An extraordinary woman in Ethiopia

I first learnt about Dr. Catherine Hamlin when she appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show many many years ago. I discovered she was from Australia and that she and her husband both went to Ethiopia as gynaecologists in 1958 and spent the rest of their lives there. They are now buried in Addis Ababa in the country that became their home, near the hospital they helped to found and built and that continues its life saving work full pace.

I continue to be amazed at the example she is of a truly selfless and humble woman who dedicated her life to helping others. She was doing some operations or in the operating theatre until she was well into her late eighties!

The couple soon found that there were much needed and neglected areas of obstetric help, including the problem of obstetric fistulas that cause incontinence in women after childbirth. Some of these women are very young and have to walk miles to a clinic of any sort and by then it is too late. Their child is usually born dead and they are not allowed to live inside their own house any more, owing to their condition.

When Catherine and her husband were confronted with the seriousness of this situation they knew they had to do something about it and devoted the rest of their lives to operating on fistula patients. The operation is a very simple procedure that is almost always effective. Eventually they set up their own hospital in Addis Ababa and now there are six throughout the country. They even taught some of the local women who came for the operation to then operate on others.

One such lady is Mamitu who never went to school and still can’t read and write, but now she is a top fistula surgeon in Ethiopia, who has trained others all over the world, truly amazing!

Whenever a woman has had her operation and recovered the hospital will throw a party. The patient is given a new brightly coloured dress and she can also attend classes to learn various skills if she wants. Sometimes their husbands have rejected them and they will stay on at the hospital to clean, cook, nurse and help out with other women.

Catherine died in Ethiopia last March aged 96, but her memory lives on and the work she gave her life to, will continue to flourish. She also started to set up midwifery training centres from 2007 so that there will be more midwives available in future in rural regions to help women with giving birth and so avoid fistula problems.

Ethiopia is one of the poorest nations in Africa and has experienced many wars including civil war. There is currently a lot of conflict in the northern area of Tigray. It has an ancient history and its economy is currently stable. Catherine always found the Ethiopian women to be strong and resilient and brave and when you read her book of what some of them endured, you will understand why!

The letter ‘e’ is quire easy to pronounce as a short sound, opening your mouth really wide. It is not too hard to write either and most students can learn the capital E shape fairly quickly. There are not so many 3 letter words for KG students to learn starting with ‘e’, ‘egg’, ‘end’, but there are plenty of 3 letter words with ‘e’ in the middle and various ‘e’ families, -et, -en, -eg, and -ed, Later on, there is all the fun of teaching them to identify the silent ‘e’ at the end of a word, a_e, e_e, i_e, o_e, u_e.

E is of course an extremely useful part of our alphabet and so easy to write. Looking through this slice I glimpse a sea of endless ‘e’s!

12 thoughts on “An extraordinary woman in Ethiopia

    1. Yes it should be, it’s called The Hospital by the RIver, by Catherine Hamlin and John Little and the other includes the story of Mamitu is called Healing Lives by Sue Williams. They’re definitely available on Amazon. Inspirational reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What an amazing story – thank you for sharing it! This month I’m highlighting stories of female excellence with my students & I may need to read them this post. Thank you again – I feel rejuvenated just hearing about her work. We really can make a difference in the world, can’t we?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I hope your students are inspired by her story, there is a book by Catherine Hamlin called the Hospital by the River, I think it’s available on Amazon. Yes, we can make a difference, every little bit counts!


  2. Fascinating tribute to extraordinary women, Mamitu as well as Catherine. This is a powerful post on service and resilience – I am moved by the colorful celebratory party when a woman recovers from the surgery, and how the women sometimes stay on at the hospital. These are incredibly important stories – I am so glad and thankful you are sharing them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, yes the celebration is an important part of the whole recovery, because the women have been so miserable. Catherine herself said how incredibly strong ladies in Ethiopia, because of the tough lives they live, such a symbol of courage!


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