The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Hamlin Fistula UK

Author - Clive Hewitt

On 5 December 2008 Hamlin Fistula UK (previously Hamlin Churchill Childbirth Injuries Fund) celebrated 40 years of service to women in Ethiopia.

Late in 1967 Reg and Catherine came to the Birmingham Medical School on a fundraising trip to raise money to enable them to build their Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa. As a result of this visit, the charity was formed on 5 December 1968, and has supported the hospital ever since.

It is interesting to note that it was a further 7 years before enough money was raised, resulting in the opening of the new Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1975.

But, there is a further celebration in 2009. Reg and Catherine first came to Ethiopia in 1959 intending to establish a Midwifery School. In the event, no funds were available, but it was as obstetricians in the state Maternity Hospital that they experienced the consequences for so many women of the horrendous injuries they experienced in childbirth — the lack of antenatal facilities, resulting in total and permanent incontinence, and which was deeply humiliating. Often abandoned by their husbands and families because of the offensive nature of their injuries, they had nowhere to go. It was then that they decided to try and build their own dedicated Fistula Hospital to serve these women.

So, there is a double celebration. 40 years of service in the UK and 50 years of service in Ethiopia.

After those small beginnings, we now have: a main Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa; Desta Mender – ‘Village of Joy’, near Addis, a haven for incurable patients; and four new Outreach Centres in Bahir Dar, Mekele, Yirga Alem and Harar, with a further Centre due for completion next year in Metu – all strategically placed to give the widest cover for these women throughout the country.

It will be recalled that the Hamlin’s original intention was to open a Midwifery School. Well, a brand new Midwifery School was opened in 2008 and has taken in students from areas around our Outreach Centres, which means that they will be able to deliver babies in those regions, and if there are difficulties with the delivery, they can be taken to our nearest Outreach Centre where an obstetrician will be available.

There has been a major contribution from here in the West Midlands.

Two of our trustees, John Kelly and Brian Hancock who are surgeons make regular trips to our various hospitals in Ethiopia undertaking fistula surgery. John Kelly received an OBE from the Queen last year for his contribution to fistula work in Africa.

One of our trustees, Beverley Stewart, has a position as a Midwifery Team Manager and Supervisor of Midwives at Birmingham Women’s Hospital Foundation NHS Trust. She has been allowed to leave her post for 6 months to act in a teaching capacity at the new Midwifery School in Addis from January to July this year.

I am Honorary Treasurer and have made frequent visits to the hospital between 1992 and 2006 assisting in financial management at the hospital. I am a Chartered Accountant and was senior partner in a firm of Chartered Accountants in Birmingham until I retired.

Many of our other trustees have a close involvement in this work, and, of course, in an unpaid capacity.

We do have a paid Chief Executive, Laurence Parkes, who is also a Chartered Accountant, with the appropriate skills for an organisation such as ours.

As a footnote I would like to add that, having noticed an article in the Winter 2008 issue of News File concerning the Addis Ababa Commonwealth Graves Cemetery, a photograph of Reg’s grave in that cemetery can be seen on the front page of our website. He died in 1993. A space is reserved for Catherine.

Contact details:
Hamlin Fistula UK, Bradfield House, Popes Lane, Oldbury, West Midlands B69 4PA
Tel: +441215447772 Web:

First Published in News File Spring 2009

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