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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
A Walk to Beautiful
Directed by Mary Olive Smith, Amy Bucher
PBS 02/08 DVD/VHS Documentary
This empowering documentary is set in a hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, run by Dr. Catherine Hamlin. Here they treat women who suffer from obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal that results in incontinence. Most of those seeking help are poor women who got pregnant too young and then suffered an long, obstructed labor, which left them with a stillborn baby. Five percent of all pregnancies in the world end up obstructed. To repair some of the damage, doctors at the Ethiopian hospital perform 1,500 surgeries a year. For those lucky enough to have this operation, their existence is transformed. It is like being given a new life.
The documentary tells the stories of five Ethiopian women suffering from incontinence due to obstetric fisula. One of them, Ayehu is a 25-year-old woman has been living for four years in a makeshift shack behind her mother's house. Her siblings and neighbors refuse to have anything to do with her because of her smell. Isolated and feeling nothing but shame, Ayehu says that "even death would be better than this." At the hospital in Addis Ababa, she is shocked to find so many others who have suffered "leaking." She is also lifted by the news that she can be treated and return to a normal life.
The other women profiled are Almax, who was abducted by her now-husband in a village market, and suffers from double fistula; 38-year-old Zewdie who has five children and is supported by an extended family; and Wubete and Yenenesh, both 17, who because of early marriage and their small physical stature, had tragic pregnancies. They are forced to be patient as the doctors try to find a way to deal with their medical problems.
Directors Mary Olive Smith and Amy Boucher draw out our empathy for these emotionally and physically traumatized women who lives have been turned upside down and made into an unending nightmare by a variety of forces including malnutrition, chauvinism, child marriage, superstition, and poverty.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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• Read more about the film, obstetric fistula, and how you can support people helping women with this health problem at the official site for A Walk to Beautiful
• Visit the website of The Fistula Foundation to learn more about Dr. Hamlin's work and the Fistula Hospitals she founded in Ethiopia.