Learning Acceptance and Our Way with the Fistula Survivor Support Group

What a week! I have so much to share but believe it might be best to focus on one of the activities. This Tuesday was another monthly meeting with the Fistula Survivors. I had been looking forward to this meeting all month because of the energy they showed last month. They asked for materials to share with others on fistula as well as wanting to sensitize their communities through the churches, chiefs and various other groups. This was exciting to me because seeing women get passionate and wanting to impact is contagious.
This energy has been guiding me the past month. I have been working on materials with various stakeholders within the community as well as within the health system. This is not an easy task as you can imagine as this project is not part of their everyday job description nor is it one of their priorities. So, there are many challenges such as finding the right person to provide input, multiple meetings rescheduled with people or even being able to get time and simply working with the vendor (explaining to him we can’t just take images off the internet without knowing the copyrights we had to discuss that just because it is on the internet doesn’t mean it is free to use :-)). I was excited because I was able to at least secure some very rough drafts for them to see so they could provide feedback.
The survivor support group was set up prior to me joining the Obstetric Fistula Prevention Program and it has been in place running consistently for the most part since the last PULSE volunteer on this project- Jane Lehnhoff left Kisumu last December; which is a tribute to her and the sustainability for this project. The group was formed to enable women to tell their story and have the support of women who have also been through this journey. The perks they receive are some lunch, a soda during the meeting and transport money. I am finding transport money is expected within this culture, given most people need to take public transportation.
We had the meeting in one of the halls at the hospital and as you can see from the pictures it was around a table so it was perfect for a group conversation. When the meeting got started I noticed there was minimal participation and only 1 or 2 of the survivors was actually active. So, I decided to try to start asking them how they wanted to run the meetings and what objectives/goals did they have for the group as a whole. It was crickets. I even tried to ask another probing question or so and still not much. Then a young woman from the local university joined us and introduced her project work. She decided to focus her project on obstetric fistula; she was gathering information, interviewing and planning on putting this on the airways to create awareness. I thought this was ideal! But after she expressed her needs to hear their stories and any information they could provide not one of them said a word. I was a little broken-hearted and wasn’t sure what to do. You can’t force people to participate in this environment. What luckily happened was one of the most vibrant of the survivors showed up apologizing for being late but you could see the dependency established with her presence. She is the heart and soul of this group. Fortunately for the young woman this vibrant survivor was able to give her story to help move this awareness opportunity forward.


Survivor group pic 1
I struggle a bit because the goal is to separate these women into their own communities so it is sustainable and the sensitization can happen within their back yards. At the end of the meeting I started to hear grumblings of not wanting us to actually provide the lunch but just give money and others wanted to change their location to change the amount they would receive for transport reimbursement. I can’t begin to relate to all of you the number of emotions I have been going through since Tuesday between the lack of participation and then all of the grumblings. I have many inner conflicts and most of them are because of expectations. Wanting to see this group rise up to empower others, support women and reduce the stigma in their communities is a tall order I am realizing especially when these women are dealing with so much in their lives with the main focus being poverty. I really need to step back and find a way to view this support group differently. All of these events and emotions have been churning all week and when I came to Friday’s intention… well it reminded me of many of my life lessons.

Friday, August 15, 2014 intention: “Acceptance is giving me and others the ability to just be.” I can’t make this survivor support group something it isn’t but I can gently accept it and just let it be. I think about the other things in my life I bully and utilize my will to align to my expectations and wonder what beauty could come of gentleness, acceptance and having the faith to let things be. I just might try pulling up those socks instead or maybe I don’t pull them up at all 😉
In deep munay!
P.S. I am meeting my husband in Paris next week… so there will be no blog 🙂 I can’t wait to see him! I really miss my family xoxoxoxintention for blog august 15




  1. As always, THANK YOU for sharing your amazing journey and giving us a view into the lives of the people you are there to help. Be safe and enjoy your trip to Paris!!

  2. Michelle I’m excited that my copyright knowledge is being passed around through you. Thanks for sharing all the great work you are doing, as well as your trials. Have fun with your family next weekend!

  3. If it’s any help, Michelle, creating community seems to be a challenge everywhere. The specifics are different, but the eagerness (or lack thereof) participants exhibit, the focus on the reimbursement, the single person being the heart and soul, are all things I have experienced in my attempts to bring people together to make change. So — understand that what you are doing IS MAKING CHANGE, it just might not be so clear how, as you found in your affirmation. Best and love, and have a great week in Paris! Munay.

  4. Michelle, thank you for your post. It is remarkable to hear of the stories of the support group and I feel your frustration. I applaud your ability to step back and recognize that community acceptance and stigma elimination is just one piece of the battle that must be won for these women to truly succeed and thrive. It all starts with having the basic needs in life. I appreciate your words of wisdom and hope you can just ‘be’ and enjoy a wonderful visit in Paris with your hubby. Missing you!

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