At just 25 years old, Semenesh is at what in many countries like the UK would be the start of her life, however despite her youth she has endured so much to make it where she is today. There is a happy end for her story – Semenesh is now healthy and happy and has a bright future – but for a long time, things were not this way.
Life before Fistula
Semenesh comes from a small village in a rural area in Southern Ethiopia, the youngest of three siblings. Her poor family lived in a remote community seven hours walk from the nearest primary school, and as a result she did not receive an education. Her family did not own land, and as she grew, she was forced to join her family in spending each day searching for work as a day laborer on neighboring farms to earn money. Many days they were unsuccessful in finding work and the whole family would go to bed hungry.
At just 13 years old she was married through an arranged marriage and set up her own home with her husband, soon becoming pregnant. With the nearest government health centre seven hours walk away, Semenesh didn’t receive health care during her pregnancy, and as the day of her labor arrived, the village women led by her mother made the preparations for a home birth. However, things did not go to plan. Semenesh was in labor for three days, and eventually, she was taken to the government health center for help.
On the fourth day, Semenesh was in a coma when the doctors took the tragically still born baby naturally. When she woke up, as a result of the prolonged labour, Semenesh found herself with a double obstetric fistula and severe injuries to her legs.
Semenesh remembers this traumatic time
“I never saw or heard of such a shameful health problem in my life. My family all believed it was incurable and I went back home to wait for my bad fate. One year later, my husband left me, lonely inside my house and I had no one around to help me move and manage myself. There were times when I wished death than living in such agony but I never gave up hope in God, I prayed day and night.”
Semenesh stayed for three years laid on a dry goat skin on the floor, uncontrollably leaking both urine and feces. There was nobody, even her own family, caring for her except a few villagers sometimes visiting and feeding her.
One day Semenesh woke and decided she couldn’t go on that way. She gathered all her strength and made a desperate journey walking a full day to reach the health centre.
Treatment and Recovery
At the health centre, she was lucky to find a caring health professional who saw the magnitude of her injuries and helped her to reach the nearest government hospital. At the hospital, they made a referral to Hamlin’s Yirgalem Regional Fistula Hospital, where in time she had her first surgery. This was a painstaking process, with medication, physio and self-management training at Yirgalem, as well as two fistula surgeries.
Unfortunately due to the complexity of her injury, her first surgeries were not enough to completely stop her leaking, and she needed referral to Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, but she felt pressure from her home life to return to her village.
Back at home, and so far from the hospital, she did not attend subsequent appointments and struggled for five years, working again as a day laborer on construction sites and farms, all the while continuing to suffer her fistula. During this time, she saved the little money she had, realizing that she needed to return to Hamlin’s Addis Ababa hospital. After years of work, she finally had enough for the bus fare to Addis Ababa and made the three day journey.
Finally she arrived at the Addis Ababa Fistula hospital in January 2019; “I never traveled such long journey in my life. Sometimes people on the bus didn’t want to serve me because of my smell. And when I arrived in Addis it was much bigger and more confusing than I expected. Language was also a big problem for me, in order to ask people to direct me toward the fistula hospital because I don’t speak the same language of the mass in the city. I had to spend the first night I arrived on the street where slum youngsters robbed all I had”.
A new start
In April 2019, Semenesh received the final diversion surgery that totally cured her from the double fistula she had been suffering from several years.
Hamlin’s hospital social worker identified her for rehabilitation training and Semenesh is now living at Hamlin’s Desta Meder Centre where she is recovering and new learning life and business skills (pictured above). In the coming months she will be graduated and be supported to be reintegrated back to her home village.
After everything Semenesh has endured, at last she will be free to lead an independent life.
‘’For me this is like being born again. I could be dead now if I had not arrived here. I sometimes see Emaye (Dr. Catherine Hamlin) while walking around the hospital and I stare at her to confirm she is human because I believe her lifetime work for poor women like myself is of an Angel’s deed. Much respect and gratitude to her and all the staff.”