WASHINGTON, D.C. — Since its founding in 2012, the nonprofit Hope for Our Sisters has advocated for women and girls who suffer from obstetric fistula, a birthing injury that arises from obstructed labor. The nonprofit is funding prevention programs including fistula education awareness, cesarean birth procedures and ultrasound programs. Hope for Our Sisters points toward poverty as the primary cause of the worsening of women’s fistula injuries as families are not able to meet the cost of rehabilitative surgery or safe birth.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 50,000 to 100,000 women around the world suffer from obstetric fistula annually. The women suffer from “constant incontinence, shame, social segregation and health problems.” In 2018, the WHO estimated that more than 2 million women in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa lived with untreated obstetric fistula.
According to the WHO, women can avoid obstetric fistula by “delaying the age of first pregnancy,” ending dangerous traditional practices and accessing obstetric care in a timely fashion. A July 2010 Human Rights Watch article on fistulas in Kenya highlighted several recommendations for the reduction of fistula cases in females. This includes public awareness campaigns on the causes, prevention and treatment of fistulas and improving access to emergency obstetric treatment.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) notes that the cause of obstetric fistula is “prolonged, obstructed labor without access to timely, high-quality medical treatment.” This obstructed labor cuts off the blood supply to tissues within the women’s pelvis, which causes a hole in the birth canal as dead tissues fall off. Around “90[%] of women who develop obstetric fistula end up delivering a stillborn baby.”
About Hope for Our Sisters
Hope for Our Sisters’ president and co-founder Brooke Sulahian told The Borgen Project in an interview that the organization works with Nepal, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola to increase access to life-saving maternal health care as families without a maternal figure face higher risks of entering poverty. Sulahian states that Hope for Our Sisters’ Aftercare program directly addresses poverty by offering vocational skill classes to women recovering from fistula so that they can develop a trade that will generate money for their households.
“Women learn basic literacy and numeracy skills, as well as vocational skills, such as making crafts to sell in the market or gardening,” Sulahian says. “In the past, women have made everything from bags and baskets to greeting cards and jewelry.”
In 2021 alone, teams and outreach efforts reached close to 13,000 people. In 2022, the organization aims to exceed this number. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the medical staff could continue their efforts by including safety measures in their practices. Sulahian says the pandemic impacted donor events, forcing the organization to pivot to Zoom-based events. The organization hopes to resume some of its longstanding events, such as the Mother’s Day Run and Hope Gatherings, in their original in-person formats.
Hope for Our Sisters’ Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Program
Hope for Our Sisters also advocates for women and girls through the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which its partner, World Relief, is helping administer. They teach different groups, such as churches and schools, about the value of women, with the aim that women in their communities will be able to flourish financially.
“In Angola, a woman named Rosa came to our partner hospital in Lubango, Centro Evangélico de Medicina do Lubango (CEML), for surgery after having her fistula for [more than]30 years,” Sulahian said. Rosa’s husband had abandoned her in her early 20s. Rosa “also had a complex fistula requiring multiple phases to her surgery, but the Aftercare program [stood as]a lifeline for her in the waiting periods.”
Hope for Our Sisters’ Salesforce Program
Sulahian spoke about how the organization’s goals are to have its medical teams reach as many women as possible and to increase donor engagement and retention with data from its Salesforce system, which is used for donor tracking and management. Hope for Our Sisters will use the data from Salesforce to determine the types of engagement projects to pursue.
One new project is a donor survey to help the organization understand donors’ motivations for giving and “the part(s) of [Hope for Our Sisters’] mission that appeals to [the]different donors.” The survey will also gauge whether donors feel that their contributions are making an impact and will prompt suggestions on ways the organization can improve on communication, events and more.
“We have always poured into our investors in a variety of ways and we are excited to add the survey as a new component,” Sulahian says.
Hope for Our Sisters is currently working on its annual event with the theme of “Investing in Today and Tomorrow.” Sulahian says the organization chose this topic as it wishes to highlight sustainable solutions for the medical systems in different countries.
“A key success factor of all of the programs we fund is the impact of one woman sharing her experience and/or knowledge with another woman; sister to sister,” Sulahian says. “Over the last 10 years, we have watched our sisters share their positive experiences and/or new knowledge with their friends and family, which has led more women to seek out education, healing and skills training.”
– Nuria Diaz