Dr. Charlotte Kaliti is a force to be reckoned with. She is the first female surgeon to complete Fistula Foundation’s rigorous training program in Kenya—and she’s just getting started. Dr. Kaliti commands the room as she sits at the head of a conference table in Nairobi. She looks impeccable—even though she entered only moments before…
Abiar, from Southern Sudan, is 23 years old. As with so many other girls growing up in this hostile environment riddled with civil war, Abiar had endured so much. The sound of bullets seem practically normal to her.
She was married in 2011 at the age of 17, years after her parents and siblings had been killed during the 2011 civil war. Abiar recounts the tragedy, “I narrowly escaped when I pretended to be dead after I applied my mother’s blood all over me. I didn’t know where to go since all my relatives were on the run for their safety. I decided to get married because all I needed was protection.”
She had protection, but then the worst happened: she became pregnant. With no access to health care or even primary needs like food and shelter. She regularly hid in the bushes, fearing for her safety and that of her unborn child.
“The worst day is when I went in to labor. It was late in the night and my husband, like other men, was on guard. I didn’t have a mobile phone, and it wasn’t safe for me to shout for help. Since it was a matter of life and death, I decided to take a risk to physically look for my husband in thick dark bushes but at some point I couldn’t just continue with the search because of the severity of the labor pains.”
Abiar returned to their temporary shelter, made of tree branches and polythene bags, alone. Since men only came home at dawn, by the time he came back, Abiar had delivered the baby, but the child died in her hands just a few minutes after birth. She was bleeding profusely. With no access to medical help, miraculously, Abiar survived on herbal medicine. But she soon realized that she had begun to leak urine.
Many women who have lived with fistula share their routine of frequently washing the pieces of cloth they use to absorb their leaking urine, and many also report bathing several times in a day to minimize the odor of urine or feces. Abiar had since relocated to a refugee camp but did not have access to clean water, though she longed for it deeply. “Bathing and washing of clothes was a luxury,” she explained, adding “Living in a refugee camp with fistula was a nightmare.”
She suffered for years before finally receiving unsuccessful surgery during a temporary fistula clinic that was offered at her refugee camp. A team at AMREF identified her as a candidate who needed expert level surgery, and then referred her to the Gynocare Women’s and Fistula Hospital in May 2017, a partner of Fistula Foundation’s nationwide Action on Fistula program.
“This is a very fancy hospital,” Abiar explained, recounting the moment she arrived at Gynocare. “I was afraid to walk in when I got to the entrance, but when I got into the fistula ward, I was consoled to see other patients like me.”
Abiar shared her story while recovering from fistula surgery at Gynocare, and is hopeful that this surgery will finally end six years of leaking urine. At the end of the interview, the now 23-year-old shared a heartbreaking story.
“I have been informed that I will never get babies, but I will continue praying that one day we will enjoy peace just like other countries, where children will just be children. I would not have suffered this fate were it not because of the civil war in my country. I don’t have parents, I don’t have a brother or a sister, my baby went and now I will never have one. But if I can be dry again, then life will be worth living.”
- Population: 45,010,056
- Average Births per Woman: 3.54
- Female Literacy: 84.2%
- Population Living in Poverty: 43.4% (less than $1.25/day)