A Safe Motherhood Ambassador Is Changing Lives in Ethiopia

How Healing Hands of Joy Empowers Women Like Duko

Duko (pictured above, in the middle) developed fistula during the birth of her first child. The ordeal lasted three days and ended in stillbirth. Shortly after she started leaking, her husband left her, and she stopped participating in public events. “I became hopeless,” she said.

She suffered for 12 years before she received repair surgery. Sadly, it did not cure her of her incontinence. Fistula surgery has a high success rate, but sometimes a woman can’t be fully healed. Injuries to organs such as the bladder or the urethra can make a full cure impossible to achieve, even for the best surgeons. So, despite the best efforts of her care providers, Duko isn’t dry. 

And yet, thanks to our partner Healing Hands of Joy in Ethiopia, Duko has gained a new sense of purpose, and she is happy. Duko, now 30 years old, is a Safe Motherhood Ambassador (SMA) for Healing Hands of Joy, and she has recruited nearly 20 other women to become SMAs as well. Over the past decade, Healing Hands of Joy has trained more than 2,500 women to become SMAs. The SMA program seeks to restore women’s self-esteem through counseling, education, and support, and to promote healthy pre- and post-natal practices across Ethiopia.

Fistula Foundation has supported Healing Hands of Joy since 2019 by funding outreach and training initiatives that promote safe motherhood practices. In addition to providing psychosocial support to women like Duko, Healing Hands of Joy teaches SMAs how to identify and refer other women with fistula to treatment facilities.

“I want to help the women in my village—to make them safe from fistula,” said Duko. To date, she has found 18 women in need of surgery and referred them to treatment facilities for care. One of those women, Bedeso, was Duko’s neighbor. She suffered with fistula for 10 years.

“I was hiding myself,” said Bedeso. “I preferred to stay at home. Thanks to Duko, I became hopeful. She came to the treatment center with me.”

 Bedeso, a fistula survivor, graduated from Healing Hands of Joy’s Safe Motherhood Ambassador program in 2021.
Bedeso, a fistula survivor, graduated from Healing Hands of Joy’s Safe Motherhood Ambassador program in 2021.

When Duko started her duties as an SMA, she met resistance. “Although I am interested in educating my community, they are not interested [in listening]. Even the health extension worker is not supporting me,” she recalled. “However, I never let them pull me back.” Today, the situation has changed for the better. Duko has found great success in working with the health extension workers in her area. Along with serving as an SMA, she works with a local government-backed health advocacy group called the Health Development Army. She uses the knowledge and skills that she has acquired as a SMA to teach members of that group about obstetric fistula.

 Duko was an honorary speaker at a Safe Motherhood event for the Ethiopian Broadcasting Service in 2020.
Duko was an honorary speaker at a Safe Motherhood event for the Ethiopian Broadcasting Service in 2020.

Duko is determined to share information about maternal health resources and life-changing treatment opportunities with women in her village and beyond. When women like Duko are able to educate their communities and to protect other mothers from conditions like fistula, maternal health outcomes improve. 

Support from donors like you enables us to fund community initiatives like this one and encourages safe motherhood practices in regions where fistula is prevalent. Duko inspires us all with her passion for advocacy.

Published on August 9, 2023

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