The small rural village in Southern Ethiopia that Astegn, 22, grew up in is not only a two-day bus journey from Addis Ababa – but also a two day walk from the nearest main road. Public services such as health care could not be more remote for her family of eight siblings and her parents, who are subsistence farmers living in poverty.
When she was 18 years old Astegn was kidnapped by a much older man for a forced marriage. This was an old traditional way of marriage practised in rural Ethiopia which is now illegal; however, after negotiations with the man, Astegn and her family agreed to the marriage. She told us in time she grew to enjoy married life and when she was 19, she was happy to find out she was pregnant.
Her pregnancy progressed well. However, when the time came for the birth, her labour lasted an agonizing seven days. With no professional health care in the village, she tragically suffered a stillbirth, as well as a double fistula, leg injury and severe back pain. Astegn stayed like this, incontinent, unmoving, in her bed for 18 months.
“My step-mom and my father were always there by my side cleaning, moving and feeding me every day, all day. My days were full of sorrow. I cried day and night and sometimes wished to die rather than living in such agony” she told us.
In time, a health professional trained in fistula patient identification arrived at Astegn’s village and found her, and made the arrangements for Astegn to be taken to Yirgalem Regional Fistula Hospital.
She received a year of rehabilitation and physiotherapy at Yirgalem before she was fit for surgery, which she has now had. Surgery has given Astegn her life back and she is now at Desta Mender, Hamlin’s rehabilitation centre, receiving counselling and training in business and life skills to empower her to start an independent life.
“Look at me, who could believe this. I am a different person now. My life is totally transformed. You have fixed my physical problems and now you are fixing my social problems. My future plan is to go back to my village and open a small merchandising shop. I am more inspired now to become successful in business and lead a happy independent life.”