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Hamlin Alumni: Ruth Kennedy, When a Midwife Arrived at Hamlin

Ruth Kennedy is a Scottish midwife who grew up in Brazil. Ruth first met Dr Catherine Hamlin in 1991. Below is the first in a series of her blogs about her experience working with Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia.

She was young, small in stature, only a child… she was lying in a head down prone position, with her knees tucked up under her on the basic operating table. This was the small mission hospital where I was working in Chad, Africa.

This little woman was a survivor of childbirth, but her baby died. Most days as a midwife in the early 1980s, women were brought in more dead than alive. If the baby were alive, s/he would be spotted between the moribund woman’s breasts. I would quickly take the baby until we could confirm death or life of the mother. Otherwise both babe and mother would be buried.

No telephone, no internet, simply a shortwave radio manned once or twice a day was our contact with the outside world and my small shortwave radio… BBC News seemed so remote! I had books and magazines and anything readable. It was in the mid-1980s that I read in the Reader’s Digest about two surgeons in Addis Ababa caring and repairing women with childbirth injuries. They appeared to have a better technique that I had seen in the small operating theatre in Koumra. I was curious.

Ruth blog2 | Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (USA) | Working to eradicate obstetric fistula. Forever.

In 1991, after the downfall of the Derg regime in Ethiopia, I was led to go to that country. I wrote to Catherine Hamlin about possibly helping with prevention and health awareness programs in Ethiopia. She replied that they were not ready for that yet. However, I decided that when I arrived in Addis Ababa, I would visit this hospital.

I did. I was in Language School to learn Amharic, so this place was an ideal environment to put into practice the main language of the country. I also soon realized that there were some eighty other languages!

“Who are you?” asked a tall, attractive lady with a rather posh voice. Of course, I recognized her. “I am Ruth Kennedy, a midwife.”

Thus, our friendship began…

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All rights reserved 2020 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 and images have been changed to protect the identities of those we help.