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Meet Bernard

Bernard Owino is one of six county mobilizers with Disciples of Mercy (DOM), an organization that runs a fistula outreach program in Kisumu. Before joining DOM, he worked with orphans and other vulnerable populations in the region for four years as a social worker.

Bernard's Story

During that time, Bernard came across a number of women with fistula but did not know how to support them, as he was largely unfamiliar with the condition. His concern for these women continued to grow and he decided he wanted to do something to help. That’s when he first heard about DOM.

As a county mobilizer, Bernard’s main role is to identify new fistula patients. He first conducts verbal screenings then refers potential patients to our partner facilities for a more thorough physical exam. Women who are diagnosed with fistula are then referred to the nearest treatment center to undergo free repair surgery. Following treatment, Bernard follows up with patients to ensure they are doing well and to address any reintegration challenges they might be experiencing.

“Challenges are inevitable while working with this kind of population,” Bernard says. “Men are still the sole decision makers in our African setting, so even women who have fistula are unable to make the choice of whether to go in for treatment or not. Men don’t like being part of any conversation that talks about women’s reproductive health. The few who do allow their wives to go for treatment often don’t even visit them while they are in the hospital. The lack of men’s support in the treatment process is a stumbling block.”

What keeps Bernard motivated in the face of all these challenges? The smiles on the faces of fistula patients after their surgery. “Is there anything on this planet as rewarding as seeing someone smile?” he asks. “Those smiles keep me going when the going gets tough. I feel it’s the least I can do in gratitude of the life my mother gave me.”

About Kenya

  • 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)
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We’re Making a Difference in Kenya

Read Another Woman’s Story

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    After developing a fistula with the birth of her fourth child, Saran received free fistula surgery at our partner site Jean Paul II Hospital in Conakry, Guinea.

  • Queen

    Kenya

    “When my husband saw the many health issues I had, he despised me, he called me names and always told me in the face that I was more than crippled.” She was left on her own and most of the time starving. She reached at a point that she could not withstand the mistreatment and she went back to her parents. After a few years her parents died. “I walk like a crippled woman, there is nothing that I own on this earth, I don’t have a husband, I don’t have a baby. My life is so empty.” She has said that her deepest desire has been to die a clean woman. But at Gynocare, where she received fistula surgery through the Action on Fistula program, she is happy. Here, she feels loved and valued. She knows she has a family at Gynocare.

  • Doris

    Zambia

    After two days of labor at a clinic hear her village, Doris was transferred to a hospital where the staff refused to give her the cesarean section she needed because "she was going to die anyway." Her baby did not survive and Doris developed an obstetric fistula. Her husband left, and soon, so did her hope.

  • Alphonsia

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    Alphonsia’s heart-wrenching story began 27 years ago after her labor failed to progress properly.

  • Mary

    Kenya

    Mary, from rural West Pokot, Kenya, received free fistula repair surgery in 2015 after being referred for treatment by a community health worker. With a bright future ahead, she wishes to become a fistula ambassador herself.

  • Yvonne

    Zambia

    After suffering from obstetric fistula for 17 years, Yvonne boarded a bus that would take her to treatment. She was hopeful that on her return ride, she would be traveling in a dry dress for the first time in nearly two decades.

  • Harka Maya

    Nepal

    A mother of two, Harka Maya lives in Sindhuli, Nepal, roughly 80 miles (129 km) from Kathmandu. She developed a fistula last summer, while in labor with her third child. Being from a poor farming family, it was customary for her to deliver at home.

  • Annet Jane

    Annet Jane

    Uganda

    Pregnant at 14, Annet Jane suffered with a fistula for 23 years before receiving treatment. Now, she has hope for the future.

  • Naresia Kenya

    Naresia

    Kenya

    Naresia is a Masai girl from a rural village in Kenya. Only five months ago, at the age of 14, Naresia gave birth to a baby. After a prolonged and difficult labor, she awoke to find her bed soaked with urine. The doctors informed her that the delivery process had left her with an obstetric fistula and she was now incontinent.

  • Chepotyeltyel

    Kenya

    Chepotyeltyel is a Pokot woman from a remote, rural area in northwestern Kenya. After suffering with fistula for nearly 50 years, she was finally able to receive free fistula treatment in July 2016.

  • Bategna

    Madagascar

    Bategna is from the village of Marerano, 300km from the nearest city, Morondava. As a girl, she attended primary school, but only for a short time. She lived a happy life, until she developed obstetric fistula.

  • Salha

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    Salha had a complicated and prolonged labor before she was finally brought to a hospital in the Mtwara region of Tanzania. There she received an emergency C-section section, but it was too late. Tragically, Salha’s baby had already died. A few days later, Salha realized she was leaking urine.

  • Alradya-Sudan

    Alradya

    Sudan

    Alradya is 17 years old and lives in northern Sudan. When she was 15, she was married to her cousin, a farmer. She became pregnant and when she went into labor, had only her mother at her side. She endured excruciating labor for two days, but there was still no sign of the baby, which she could no longer feel moving. A traditional birth attendant was summoned to examine Alradya, who ordered that she be sent to the nearest hospital.

  • Hamida-Bangladesh

    Hamida

    Bangladesh

    Hamida is a young woman of twenty five from Teknaf in the Cox's Bazar District, a town remotely located at the southernmost point of mainland Bangladesh, at the Myanmar border. When Hamida was only thirteen years old, she was married. She became pregnant and gave birth at home with no medical help, preferring home as a safe place for delivery as more than 95 percent of women do in her region, for fear of hospital costs.

  • Vinesy

    Madagascar

    Vinesy had surgery in April 2013 for appendicitis, but something went wrong and she became incontinent as a result. She had developed an iatrogenic fistula as a result of the procedure and had begun to leak urine uncontrollably.

  • Merin’y

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    Merin'y is the mother of three healthy children, but when the time came to deliver her fourth child, things did not go as they had before. Her labor was long and intense, and resulted in an obstetric fistula.

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    Josephine

    Democratic Republic of the Congo

    Josephine is from the northwestern corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo. 34 years old, she is the mother of two healthy boys, ages 11 and 9, the only surviving children from her four pregnancies.

  • Fistula Foundation - Maria

    Maria

    Zimbabwe

    Maria is 42 years old. She is HIV-positive and currently on antiretroviral therapy. Maria doesn’t have a permanent place to live – she cannot work because of her incontinence, and has no real income to live on. She survives through the ongoing support of her relatives and friends.