, and on visiting Desta Mender the impact of this support is clear to see.

‘’Through the programme we are giving women an empowerment injection’’ Tigrist, Social worker at Desta Mender

Most of the women admitted at Desta Mender have not only had fistula surgery, but have also had diversion surgery and are having to adapt to life with a stoma. The team assess all patients on their arrival and a package of care is designed for each including psychosocial counselling, group therapy, education and literacy training and spiritual support, with most women staying for three months.

Tigrist tells us initially many women are not interested in the training when they arrive as they are depressed ‘’They feel they are cursed. They simply want to go home to their mum and dad and hide away’’.

She tells us it often takes time for a woman to open up and for the team to fully understand their problems in order to best tackle them, but once they do they can make the biggest difference.

Twenty-two women are currently taking part in the programme, with education and life skills training centred on learning basic business skills, handicrafts including sewing, managing the centre’s dairy farm, cooking and coffee ceremonies and operating the Juniper café.

Tigrist and her team challenge women to think about the future and take control of their lives again. Small business training supports women to develop their business ideas and a plan, provides seed funding and also liaison with a woman’s local Women’s Affairs Bureau on her return to her community to ensure social support.

The team also arrange ‘’demonstration visits’’ for women to visit a past patient that has already been re-integrated to her community and is acting as an ambassador for the programme.

At the end of our visit we meet with group of women who are about to graduate from the programme and hear their stories;

‘’I have learnt how to change my life, and not to beg. Everyone here at Desta Mender has helped us, particularly in the empowerment programme in how to set up a business. When we go back to our villages, we have learnt to be strong and lead our lives, and not to be dependent’’.

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