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A journey to health: Berknesh's story

This is Berknesh.

She was born and raised in a remote rural village in southern Ethiopia. Her family were traditional farmers struggling to cover their annual living costs. Basic services such as electricity, schools and medical clinics did not exist. Berknesh and her family had to walk for hours just to reach the closest market town.

Berknesh met her husband and was happily married, working on the farm with her husband and looking after a household. After giving birth to a healthy daughter, Berknesh was delighted to find out that she was pregnant again.

With no access to qualified medical professionals, Berknesh prepared for another home delivery assisted by village elders.

Tragically, she endured a prolonged, obstructed labour with heartbreaking consequences.

Berknesh 1500x1000 223 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation | Together we can eradicate obstetric fistula in Ethiopia.

Living with the trauma of fistula

After days in agonizing labour, Berknesh was taken to the closest government hospital. There, she delivered a stillborn baby through a caesarean section.

“At first, I was so happy just to stay alive – so was my entire family. I felt the wetness down my legs but thought it might be from the aftermath of the long labour. I hoped it would stop soon but that didn’t happen, and the doctors told me that I faced a fistula.

I felt ashamed of myself and wished that I could die with my baby. I never believed that I would be cured,” recalls Berknesh.

Berknesh hid away in a small hut at her mother’s home, suffering in the agony of fistula. Fortunately, her husband and family supported her through her darkest times. She told us:

“I am lucky that I have a caring husband. He would spend all day at home washing my clothes, feeding me and taking care of me until we headed to Addis Ababa.”

After three months, Berknesh and her husband headed to Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital to seek treatment for her fistula injury.

A single surgery restored Berknesh’s life

A warm welcome awaited Berknesh at Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. She received a week of pre-operative rehabilitation and medical care before she was ready for her fistula repair surgery.

“At first, my husband didn’t decide to leave me alone at the hospital, but when he witness more women like me being treated with love by the staff, he felt confident and went back [home].”

Berknesh 1500x1000 222 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation | Together we can eradicate obstetric fistula in Ethiopia.

A new life

Today, she is completely dry and has re-started her life after the trauma of fistula.


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All rights reserved 2023 Catherine Hamlin Foundation (R) (ABN58159647499)
Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation is fiscally sponsored by KBFUS (EIN582277856) and KBF Canada (RCO769784893RR0001)

Photography credits to Cameron Bloom, Nigel Brennan, Mary F. Calvert, Kate Geraghty, Amber Hooper, Joni Kabana, Johannes Remling and Martha Tadesse.

Patient names have been changed to protect the identities of those we help.