My name Lucy Muriithi and am an Akili Dada 2017 Fellow. Growing up in the rural parts of Embu County, I attended a local Catholic church and got a permanent sitting position. In front of me was a woman who sat at the edge of the chair and she used to go out every five minutes. The movement caught my attention and I discovered that her seat was wet. My efforts to get to her were not successful since was very defensive and could hardly talk to anyone. I tried to get to her through older women in the church but they all dissuaded me saying that she never talks to anyone. Despite the discouragement, I kept on pestering her every Sunday until she finally gave in and opened up to me. It was very devastating to learn that she had suffered from obstetric fistula for more than ten years and consequently lost all the children she tried to bear after the fistula developed.
Touched by her story, I was determined to help her and any other woman who could be in the same predicament and also ensure that they are integrated back in the society. Thus the GANNA Fistula Foundation was born. Ganna aims at ensuring that all the fistula victims in Embu County are treated and empowered with entrepreneurial skills to help them integrate back in the society. Additionally, through advocacy, we get to create awareness in the community that fistula is treatable and should not be stigmatized. The foundation is founded on love for our mothers, sisters and grandparents.
Fistula has denied many women in Kenya full enjoyment of life. They are often stigmatised and are forced to bear untold pain. My project takes a social integration approach where I find the fistula victims in rural Embu and link them with healthcare providers who repair the fistula. After the treatment, I embark on social re-integration. For many years, the ladies have lived in isolation, marriages have broken, some are in violent marriages, and others live with sores around their genitals. The state denies them full enjoyment of life. They cannot be able to interact with other people due to the bad smell. By establishing a social enterprise for them where they will meet trainers in weaving mats and also counsellor I believe I will be able to help them recover from depression and be able to bring them back in the community.
My program also provides a platform for the women to share their experiences with each other and gather courage to live on.
I joined the Akili Dada Fellowship program after seeing an advert on Advance Africa careers platform and was inspired to apply by the success stories of the previous fellows after doing a search on the internet about the organization. In regards to the sustainable development goals, I am working to address gender equality, health and poverty eradication.
I have a vision to create a home for all fistula victims not only in Embu but in Kenya that will empower them all. I have identified the gap since most people and organizations focus on treatment and forget that repair alone is not enough. I aim to fill that gap by taking care of their total physical, social and mental wellbeing and not the mere absence of pain or illness which is “health”.
In my free time, I love watching movies and series as well as trying new recipes, reading, travelling and hiking. In the near future, I would like to visit Sweden and i am inspired by the fact that the country has grown economically and has reached a point of providing universal health care to all its citizens. Overlooking other rich countries, Sweden has beaten them in health care provision and is able to cover all its citizen from taxation. I would love to go see what is so unique that we need to adapt since I dream that one day Kenya will also reach such a level and would be so happy to champion such a change for Kenya.
To mark the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, Lucy will be speaking about Youth and Fistula at the International Reproductive Health Conference at Kenyatta University. She has also partnered with the Freedom from Fistula Foundation to offer treatment to all her patients for free.