Thursday, September 3, 2015

Janet gives great hugs...and hope

By Leslie Stroud-Romero, UVP Executive Director

I’ve lived on the continent of Africa for six years, and this was by far the most enthusiastic greeting I’ve ever received from an adult here. Especially one I’d never met.

Last month, I traveled with two fistula colleagues and Uganda Village Project’s (UVP) Fistula Coordinator to visit one of UVP’s Fistula Ambassadors. We drove up to a traditional Ugandan home: several buildings clustered together, mostly with mud walls and thatch roofs. After our very enthusiastic hugs from Janet, the Fistula Ambassador, as well as multiple members of her family, we were ushered into one of the huts to wait. Family members filed in to greet us, and then Janet appeared with tea, boiled eggs, and groundnuts. A short while later, she showed up again with lunch. We had just finished eating in town, so we politely poured ourselves some tea, snacked on eggs and groundnuts, and Loy (UVP’s Fistula Coordinator) explained for the tenth time that we had already eaten and couldn’t possibly eat more. Janet’s response to our continued amazement about her hospitality was that she had been repaired from fistula for no cost to herself or her family. UVP had literally changed her life, and she wanted to express her gratitude in any way she could.

It was my first time to visit a Fistula Ambassador. UVP started the program two years ago to train peer educators how to spread the word about fistula to their communities. Janet was an easy choice to join the program. She had gotten her fistula in 1975 and was repaired in 2010. She knew the burden of fistula, and she wanted to do what she could to prevent it and to give other women hope. In fact, the day we showed up to visit Janet, there was another woman with fistula at her house. She had been referred to Janet, and so she came over during our trip so she could talk with Loy and make arrangements to travel to the upcoming repair camp this fall.

After a while, we went with Janet for a fistula outreach she was leading. There were many women gathered, and while the number of men attending was sparse, there were some teenage boys who will certainly need these messages when they marry in a few years and make decisions with their wives regarding childbirth. Janet stumbled at first – her in-laws were in the audience and so she was afraid to talk about a few sensitive subjects – but the audience encouraged her, and she plunged ahead. Afterwards, Loy got up to reinforce messages, and then women came up to talk privately with both Janet and Loy.

There is an energy to Janet that she shares with her community. It’s evident in her hugs, in her insistence at feeding us, and in the way she got up in front of her peers and talked about a medical condition that normally is reserved for quiet whispers behind the house. Janet is helping women get over the stigma of fistula, and ensuring that her community stays informed and engaged in preventing this life-changing condition.