Last November Patricia travelled to Ethiopia with Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia as part of a major fundraising campaign. She saw firsthand what has been achieved through the dedication and leadership of Dr Catherine Hamlin and her husband Dr Reg Hamlin.
The Hamlin’s life and work is one of the truly inspiring stories of the modern age. In 1959 as Australian obstetricians and gynaecologists, Drs Catherine and Reg Hamlin travelled to Ethiopia at the behest of the then Royal Family to set up a college for midwifery training.
In the early years of their stay, they noticed the wretched plight of obstetric fistula sufferers, a terrible childbirth injury almost unheard of in the first world, who at that time were treated as incurable cases. No -one anywhere in the world was doing anything to treat this catastrophic, life altering condition. These seemingly incurable patients so touched their hearts that they resolved to do something to help. Together they perfected the modern technique for obstetric fistula surgery. They negotiated with governments, survived through very difficult times politically in Ethiopia, raised funds to set up a number of hospitals, clinics and a midwifery school and have trained people to run the enterprise.
Catherine herself has been recognised for her amazing work. She is a Companion of the Order of Australia, a national living treasure of Australia and a two time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. Reg Hamlin passed away nearly 20 years ago, and Catherine now in her 90s, continues to inspire a team of surgeons and her loyal Ethiopian staff, some of whom have been with her since 1959.
To date their team has treated more than 40,000 women and radically changed their lives for the better.
Travelling around all the facilities in some fare flung corners of the country, it was interesting to ponder on what made them such effective leaders and change agents. A number of characteristics were clear:
- They were passionate about the cause. Catherine, now 92, says she wants to see obstetric fistula eradicated, if not in her lifetime then in in ours. They dreamed big and with this clear vision they could enthuse others and set plans in place to achieve them.
- They developed the skills necessary to achieve their goal. It took them a few years to research, study, develop and refine the skills required. They became the leading experts in this field and then set about training as many others as they could. They recognise they made mistakes but learned form them and never gave up.
- They were able to recognise talent in people and took the time to develop and nurture people. One of their major successes was training a cured patient to become one of the leading fistula surgeons in the world, a wonderful woman called Mamitu. They have ensured their work continues by developing a well trained staff and recruiting effectively.
- Humility and kindness is a large part of Dr Catherine’s charm. She downplays the praise she receives from many quarters and deflects it onto her team. Those who work with her directly adore her and quite literally will do anything for her.
- They never gave up, persistence being a key part of their success. When there was political turmoil in Ethiopia they stayed and found a diplomatic way through it. Key skills for any good leader.
- One more endearing characteristic is that they didn’t seek personal gain. As specialised doctors they could have had the choice of roles in any prestigious hospital. Instead they chose to work with some of the most marginalised women in the world. This has been a role model for the doctors they have trained and employed and many said it was Dr Catherine’s example that inspired them. One of their surgeons commented that he had high paying work offers from all over the world but he could not take them as it would be letting Dr Hamlin down.
Patricia often presents on behalf of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. Her trip was both educational and inspirational on so many levels. To find out more about these amazing Australians go to www.hamlin.org.au