finding hope and sharing it

Unfinished Stories December 8, 2017

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 4:18 pm
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One of my favorite books is Pillars of the Earth. It’s a 1,000+ page novel that tells a sweeping narrative of the building of a cathedral in twelfth-century England. I’ve read this book at least three times from cover to cover.  I know the plot. I know each scene by memory. And yet, each time a character enters a dangerous situation, I try to think of a new way out. I hope and believe with all my heart that maybe this time it will be different.
            But this novel is complete. It was written a long time ago, and there can be no different ending to any of the scenes within it. Nothing I hope for or imagine for my beloved characters will happen. The story has already been written, and it’s finished.
            However, our stories are not. Our stories, along with our sisters’, are still being written. So even as we experience or witness danger, violence, poverty, and pain, we know the story does not have to end there. We can help each other write new endings. We can imagine new beginnings. We can do this because we have hope.
             This hope is what motivates us to stick with a painful, uncomfortable, or challenging story. It’s what drives us to give generously of our time and resources. It’s what binds us together as sisters.
            And hope is what interrupts painful, merciless stories and redeems them into something beautiful. This year, we’ve heard shocking stories of abuse and rape. Unthinkable stories of neglect and gender-based violence. Uncomfortable stories that seem to have no light.
            But thanks to your generosity, prayer, and hope, these stories have not ended at the darkest moments. Our sisters-fueled by hope for a different, better, brighter story-stood strong. They fought for their futures, for their healing, for their babies. They lived, they thrived, and now they tell their new stories – hope stories.
            For Deborah, Solange, Esinam, and Elsabe, a painful story became one of redemption. But it doesn’t end with these four. Because women around them everywhere are watching. Women terrorized by gender-based violence, women living with fistula, women abandoned by their families and spouses, women recovering from painful deliveries and stillborn babies. These women continue to hope, because they see that good can prevail. They believe that a dark and painful story can become a hope story. And thanks to the help of sisters around the world, their stories are just beginning.
Written by Dianna Sawyer, Hope for Our Sisters Partner in Hope.
You can learn more about our precious sisters and help them write more hope stories at hopeforoursisters.org.

Motherhood is Eternal, as is Hope May 10, 2017

Springtime brings with it new life – flowers blooming, baby animals being born, the miracle of Easter. With our attention on creation, we as a society choose to mark a Sunday every May as “Mother’s Day”, pouring extra gratitude and love out onto the women who birthed us, raised us and supported us. We also reflect with reverence and fondness on the mothers in our lives who have passed away – some older, like our grandmothers, and some younger, dying of illness or accidents too soon.
There is a special group we are challenging you to consider in your prayers this year – women suffering with fistulas. Women who may or may not be mothers to living children, who may or may not have anyone celebrating them at all. According to a United Nations report from 2015, 70-80% of the babies born to mothers in obstructed labor (the mothers who are most likely to develop fistulas) will be stillborn.  Of those who do survive, there is a high risk of para- or quadriplegia, cerebral palsy and other defects related to low fetal oxygenation while the mother is pushing.
Motherhood is simply defined as “the state of being a mother.” This definition doesn’t exist solely in the present tense, it doesn’t have conditions. Famous artists, like Michelangelo with his Pieta, and famous authors, like Maya Angelou in Mom & Me & Mom, have tried to capture the spirit of motherhood and its endlessness in ways we all understand – but find so difficult to put into words.  Mothers who have departed from us do not stop being our mothers – so what of mothers who suffer on the opposite end of the spectrum? Are mothers who lose their baby or a child any less in that state of motherhood? Their child is with them always, a part of their existence and the course of their life. Whether their child lived thirty seconds or thirty years, the hopes, dreams and prayers for the life a mother supported likely differ little from those of every other mother around the globe. Surely the very act of hoping, dreaming and praying is an integral part of the transition from “woman” to “Mother”.
Women with fistula are desperate for new beginnings and life of their own – for repairs that will help them transition back to their communities and families, for cesarean sections that will bring their babies safely into the world with less risk of consequence from obstructed labor. They are desperate for HOPE. Is there a better place from which to honor our own mothers than from a mother’s constant place of generosity, support and love? As Mother’s Day approaches, we invite you to partner with us to honor our own mothers and these beautiful mothers in other parts of the world with your prayers.  Additionally, if you feel so moved, please consider making a gift for a mother in your life by supporting fistula care and prevention programs, whether by way of a Mother’s Day card or any other donation format available at hopeforoursisters.org.
Motherhood is eternal, as is hope. Thank you for your support of the sisters we care so deeply for at this special time of year.
Written by Cara Daniels, Hope for Our Sisters Team Member & Hope Generator

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


Journey Toward Healing May 15, 2015

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 12:53 am
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Nepali women sitting

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. I am also personally amazed at the ability of these women and girls to stay strong and positive in the face of horrific trials.

Below is the account written by Dr. Shirley Heywood:

“Bishnu Maya travelled alone from Lamjhung to Surkhet for her operation to repair a rectal fistula. It is a huge journey for any woman to make alone in this country, more so for someone like Bishnu, coping with incontinence.

Her courage is amazing and somehow she stays positive and outgoing despite all she has suffered. She enjoyed her time in the Surkhet hospital thanks to loving care from the two helpers we appointed to stay with her.

The operation was successful, the hole in her bowel is now closed! After discharged from hospital she stayed a few days in the INF leprosy clinic. She made friends with many of the clients there and when it was time to leave she did the rounds of all the rooms saying cheerful good byes to all her new friends – leprosy clients and those attending for rehabilitation after spinal cord injury.

She travelled with me in the INF vehicle as far as Pokhara where we put her on a bus for the last stage of her 3 day journey home to Lamjhung.”

Bishnu exemplifies the resilience and courage found in so many women who have experienced loss. During her own healing from fistula, she was able to share joy with those she met. She is now free from fistula and can rejoin her community once again! May she continue to shine!


© 2015 by Brooke F Sulahian


Freedom Through Surgery April 30, 2015

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 2:43 pm
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“Mommy, will you be able to run? Will you be able to jump and play? Will you be well?” These were my children’s questions when I told them I was having surgery…surgery to heal my incontinence. Yes, I leaked urine ALL THE TIME. For the last 8.5 years, it did not matter if I was walking, running, coughing, sneezing or simply sitting still…my bladder was broken, I leaked, and it kept me from really living.

As much as I appreciated this physical connection with my sisters with fistula and an incredibly small sense of their physical plight – isn’t it amazing how God works? – I was DONE, FED UP and READY to try SOMETHING. The women and girls we met in Angola were also DONE, FED UP and READY to be WELL.

Our sisters ask about healing through surgery. Is it possible? I asked the same question… weeping with my husband, Tim, the night before…what if something goes wrong, what if it doesn’t work, what if I can never really be free? Surgery results are never 100% guaranteed. As Tim held me, I felt I could give it a try. Most women with fistula have no husband to hold them when they weep. Yet they amazingly find the courage to try.

The morning of my surgery, I realized I would be put in the same position as our sisters are for fistula surgery. Wow! Another amazing connection. However, when I underwent surgery, I was accustomed to a hospital, knew my doctor well, and fully understood the procedure and desired outcome. I wonder about our sisters being in a different environment at the hospital, facing language barriers, and fear of the unknown.

Today is 3.5 months since my surgery…guess what? It worked! I am free from my physical limits. I can run, jump, sneeze, play…enjoy life to the full. In fact, I played dodge ball and kickball at my friend’s son’s birthday party and fully appreciated this renewed freedom. Such a gift!

We at Hope for Our Sisters want this same freedom for our sisters with fistula. YOU can help us give them the gift of freedom. Freedom provides me the opportunity to experience life with my husband and kids to the full. However, I was never isolated and shamed due to my leaking. I could cover it up and manage it. Since our sisters with fistula are most often isolated, shunned, and blamed for their condition, successful surgery not only frees them from leaking but gives them the CHANCE at COMMUNITY, at HOPE, at LIFE.

My answers to my kids’ questions were “Yes, I can run. Yes, I can jump. Yes, I am well.” It is our hope that one day soon our sisters with fistula will all be able to say, “Yes, I am dry. Yes, I can be in community once again. Yes, I can really live. Yes, I feel whole.”

© 2015 by Brooke F Sulahian


The Many Sides of Dr. Foster April 10, 2015

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 9:48 am
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F Dr. Steve Foster

I was thrilled to see an article about Dr. Stephen Foster, one of our partner doctors in Angola. We met him during our 2013 Angola trip. Not only did we learn about fistula repair, we saw into his heart. He cares for his fistula patients as a father would his daughters. This love permeates his interactions with them.

Below is an excerpt from the March 28, 2015 article, “A Little Respect for Dr. Foster”, by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times Op-Ed Columnist:

“On a recent trip to Angola, the country with the highest child mortality rate in the world, I came across a rural hospital run by Dr. Stephen Foster, 65, a white-haired missionary surgeon who has lived there for 37 years – much of that in a period when the Angolan regime was Marxist and hostile to Christians.

Foster, the son and grandson of missionaries, has survived tangles with a 6-foot cobra and angry soldiers. He has had to make do with rudimentary supplies: Once, he said, he turned the tube for a vehicle’s windshield-washing fluid into a catheter to drain a patient’s engorged bladder.

Armed soldiers once tried to kidnap 25 of his male nurses, and when Foster ordered the gunmen off the property, he said, they fired Ak-47 rounds near his feet. He held firm, and they eventually retreated without the nurses.

Most evangelicals are not, of course, following such a harrowing path, and it’s also true that there are plenty of secular doctors doing heroic work for Doctors Without Borders or Partners in Health. But I must say that a disproportionate share of the aid workers I’ve met in the wildest places over the years, long after anyone sensible had evacuated, have been evangelicals, nuns or priests.”

Dr. Foster is committed to God, Angola and our sisters with and at risk of fistula. He told us, “If you are going to love people in Jesus’ name, you have to do something about fistula.” His life stories are a mix of true heroism and kindness, amazing surgical talent and genuine care.

It is an honor to partner with Dr. Foster who is not only a creative, resilient and talented surgeon, but also a caring, loving and gentle provider. He works tirelessly and leaves health, healing and hope in his wake.

© 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