Inside the Fistula Hospital
Fistulas are holes that develop in the tissue that separates the vagina from the bladder and/or rectum during labor because the mothers (often young teenagers) have small pelvises or a poorly positioned fetus. In the United States, this condition could be avoided by caesarean section, but in many developing countries, poverty prevents women from getting proper treatment. Untreated, the fistula causes a constant stream of urine, and sometimes feces, to drip, leaving a trail and odor wherever these young mothers go. In Ethiopia, thousands of young girls suffer from this devastating condition.
After Dr. Hamlin's visit to the show, thousands of viewers were compelled to act. The Fistula Foundation, which supports Dr. Hamlin's hospital, received more than $3 million in donations.
In the main ward, Oprah meets post-operative patients, most of whom are very quiet and shy. Next, she meets girls who have been cured and are ready to return to their villages. According to Dr. Hamlin, the hospital has a 92 percent cure rate.
Upon leaving, Dr. Hamlin stresses to the girls the importance of seeking medical help if they get pregnant again. "We tell them that if they get pregnant again, they must get to a hospital next time, otherwise they may get the same injury again," Dr. Hamlin says.
After crawling back to her village, she was shunned by her baby's father. He was so horrified by her smell that he confined her to a hut and left the door open so wild hyenas would devour her tiny body in the night. Unbelievably, she fought off the hyenas and crawled for a day to get to safety.
"Your strength gives me strength," Oprah tells this survivor.
Oprah also wanted to give them a gift that would help rebuild their lives. Each girl received a wallet with $100 inside. In Ethiopia, $100 is the equivalent to one year's salary. It is more than some of them have ever hoped to own.
Joy Village is a small community filled with gorgeous flowers and trees, which create a sense of serenity and healing. Thirty-one women live here, free of ridicule and rejection. Although surgery didn't cure them, they are now fitted with colostomy bags to collect their bodily waste.
Even though these women walk around with a permanent reminder of their pasts, Joy Village has empowered them, restored their self-worth and given them back their lives. In a country where most people, especially the women, are impoverished and uneducated, these women attend school and earn wages for themselves. They work on the farm, maintain the grounds and sell embroidery and crafts.
With the funds donated in part by Oprah Show viewers, Joy Village is now building a brand new facility with classrooms, examination rooms, housing for residents who travel to the hospital for treatment and a small apartment for the on-call doctors.
Sue, a busy mother of two, had never heard of fistulas before the show. "I was haunted for weeks thinking, 'What else can I do?'" Then an idea came. Sue began hosting bracelet-making parties at her home. Sixty volunteers gave their time, and soon they had made over 1,600 bracelets for the girls at the Fistula Hospital.
Bracelets in tow, Sue and Cyrene traveled to Ethiopia with Oprah to deliver the presents and meet the girls. It was a trip that touched them to their cores. "I will never forget those smiles," Cyrene says. "Their smiles were such a universal language for us. It was how we could connect...they were really telling us that their joy was full."
Liya first captured the world's attention when former Gucci designer Tom Ford discovered her. Now she's the famous face for designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton.
When Liya's not commanding the catwalk, this wife and mother is a crusader working passionately with the World Health Organization to improve the lives of women and children around the world. She became involved with the Fistula Hospital to help women with fistula, a problem she wasn't aware of while she lived in Ethiopia.
"You don't talk about it because obviously the women are shunned or isolated. It's a shameful thing to talk about," she says.
"What's happening in the world is that half a million women during pregnancy and childbirth die every year," Liya says. "I'm getting a chance to give back to put this on the map."
Liya teamed up with three high-profile New York teenagers to host a fundraiser to earn money in support of the hospital. Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour helped coordinate fashions donated by Prada, Calvin Klein, Narciso Rodriguez, Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren and Vera Wang. The group raised $100,000.