Heartbreaking journey to help save lives

Imagine living so far away from your nearest medical facility, it takes two days to walk there.

You are pregnant, unable to access a doctor or obstetrician, and any complications during labour cannot be instantly treated.

This is the experience of many women in Ethiopia, where obstetricians are few, education is limited and the rate of childbirth deaths or injuries is high.

“It’s heartbreaking, so we wanted to do as much as we could to help these women. It’s just not fair,” Latrobe Valley mother of four Jenifer Hanratty said.

She joined friend Melissa Riddle, also a mother of four, to tour the African country for 16 days, visiting medical facilities and meeting patients recovering from childbirth injuries. Inspired by the work of Australian doctor Catherine Hamlin, co-founder of charity Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, the friends took the chance to see her progress up close.

Through treatment and training midwives, Dr Hamlin’s charity aims to eradicate obstetric fistula, a painful and stigmatised medical condition caused by prolonged, obstructed labour.

Jenifer and Melissa have raised about $25,000 to support the cause – knowing all too well their fortunes in having access to necessary medical treatment.

“We’re just mums and we have four children and we know how lucky it is, if we need a caesarean we can just go to the hospital to have a caesarean and have specialists and obstetricians,” Melissa said.

“People sometimes tend to think that because these things happen over there in Africa, that they get used to it, that it doesn’t affect them.”

Run solely on philanthropic donations, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia provides women with free surgery, counselling and physiotherapy.

It also encourages cured patients to return to its main hospital, Addis Ababa Fistula, or one of its five regional centres to avoid losing their baby or obtaining a fistula in future pregnancies.

Although Melissa and Jenifer were unable to volunteer in a medical capacity, the pair aimed to see where their funds will go and share their experience back home.

While they are grateful to all those who have donated, Melissa and Jenifer hope others will become inspired to go on a similar journey.

“It was a very humbling experience and hard to come back and get back into your normal life,” Melissa said.

“You can’t change the lives of everyone in the world, but you can change lives.”

Although the 2015 Great Ethiopian Adventure is over, donations can still be made on Melissa and Jenifer’s fundraising page until the end of the year.

Visit greatethiopianadventure.everydayhero.com/au/melissa-jenifer and follow the prompts.