Shop for a cause: Hamlin Fistula Hospital
When I shop I try to look for the ethical and sustainable option when ever one exists. My purchase is even better if the profits can also contribute to a social cause that I care deeply about. The Hamlin Fistula Hospital Store is one such place that offers me this opportunity. The shop stocks a range of Fair-trade and ethically produced jewellerly, accessories and homewares, most of which are made from traditional eco-friendly materials, following craft traditions of Ethiopia and neighboring countries.
Maternal health in Ethiopia is extremely disadvantaged. With a population of almost 100 million, the country has fewer than 200 obstetricians and fewer than 2000 trained midwives This situation means that the majority of births go unattended, and maternal and child mortality rates are very high. The lacked of trained care to assist women when complications arise also means that women are prone to a condition that simply doesn’t exist in developed nations. This condition is obstetric fistula, which is the result of injury to the vaginal walls connected to the bladder and or anus, leaving women incontinent with urine and/or feces constantly leaking. With minimal access to water or hygienic products, these women are often ostracised or completely rejected by their families and communities. It is a condition, however, that is easily resolved with surgery and recovery physiotherapy.
The Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa is the life’s work of Doctors Catherine Hamlin and her late husband Reg, two Australian obstetricians who have spent most of their working lives dedicated to treating women who have experienced obstetric fistula in Ethiopia. Attached to the hospital is a midwife training school, dedicated to training more midwives to improve women’s access to trained care, and prevent the injuries from occurring in the first place. The hospital also runs a skills development school to improve the livelihoods of patients following their recovery. The hospital is also staffed with many former patients who have found paid work as cleaners, cooks, gardeners and medical assistants.
The store, which helps to raise funds for this important, work stocks some beautiful goods that are well worth checking out. I have picked out my favourites for you:
1. Necklace/Bracelet made from recycled bullet casings: Farmers supply traditional bead makers with bullet casings from past conflicts, which they find on their land. These are melted down to create the delicate beads you see here. Not only is this product eco-friendly, it also provides a sustainable economic opportunity to talented traditional artisans who make the beads.
2. Hand-knitted Ethiopian Cotton Wrap: This lovely hand-knitted wrap is made using traditional Ethiopian cotton. Ethiopia was one of the first places in the world to cultivate cotton, and the methods used by small-holder farmers have changed little over time. This means that the farming processes used still have a very low impact on the local environment when compared with industrial cotton farming. The wrap is also hand-knitted by former patients of the hospital, who are participating in skills-development training to empower impoverished women with a skills from which they can earn a living. Many women who have experienced fistula have been ostracised from their communities, so skills development is as essential as physical rehabilitation to their wellbeing when they leave the care of the hospital.
3. Twisted-handle Salad Servers: These salad servers are ethically made in Kenya, by artisans in a community in which there are few economic opportunities. The product is made using Wild Olive Wood, a wood that is being used in place of mahogany and ebony to aid the reforestation of these over-utilised wood-stocks.
4. Handwoven Basket: This striking basket is handwoven using Elephant Grass, natural renewable resource in Ethiopia. As well as being eco-friendly, it also provides economic opportunity for traditional artisans, ensuring the craft traditional can be preserved for generations to come. The shop suggests that the basket would make a great fruit basket or bread basket, but I also think it would be an attractive place to display necklaces or silk scarves.
There are many more beautiful ethically-made products in the Hamlin store, most of which use sustainable materials, so do pop over to have a look. If you’d like to know more about Catherine Hamlin and her life’s work in Ethiopia, her autobiography The Hospital by the River* is a great read. For more information about other ways you can support the Hamlin Fistula Hospital and Hamlin College of Midwives, pop on over to Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, the Australian NGO established to support the work of the hospital in Ethiopia.
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