Published on July 3, 2019

Catherine had a unique and incredible 2018. Now a teacher at Wenona, she received a teaching fellowship from her school to raise funds and travel to Ethiopia for the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation, supporting the treatment of one of the most horrific childbirth-related injuries – obstetric fistula.

Catherine Minifie in Ethiopia

Why did you decide to go on this trip?

As a PDHPE teacher I’m a passionate advocate for women’s health and wellbeing. My fellowship journey allowed me to support the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation (CHFF) and gain an insight into their inspirational work.

It was a long journey even to undertake this trip. I had to raise a minimum of $10,000 before I went. Through a concentrated fundraising effort, my target was smashed, and I raised $21,405.

Where was the money going, and why Ethiopia?

Some Australians may have heard of the remarkable Australian woman Dr Catherine Hamlin, but in Ethiopia everyone has heard of her. They are so incredibly grateful for Dr Hamlin and her tireless efforts to support the women of Ethiopia. It is a type of aid that most women in the western world cannot even fathom.

Mursi Tribe Member

Obstetric fistula is a horrific childbirth injury that inflicts a lifetime of shame and misery on more than one million women across Africa and Asia. Dr Catherine Hamlin AC and her late husband Reg first founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia over 40 years ago and have treated nearly 60,000 women and girls.

What sorts of things did you experience on the trip?

On my 19-day adventure I was introduced to tribes with traditions we may not understand or ever approve of: the Hammer tribe, where men whip women and cause them to bleed multiple times during male bull-riding ceremonies, or the Mursi tribe, where women pierce their chin and wear terracotta plates that can be as large as 15cm in diameter.

I held hands with children – so many children; danced with locals and cried with happiness and empathy.

What was the highlight of the trip?

The overarching highlight, and the reason I was there was to learn more about maternal health care in Ethiopia. The first visit to a Fistula Hospital was highly emotional. The average age of a patient there is equivalent to a Year 10 girl.

Dr Catherine Hamlin
Catherine enjoys lunch with Dr Catherine Hamlin

The women, despite the horrific reason for being there, walk with new-found hope, draped in donated colourful crocheted blankets, the trademark of Hamlin Fistula Hospitals. Their resilience and capacity to push on despite their injuries, both physical and emotional, is inspirational.

Emotions were high again when we visited the Hospital by the River. This is the name of the book that first informed me about Dr Hamlin and the hospital that she and her late husband Reg created to help the women of Ethiopia.

We had lunch with Dr Hamlin, visited her in her home within the grounds of the hospital, and we spent time with the patients. One patient, who will remain engrained in my mind forever, was Liya. Her case was simple. She was one of the lucky ones, and she had only been at the hospital for two weeks. She was so joyful and so excited to go home the following day. I was so pleased to be able to take Polaroid photographs of Liya and her friends. They had never seen such a thing, and watching their faces in awe as the photo developed was truly special.