Familiarizing oneself with the issue to understand how to defeat it
The stench that consistently surrounded her was one of her own stool and gas.
Labeled as a burden, she had forgotten what it was like to be touched, and the only voice to listen to was her own.
No one dared to console her. So the only comfort she felt was her hand brushing the hair away from her own face.
She was the victim of a fistula – a horrific condition that can be the result of sexual assault or difficult childbirths and is much too common in some parts of Africa.
This was something I found out while participating in Global Leadership Adventures, a humanitarian aid program for high school students.
After making under-the-mattress deposits for two consecutive years, I had finally saved enough money for airfare, volunteer Visa fees, six vaccinations and two kinds of malaria pills needed to participate in the program.
Then, on July, 21, 2011 I was off to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. After a 32 hour flight, I arrived at the program’s base camp.
The itinerary kept us very busy: Hikes through the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, an open casket ceremony, hospital visits and teaching English to a school with 600 students and 21 teachers.
My class had 52 children and 10 pencils.
Not only did I get to play teacher, I was also a student when I had to learn about the turmoil some girls had to bear in Tanzania.
Some visitors from a woman’s group came to discuss the rights of women in certain parts of Africa.
During that discussion, we were introduced to the woman who had suffered from a fistula – which can result from violent rape.
She explained her condition by using plastic models of the female genitalia.
An opening forms between the vagina and bladder or rectum.
This causes a constant leak of urine or stool or both.
She said the rip makes urination incredibly painful, and the disownment from family members was described as being worse.
According to the World Health Organization, there are between 50,000 and 100,000 new cases of fistula each year.
But that condition wasn’t the only trauma impacting women in Africa that we were made aware of.
The lesson included a video recording about female circumcision that had been banned in Kenya and Rwanda.
My first thought was to link the procedure to male circumcision and its association to hygienic and religious values.
But after forcing myself to watch the full videotape, I found out that wasn’t the case.
The content was graphic and we were told to leave the room if we couldn’t handle it.
My palms were sweaty and the temptation to puke throughout the film was hard to ignore.
A naked young girl was held down by five men and a midwife was performing a female circumcision.
A single razor blade was used to complete the procedure.
After, the tissue was sewn shut by using twine and a needle from a tree.
The women’s group said female circumcision was illegal in Tanzania – but older generations from select tribes, such as the Maasai tribe, continue the practice.
The group moved on to explaining that female circumcision eliminates the possibility of having an easy child birth.
The scar tissue it creates reduces the elasticity in the vagina, leading to increased maternal mortality rates.
Female circumcision may also be associated with fistula, according to the United Nations Population Fund.
One by one, student’s left the room and sat in silence.
I understand that this is hard to read. It was also difficult for me to see and learn about as well.
But I’ve started my own non-profit in response to this issue – the Moja Familia Foundation – reaching out to victims who suffer from these afflictions.
Our aim is to help with transportation and funding for surgery in order to decrease maternal mortality rates and increase the individual’s quality of life.
After three attempts at registering the non-profit, I was happy to finally call the Moja Familia Foundation my own.
Fistula and female circumcision are wicked truths.
However, through discussion and asking questions I have learned about the possibility of uncovering the solutions.