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Stories: Martha

Volunteer work at the Fistula Care Centre

My name is Martha, I am 16 years old.

I was a former patient at the Freedom From Fistula Care Centre in Malawi. I came to the centre when I was 5 years old. When I was 4 years old I got into a car accident that crushed my bladder and I started to leak urine.

Being a kid with fistula condition was a very traumatic experience during my childhood. Having a fistula condition affected my life in many ways, it affected me physically, and also emotionally. I was limited doing things. I was staying indoors all the time, not going outside to play with my friends, having thoughts that people were going to make fun of me. Fistula was something that I couldn’t control as a kid, it was a very heavy leakage and there was nothing that I could do about it. I had my first surgery at the centre somewhere in 2014, which was to prevent a heavy flow. Getting introduced to the Fistula Care Centre helped me and my family a lot because I learned about other people’s situation and others who have it.

During the holidays I started volunteering at the centre. I was helping out in a lot of things, teaching, helping out with the pad project, writing patient stories, going to the theatre with the doctors, staying in the examining room, etc. I did a lot of things and I really enjoyed it, but what I really found enjoyable was interacting with the patients and hearing about their stories on how they ended up in that situation.

At the center I learned that a lot of people had their own experiences with the problem and when you share it and talk about it you would feel relieved and not left out because they all had the same problem. I discovered the causes and effects of developing fistula in teenage girls and old woman, and how we can help to prevent the problem that teenage girls are experiencing. The most shocking thing that hit me was I would be talking to someone who is the same age as me around 15-16 and she says she had or has a kid. It would be very shocking. A lot of people think that girls get pregnant because of dating but I discovered that sometimes it comes due to unsustainable family background, where parents encourage them to go get married so they can have their own family and help out the parents in some things, and also pressure from peers that makes them end up in these situations. Sadly, most teenage girls who get pregnant at a young age experience an obstetric labour where by the chances of the baby surviving is very low.

As it was stated earlier that I was doing a lot of activities with the patients and also with the people around me. Edna is one of the patients that I interviewed and wrote her story about how she developed fistula and how she handled the situation with her environment. She stated that coming to the centre made the biggest impact in her life because she knew that she was not alone and also had a lot of support. She is happy and also appreciates the amount of support and love the center has brought towards her, it is sincerely a loving and welcoming community.

Volunteering at the centre has taught me a lot of things that I didn’t know about fistula. Learning about big issues that other people are experiencing in their lives. Like how other people fall into depression because of fistula, social life getting ruined and starts to become an alone person. You start pulling yourself away from people, family friends and the whole community.  A person with fistula is found to be a burden to others and also is treated differently in a negative way which makes the individual feel like they don’t belong with them. Most people who have fistula go through depression because of how people treat them especially in rural areas it’s a place where you will always find a crowd or a lot gatherings and when you are coming from places like this you will have a lot of people talking because they are clueless about the problem.

When I was going to the centre I never knew anything about this problem, but when I went to the centre I discovered a lot of things and also met up with new people who helped me understand about the problem. In addition to get educated about it when I was in school I did a project about fistula, my aim was to educate people about the different problems girls are facing in a community. I did multiple photography series and used the knowledge I had and the experiences I learned at the centre about patience with fistula. Many people learned a lot about fistula in girls which I also met up with my goal, about educating people about fistula problem especially people who were clueless about it, maybe sometime, somewhere they might end up coming across someone who has that problem and they can help them and they know the situation that the person is going through.

In conclusion to all the aspects that I have stated in my experience as a volunteer I would like to the thank the fistula people for welcoming me and giving me the opportunity of letting me be part of their team. By helping out and interacting with the patients and different people. Learning the different objectives and characteristics of fistula.  I really enjoyed myself working at the centre the interaction that was happening between me and the patients was just amazing I felt welcomed and also making the patients happy made me happy as well, I hope to volunteer again when I get the chance

I would like to acknowledge Dr Jeff, who has made this all possible for me to be at the centre, he is changing a lot of people’s lives. I have seen people walking out the of the hospital perfectly normal and dry, and many thanks to the working team for making the most enjoyable movements of my life.

Volunteer Martha