finding hope and sharing it

Building Bridges December 27, 2018

There is a common adage shared with incoming public health students and with those listening in on important conversations being had in the arena:

One day, a group of fishermen were at their work midway down a river in a small village. A man suddenly drifted past them on the current, in clear distress and near to drowning. The fishermen were able to rescue him, and as their day settled and they prepared to cast their lines again, they were stunned to find another drowning victim passing them by. This went on for hours and hours, into the night, with more and more people washing past them, each in grave danger. Eventually, the fishermen sent someone upstream to see if they could discover where all of the drowning victims were coming from. A bridge was found to have been damaged, with people unaware and falling through. The bridge was repaired in short order, the falls into the river stopped, and the exhausted fishermen were thankful for less eventful working days to come.

This story focuses on “going upstream” to find the source of problems, and its lesson is crucial to practitioners and advocates for women’s health. There are 2-3 million women estimated to be living with fistula across the globe, with 50,000 -130,000 new cases occurring annually. The surgical capacity to repair all of these fistulas doesn’t currently exist. Organizations like Hope for Our Sisters can’t ignore the women currently living with fistula – our hearts ache for these precious sisters and we will always seek to help them by funding fistula surgeries.

But we are an organization uniquely sent to find the problems upstream and start repairing the fragile bridges, the weak infrastructure, that is causing fistula in the first place.

The risks for fistula begin when any female is a small girl: if she is undernourished or if she cannot attend school, she is at risk. If, as a teenager, she is married and becomes pregnant too young, she is at risk. If, as a grown woman, she lives too far from safe delivery options and has minimal prenatal care, she is at risk — with every pregnancy that she undertakes.

We can consider this continuum of a woman’s life, from girlhood to motherhood, to flow like the river in the story. There are many, many points along the river where we can intervene. Someday, we hope to dip our hands into new pools and be shown by our partners how to help in new ways. But at this time, for the women with whom we currently partner, the needs we are best equipped to address are education about safe delivery and fistula prevention, and ensuring that finances and providers are available for safe vaginal or surgical (cesarean) deliveries.

Fifty percent of our funding in 2018 went to preventative care. In 2019, we plan to provide at least 50% towards prevention. We are committed to bringing fistula to an end. We continue to fund the education of surgeons through the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS), who can provide maternal care in our partner countries of Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We provide maternal health funds in Angola and DRC so that cost is not a barrier to care for any woman coming to our partner clinics for help (the poorest women are often the most at risk for fistula). We will continue to support the Ultrasound Empowerment Program in Angola, Fistula Education and Awareness sessions in Angola and Nepal, and Sexual Gender-Based Violence groups in DRC. Our ears will always be open to new ways to stem the tide of women suffering from fistula – we envision a world in which fistula is eradicated because maternal health care, globally, is so sound that no woman would ever be put at such at risk.

There is so much work to be done in 2019 and beyond. There are so many who still need to be reached, so many who are risk of falling from the bridge, into the river below, and drowning. Where we build bridges, women thrive.

Thank you for building with us by investing in preventative care for women.


Guest blog written by Cara Brooks, Hope for Our Sisters Board Member and Partner in Hope

Find out more about our prevention efforts at hopeforoursisters.org

Imagine December 8, 2018

Imagine a beautiful world where Hope for Our Sisters doesn’t exist.
Not because it ran out of money.
Not because people stopped wanting to help.
Imagine that Hope for Our Sisters doesn’t exist because it doesn’t need to anymore…because of prevention.
When my daughter gets hurt and I get to rescue her with a big hug and an ice pack, I feel like a hero.
It’s a great feeling.
But then my next thought is, “How can I stop her from getting hurt the next time?”
I might find out more about how she got hurt, and scan the area for what made it dangerous.
Because even though I like being a hero, I’d rather feel confident that my daughter is safe.
When it comes to helping our sisters, there’s something instantly rewarding about funding a fistula surgery or providing a new dress–we can see the problem, and provide a solution.
We see a woman’s face and think, “I helped pay for her surgery!”
But what if instead of a fistula, she had a life-saving c-section instead?
Immediate aid is critical.
Not only because it saves lives, but because it helps doctors and nurses understand the problem better.
With each sister arriving for a fistula repair surgery, we have the chance to learn more about their bodies, backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs.
But prevention is the next step.
We take what we know about human anatomy and pregnancy, and pair it with what we know about many women’s journey to motherhood.
We can take all of that and use it to ask, “How can I stop her from getting hurt the next time?”
Through the Ultrasound Empowerment Program, doctors can help women make healthy, educated choices by determining if a c-section is necessary.
Knowledge empowers women.
Choice empowers women.
Prevention empowers women.
Imagine again that beautiful world, one where women have increased access to prenatal care and know exactly what’s happening in their bodies.
Imagine they are empowered to choose to have a c-section.
Imagine they go home with their babies, fistula-free.
By continuing to fund not only aid but prevention, we give our sisters true hope–hope for their safety, hope for their babies, hope for the future.
Guest blog written by Dianna Sawyer, Hope for Our Sisters Partner in Hope
Find out more about our prevention efforts at hopeforoursisters.org

Was Admon’s Hope Story Coming to a Tragic End? December 1, 2017

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 9:40 pm
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Below is Admon’s  hope story…a story you helped us write this year. (I wrote this to everyone who invested in Hope for Our Sisters this year by giving of their time, talents, treasure and prayers. Passing this story along to you as it is a favorite of mine. If you feel compelled to help women write stories of hope, you will see our website at the bottom of the blog. No pressure at all. Thank you for reading this story of hope!)
The day started as it always did. I left for work in the fields while my beautiful wife, Elsabe, swept the dirt floor of our home. With Elsabe nine months’ pregnant, we were very excited to welcome our first child. We knew this would mean one more mouth to feed and one more person in our small home, but the idea of a baby filled us with joy.
Can you imagine how Admon felt? With the upcoming birth of a child, writing hope stories comes easy. You have so many dreams and hopes for the child. You spend so much time wondering who your child will become. Admon was writing that type of story.
Returning home, I saw a site that stopped me in my tracks. My lovely wife, so full of life that morning, was lying on the floor, seizing out of control and unable to wake up. I thought she was dying. I feared for my wife. I feared for my unborn child. How could this be happening?
Unknown to Admon, Elsabe was having a seizure due to high blood pressure (eclampsia). He had no idea how long this had lasted while he was away. His hope story, in his eyes, was at risk of coming to a sudden end. However, he held on to hope.
I immediately ran out of our house and yelled for help. Friends in our community helped us find a vehicle to take Elsabe to the nearby hospital. I prayed. I feared she and our baby were dying. My other concern? We did not have the money to pay for a trip to the hospital. What would I do when we got there?
Elsabe was rushed to one of our partner hospitals, Central Evangelical Medical Center in Lubango (CEML), Angola. Can you imagine going to a hospital without the needed money or benefits coverage? It was with hope that Elsabe was brought to the hospital. Even when the situation looks dire, hope can carry us through. Thank you for investing in women and their families. You consistently help them write hope stories amidst loss and lack.
Once we arrived at the hospital, they took my wife and unborn baby into surgery. Again, I prayed. I worried. Would Elsabe survive? Would our baby survive? Would I return home without my family? How would I pay for this support?
Dr. Sarah Hudgins, HFOS Partner, performed an emergency cesarean section. Care is available at local state hospitals, but people fear them due to poor quality of care. Coming to CEML was a courageous choice for quality, safe care, even though it would be expensive.
A nurse from surgery approached me. Elsabe survived! My wife was alive! Guess what? Our baby, our son, survived too! I cried out with joy and thanks. I could not believe it!
Admon’s hope story was not over. It was only beginning. Thank you for investing in this story of hope.
Then I began to worry about payment. We did not have enough. I asked the nurse. She said the rest would be covered. We had enough! Could this day get any better?
You funded the rest of Elsabe’s surgery by investing in Hope for Our Sisters. This partial payment came from one of our new Maternal Health Funds.
I could not believe our good fortune. A successful surgery and help to pay for it. This is not the way I expected our son, Abilio, would enter the world, but I am so thankful I can enjoy my future with my family. Thank you for sending HOPE our way!
You, through your generous investments, partner with us as we together help our precious sisters and their families in Angola, the DR Congo and Nepal write stories of hope.
Honored to generate hope with you.
Brooke F. Sulahian
President & Co-Founder
Hope for Our Sisters, Inc.
P.S. Thank you for helping Admon, Elsabe and Abilio write their hope story. If you choose to invest in hope today to enable more and more stories of hope to be written tomorrow, go to our website at http://hopeforoursisters.org/donate/.

A Tale of Two Surgeries August 29, 2015

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 7:38 pm
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Lourdes * (pictured below) is DRY! A wonderful outcome for this precious sister of ours. It brings me great joy to hear of the healing of these beautiful women and girls and to then share this amazing news with YOU.Rosalina aka Lourdes

After being in labor for three days and delivering a stillborn baby, Lourdes discovered that she had a double fistula with a fistula, or hole, in her bladder as well as her rectal wall. Now healed after fistula surgery at CEML, a partner hospital in Lubango, Angola, she is living once again!

Lourdes’ full story can be found on our website at: http://hopeforoursisters.org/lourdess-story/.

I wish all fistula outcomes were this straightforward. Paulina* (pictured below) underwent fistula surgery after suffering from fistula. She was initially DRY! How overjoyed she and the hospital staff were. Sadly, due to the extensive damage to her tissues and the stiff scar tissue that remained, Paulina is no longer dry during the night. She is deeply concerned things will only get worse and that she will one day no longer be dry during the day. The hope shown on her face below is fading with each passing day. Paulina now finds herself very discouraged even though the CEML staff encourages her daily.

Jerdina aka Paulina CEML

This is the reality of fistula. I want every fistula surgery to be successful with every sister of ours freed to fully live. Sadly, as Paulina’s tale reminds us, this is not always the case.

However, we at Hope for Our Sisters do not throw up our hands and ask, “Why even try?” Rather, we ask, “How can we keep fistula from stealing the lives of our sisters? What role can we play in the battle against this preventable, hope-destroying condition?” The answer? PREVENTION.

Effective and lasting prevention takes time, care, and a spirit of partnership. Effective and lasting prevention is culture change carried out through empowerment, gentleness and sincere love of those in need. As we embark on our new prevention program in Angola, may we remember these two tales with very different outcomes. Let’s work towards one new single outcome…THE FULL AND COMPLETE ERADICATION OF FISTULA!

*Names have been changed to maintain their dignity.

© 2015 by Brooke F Sulahian


Healing in Nepal March 26, 2015

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 12:39 pm
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Hope for Our Sisters has the honor of partnering with Dr. Shirley Heywood in Surkhet, Nepal. Although we fund her fistula prevention education sessions, we always celebrate the stories of healing that come through successful fistula surgery. Please celebrate the new life for these three beautiful sisters with us! Below is the account written by Dr. Shirley Heywood:

Three Ladies in Nepal 1214

“Three ladies from Kapilbastu, a poor district on the Indian border in Western Region, came for fistula surgery and all went home healed. All fistula sufferers have sad stories and these three had suffered isolation, shame, and fear since developing fistula through prolonged, difficult labours.

They were among the fortunate who have husbands who stand by them and though all had lost babies, they also had surviving healthy children.

When they arrived, Gita was very sad and withdrawn, usually sitting alone and not talking. She was the first to have her surgery. Through the days that followed, as she slept in a dry bed with her catheter, she slowly began to cheer up, even to laugh.

These ladies spoke Abadi, not Nepali, and a lot of communication was through sign language or through interpreters speaking Hindi, a language they could understand.

We remove catheters two weeks after surgery, first testing whether the bladder has healed. On the eve of her test, Gita poured out a stream of Abadi to me. Translated, this was, “If I am not well tomorrow please give me medicine so that I will die”. Happily the bladder was healed and Gita has gone home smiling. In the photo, Gita is the lady in the blue sari!”

All three of our sisters are free to be the wives and mothers they are called to be and to live their lives among their friends and family once again! Healed inside and out!

© 2015 by Brooke F Sulahian


Forgotten Deaths? May 24, 2013

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 11:07 am
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Despair, isolation, shame…these are how we characterize the lives of those burdened by fistula.  Can we even say they are living?  More like existing without hope.

In my work with Hope for Our Sisters, I often think of and pray for the women and girls suffering from fistula or at risk of developing fistula.  Married off too young, not given enough food, trying to give birth when they are too small…too young…undernourished.

But what about the babies?  What about the fact that 90% of the time, the babies, trying to enter the world during the development of a fistula, will die either during birth or within the first week? We try to keep our mission clear and focus on fistula.  We mention the babies but they are not the main topic.

However, I cannot…we cannot…we will not forget about these precious children.  This is one reason Hope for Our Sisters is not only funding fistula surgery in Angola, but also efforts to prevent fistula in Nepal and, pending final agreement, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

You see…preventing fistula gives women and girls the chance to live out the lives God designed for each of them.  However, it also saves the life of each baby…each child simply trying to be born…trying to enter the world…trying to play his or her part in God’s design.

May these babies never be forgotten in the effort to eradicate fistula.  May they be seen as a blessing, a true gift as we help eradicate this hope-destroying condition.

Not forgotten…always cherished…hope found in each birth.


© 2013 by Brooke F Sulahian