On Sunday I got to attend the very moving ‘dress ceremony’. These women are truly inspiring. I wish my family and friends could experience these moments with me to see how life changing the Africa Mercy is.
This ceremony is held for women who have had a vaginal fistula repaired and are able to go back home. Vaginal fistulas are unfortunately quite common in Western Africa. A combination of things including poor access to emergency obstetric care and small pelvises in these women results in some labours lasting days (some longer than 7 days!) which causes pressure on the bladder +/- rectum and necrosis of the tissue. This causes a hole to form (fistula) resulting in a constant leak of urine +/- faeces. It is a quick surgical procedure to repair the hole/s and prevent leaking. Even more than that though, it gives each woman back her life. It is easy to forget the impact a fistula can have on someone’s life. It is not uncommon for the lady to be rejected from her family, her home and village. She becomes so isolated. She is publicly shamed and sometimes beaten due the strong smell. By having the surgery, she is accepted again and can restart her life. There is a great documentary called ‘A walk to beautiful’ which gives some perspective. It can be found here if you are interested. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TPTA4g5rGrs
There were five beautiful ladies who sung and danced their way into the ceremony. Their makeup was done by chaplaincy and a new dresses made by crew to symbolise their new freedom and healing – the start of a new life. Each lady held her head up high, beamed a radiant smile and was so full of joy and happiness. They spoke through tears telling their story of how having a fistula had affected their life, and how thankful they were to Dr Norman for repairing them.
An experience I will never forget.