Blog: By Nimco Eid Awale, Protection & Education Snr Coordinator
Contributions by Simon Nyabwengi, National Director, World Vision Somali Programme,
It was a place of hope, a place where women went and came back with hope, dignity and confidence. She wanted to go there. No, she needed to go there. She had suffered immensely, dripping and worse. For years. Living in isolation with only those that truly loved her staying close to her.
It had not always been like this, the dripping, the loneliness, the isolation.
Sado, a 26-year-old mother of five children was once healthy, vibrant, and happy. She had a distinct laugh, unique only to her, a laugh that could be heard in the compound and across the compound into the neighbouring compounds. The neighbours would raise their heads and say to themselves - that must be Sado, she is really happy. Her laugh was gone, it had been replaced by silence and sadness that ate into her soul and hanged around her, like an ominous dark cloud, frightening; foreboding.
Sado kept to herself, rarely venturing out of her compound. Not because she did not want to. But, because she could not. Unlike other women, she could not go when she wanted to; she had lost control of the proper functioning of a vital part of her body.
It had not always been like this, the pain and the sadness.
She had once been a young girl, dreaming of marriage. And, as a young girl, when she was just beginning to understand that she was becoming a woman, she heard her parents discuss marriage. She knew what marriage was. A man and woman came together, in a big ceremony, attended by friends and relatives with a lot of rice and meat and drinks and an Imam who would marry them, and they would then begin living together. They would have children, boys and girls, who they would both take care of and see grow to be strong young men and beautiful young ladies. The children would go to school, get a good education and become important men and women in society.
She wanted this. She wanted marriage. It sounded so grown up and good and wonderful. She knew that it will happen one day, in her own timing. But, her parents had other plans. Her parents informed her that her marriage had been arranged and her husband had already been chosen. She trusted her parents because that is what 14-year-olds do. After all, they had always taken care of her and knew what was best for her. Although she had always wondered why they took her for “the cut”; the cut was so painful that it made her bleed and cry. But she had been told that was the way of the community and at that, she could not question a tradition that had been practised for ages. And in any case, all her friends had been cut. What was not normal became normal.
It was a simple ceremony, the wedding that is, not the cut. All her friends and relatives were there and she was very happy to be the centre of attention. And Mohamoud looked so fine and handsome in his new clothes.
Immediately after the ceremony, they moved into their simple home and began the life of a married couple.
It was not always like this.
Their first child, Mohamed, came less than a year after the wedding. She was barely 15 when she gave birth to her firstborn. He was such a joy to have and her life was occupied with taking care of him, feeding him, washing him and looking into his eyes and laughing with him when he laughed. He had funny baby noises and she imitated them and made faces at him, which made him laugh and made her so happy. Life was not easy as they did not have a lot. But, she and Mohamoud (her husband) and their first child were together and that is all that mattered.
Soon thereafter, Hamdi came along, followed by Jimcaale.
When she conceived Amaal, she was already an experienced mother. She had given birth to 3 children and knew that pregnancy and childbirth was nothing to be scared of. Or so she thought. But, when she went into labour, something wasn’t quite right. With help from the village birth attendant and her mother, she pushed and pushed. She was in terrible pain and scared. She had heard of women who had died during childbirth. She did not want to die. Mohamed, Hamdi and Jimcaale were so young and Mohamoud would be lost without her. She uttered a silent prayer to save her life and the life of the child being born.
Then there was ululation, and the lusty cry of a newborn, gasping for air and life, wondering why it was suddenly cold and who these strange people making strange noises were. Sado looked at her newborn daughter and she was so happy, in spite of the pain. The women took good care of her and within a few days, she was able to begin doing light chores around the home.
Then, it began.
She had no control of when to go to the bathroom; of time or place. It just happened, a constant dripping and worse. It was a constant struggle to keep clean. She lived in fear that people would notice the smell that hung over her.
This was new. It had not happened with Mohamed; it had not happened with Hamdi; it had not happened with Jimcaale. She tried to hide this from Mohamoud, but he soon noticed and got worried.
It was hard. A condition that one could not discuss with people; that made one avoid and fear people because of what they would think and say of her. It was not like a cough or Malaria or a headache where one could walk to the health unit and get medication. This was private. Shameful. It robbed her of her laughter and dignity and self-esteem and kept her confined to her house.
Maybe she would heal. Maybe the condition would go away by itself and she would be ok again. She thought. But it did not go away. And, after discussing with Mohamoud, her husband, friend and confidant, she gathered the courage to seek help at the Borama fistula hospital in Borama.
Fistula! It sounded as bad as it felt. A condition that had that crept upon her without invitation and had taken space in her body and soul, robbing her of laughter, of dignity, of company, of community.
The nurse finally put a name to her shame. She was kind, this nurse was. She took time to explain. And it finally began to make sense. The painful cut that had made her cry and wonder if her parents loved her and why they would make her go through such; the early marriage; and the children born in quick succession.
Borama was the solution to her problem. But, it was going to be expensive. She and Mohamoud only had enough to feed themselves and the children. She would need money to go to the hospital in Borama, pay for the operation that would restore her dignity and her laughter and make her whole again.
But they did not have the money.
So, she went back to a life of isolation and shame. With only one bright spot. Mohamoud was beside her and in his own way, assured her that they were in this together and he would not leave her. And that meant so much to her as she had heard of women whose husbands had abandoned them and married new wives. She could not be alone with her condition and Mohamoud’s quiet love and assurance gave her the daily courage she needed to face her condition.
One day, a bright light shone in her life. She had a visitor from an organization with a very strange name that she could not pronounce because it was not a Somali name. The visitor had heard of her from Hoodo, a friend of hers. She explained that she could get her to Borama for surgery and she did not have to pay one Somali shilling. The organization would pay for her treatment, one person to accompany her and once she was recovered, some money to start a business and training to succeed in that business.
She pinched herself, passed her hand before her eyes to see if she was awake. This must be a dream, from which she will wake up and find herself on her bed, still suffering and feel the sharp stabs of disappointment and despair in her chest. But no. It was not a dream. The lady from World Vision was real. She could see her, hear her, touch her.
Arrangements were made and the long travel to Borama made. She was received and the doctors explained what had happened to her and what they needed to do. She met other women at the hospital, some had stories to hers, others had more tragic stories, some had been abandoned by family and friends and were living lives of loneliness and shame, just like her, but all alone, without Mohamoud.
She made a quick recovery. And, for the first time in April 2017, she had full control of when and where she went to the bathroom.
She could not ask for more. But there was more.
World Vision connected her to a group of women who had gone through the same pain and shame but also surgery, recovery and the restoration of dignity and joy and laughter. The group met regularly and shared their stories. They laughed together and cried together. They became her family and helped rebuild her shattered self-esteem from the ground up.
She could not have asked for more. But there was more.
The women were part of a Village Savings and Lending Association, formed and trained by World Vision. They met regularly and saved about $2 USD every month and from this money, loaned one another to start businesses or for emergency needs, like medicine for a sick child or school fees. She began saving and was soon able to borrow to start her business of selling clothes. She began making profits and was so happy and grateful that she could now contribute to basic needs in her home, buy food and clothes for children. And, more importantly, support the man who had stood with her during her period of shame and suffering.
A man who understood love, a man of honour who ignored the advice of friends and family and loved and took care of her when he could have walked away.
The women could laugh. Group meetings were always full of laughter and easy banter and she carried this laughter back home and her neighbours would raise their heads, look across into her compound and share her joy.
In her heart, she always knew that was not always going to be like that.
And World Vision helped to change her story. From isolation and shame to joy, dignity, and self-confidence.