Entrepreneurs for Ethiopia

December 21, 2010Post by Laura Humphreys

In the madness before Christmas I squeezed in a few hours at the hairdressers yesterday and amongst the usual array of UK “Hello” and “OK” magazines (do people really live in mansions that big?) I found an article in Next magazine about the plight of women in Ethiopia.  The ironic juxtaposition of this story against the incredible opulence of the celebrities in the Brit mags was not lost on me.  In Ethiopia girls can be married off to men as young as age 10 (although the legal age is 18, this is rarely enforced).  Many have babies in their early teens.  Many have serious complications as a result of their immature development or from giving birth without the medical assistance we in the Western world take for granted.  Still born births are common.  Terrible damage to critical body functions are also rife.  When such things happen, these woman and often their babies too are rejected by their husbands and families.  Husbands by law are only obliged to pay three months financial support to the wives they abandon. Many women are forced to beg on the streets, along with their children.  Large numbers of abandoned women become sex workers, where they are abused and fall prey to the HIV epidemic of the region. Others seek employment as servants where they are exploited further.  Some are grateful to find employment as construction workers where they work 12 hours a day doing heavy labour work for minimal wage. 

When I came home I was still thinking about these women, and others in the world who suffer similar plights.  I did some research and as well as finding statistics such as this …

‘A nationally representative survey of 14,070 women age 15-49 and 6,033 men age 15-59’) ‘81% of Ethiopian women believe their husbands have the right to beat them if they burn food, refuse sex, or go somewhere without their husband’s consent’.

Ethiopian women are not only lacking personal security but also social security. Seventy- five percent of all Ethiopian women are illiterate, and consequently bear the heaviest burden of poverty. Maternal deaths from childbirth for Ethiopian women is among the highest in the world. High HIV infection rates, child marriages and the devastating health consequences associated with them and many other risk factors have left Ethiopian women in a state of misery and despair facing a daily ordeal for survival. With one of the highest birth rates in the world, Ethiopia’s population is projected to increase by 20 million in the next 10 years and double to 160 million by 2050″

… I also came across the Hamlin Charitable Fistula Hospital Trust. The trust operates five hospitals in Ethiopia, where Ron and Catherine Hamlin moved in 1959 to work as gynaecologists. Their patients were women with fistulas – a hole in their bladder or rectum caused by extended (up to 10-day) labours that left their children stillborn. Many of the victims were teenage girls who lived in remote villages. The incontinence resulting from the hole meant they were abandoned by husbands and became outcasts from their communities. “Some were hidden away in sheds or even starved to prevent waste from leaking out”, Hamlin said, “They broke our hearts, they were so sad and pathetic and needed help”

The Hamlins were determined to make a change and the husband and wife team pioneered surgery which cures 93 per cent of fistula patients.

Ron Hamlin passed away a few years ago but at 84, Catherine Hamlin was still performing  a couple of operations a week, living in a traditional mud house. “It’s making a new life for a woman. To be like this she is just discarded. The joy of curing them is magnificent. They give you nothing but their gratitude.”

You can find about more about the Trust and the work they are doing at www.hamlinfistula.org.nz

Why would I write about this in my business mentoring blog?  Because I believe that the more successful we are, the more power we have to give back.  As entrepreneurs we should look around the world and see what moves us, and be willing, able and empowered enough to try to make a difference.  Catherine Hamlin appeared on the Oprah show.  Oprah wrote out a personal cheque for US$500,000 for the Trust and donations of US$3 million flooded in from viewers straight after.  Oprah is a successful entrepreneur and celebrity who uses her wealth and power to make a difference. 

We can only aspire to be successful enough in our own fields to be able to contribute in some way.