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A Song in the Middle of Suffering

By Allison Kooser

In an open, breezy room in a hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi, women are singing.

They are all gathered together—patients in various stages of recovery. Some are still waiting for the surgery that will restore their lives. They have suffered physically, emotionally, and socially. Many have been cast out of their homes and communities, and others are so young that they won’t raise their eyes to meet mine.

But here they are, singing. 

These women are part of the Fistula Care Centre on the grounds of Bwaila Hospital. This special medical unit was created by our partners at the Freedom from Fistula Foundation to serve women and girls suffering from obstetric fistula. Women move into the unit, spending days—or sometimes weeks—receiving excellent medical care and training that will prepare them to return to their communities.

As the Freedom from Fistula Foundation describes, “An obstetric fistula occurs during an obstructed labor when emergency care is unavailable.”

Obstetric fistula is not uncommon in Malawi—many girls marry and have children young, increasing their risk of complications in childbirth. They also often live in rural, impoverished communities far from health centers, and high-quality healthcare is not readily available. The World Health Organization notes that “women who experience obstetric fistula suffer constant incontinence, shame, social segregation, and health problems. It is estimated that more than 2 million young women live with untreated obstetric fistula in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.”

The women at the hospital are singing because they have found a team of doctors and nurses that can help them heal.

But that is only the beginning.

They have also found friendship. Support. Belonging.

They have found a community of people just like them who don’t turn away when faced with the reality of their situation—and they have found a network of partners who are committed to their futures.

Opportunity International is proud to be a part of this team.

We know that soon, each of these women will return home. They will integrate back into their communities—villages that are still plagued by the same challenges as always: limited opportunities, underemployment, and poverty. These young mothers not only need their health to be restored—they need a path forward.

Opportunity began partnering with the Fistula Centre because these women have so few places to turn and so few resources to access. At Opportunity, we are committed to serving those that others too often forget, overlook, or ignore—including incredible, strong women like those at the hospital. Our local team offers financial training courses teaching these women about savings, financial literacy, and business basics. While they are at the hospital for weeks at a time, they participate in a small entrepreneurial venture—creating jewelry that they sell to visitors to support both the hospital and themselves. 

And when they go home, they do so with dignity and pride. Not only are they healthy, but they are also equipped to support themselves. They have skills that they can use to start their own businesses and the financial acumen to do so well.

They go home with their heads held high—ready to transform their families and communities.

And they are still singing.

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