News Release

Women from Australia Achieve Goal to Help Women in Ethiopia


A goal to help women who suffer the tragedy of obstetric fistulas (serious childbirth injuries) and stillbirths took two women, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all the way to Africa last month, after a year of planning and preparing to be part of the Hamlin Ethiopian Adventure.

To qualify for the trip Kylie Barnes of Adelaide, South Australia, and Elizabeth Clements of Portland, Victoria, each raised more than $10,000 in support of the Hamlin Fistula Foundation’s hospitals based at Addis Ababa and other locations in Ethiopia.

The hospitals – set up in 1974 by Australian couple, doctors Catherine and Reg Hamlin – specialise in the repair of obstetric injuries in women and girls, and the training of midwives in safe delivery practices, as well as training surgeons from around the world in fistula repair.

Kylie and Elizabeth had overwhelming support for their charity fundraising, with many people aware that their interest in the hope-restoring work of the hospitals was motivated by personal experience.

For Elizabeth, it was that she and her husband Jacob suffered the loss of a stillborn baby son.  And for Kylie, it was a volunteering trip to Africa as a schoolgirl that kindled the desire to return and give more support.     

Shared Elizabeth: “When we lost our firstborn son Jayden (through stillbirth), it was an incredibly challenging time … and I was really struggling and searching for peace. 

“Several months later I found (Dr) Catherine Hamlin’s book, The Hospital by the River, and it helped me begin my journey of healing.

“I learned of the Ethiopian women with fistula injuries, the stillborn babies they lost, the health they lost, the lives lost, the immense struggle they suffered, and yet they found hope -   hope in a cure, hope in a new life, hope in having another baby. I knew that if they could find hope in all their sorrows, so could I. Over time, I found a new normal, a new kind of joy.”

Elizabeth (whose family now includes three additional children) said seeing firsthand that same joy reflected in the faces of the African women she met during her visit to Ethiopia was “incredible”.

“Walking through the maternity wards and seeing pregnant mothers, and mothers with new babies in their arms – being able to hold their hands and hear their stories, and to know that they will be able to go home with restored dignity and a new hope and outlook for the future, was wonderful.”

Both Elizabeth and Kylie – who covered all the travel expenses themselves - were thrilled to also meet the now 94-year-old Catherine Hamlin AC, who still helps oversee the unique hospitals she co-founded with her late husband in 1974 (and who first moved to Ethiopia to work as doctors in 1958).

“We had no expectations of meeting Catherine, so it was an honour to meet and spend time with her in her modest home." Kylie said.

“Because we and our team members had read The Hospital by the River we all knew the history of the home and the incredible work that began there. Both Catherine and her late husband have devoted their lives to the fistula patients, many of whom were shunned and abandoned by their husbands, families and communities.

“At these hospitals, the women - many are young girls - have their dignity restored through the fistula surgery that the Hamlins pioneered. The type of ‘whole person care’ these women receive is evidenced by what the Ethiopians call Doctor Catherine Hamlin: ‘Emaye’ which is Amharic for ‘mother’.”

Kylie described some of the trip’s other highlights: “I grew up poring over photographic essays on Africa and have always been fascinated by the many groups that live there. So for me, one of the highlights was visiting the various tribes and villages in southern Ethiopia. The cultural diversity that exists was fascinating – even in geographically small areas, there’s incredible diversity among the tribes in their traditions, practices, and social structures.”

Both women took part in the Great Ethiopian Run during their trip which saw them endure a 10-kilometre, high-altitude course along with thousands of participants.  “To be part of a sea of 44,000 people running through the streets of Addis Ababa was absolutely fantastic. I am not a runner, but Liz and I were spurred on by those we ran with. And the music, dancing and enthusiasm of both spectators and participants was a huge buzz,” said Kylie.

Along with a great admiration and respect for the “amazing” Hamlin nurses, midwives and surgeons whose work is changing lives, Elizabeth said she also loved and appreciated the Ethiopian people they met: “We took a canoe trip across the river to visit the Desenetch Tribe, as well as visiting about five other tribes and were able to speak to them about their lives, children and health, with a special interest in babies and mothers.

“We saw groups who had been farming for generations and had systems in place for their village to function well, and we also saw tribes that were far from schools and health care – and even from the main village - and the effects this had on their subsistence.

“And everywhere we went, there was peace and kindness, there was acceptance and hard work, and gratitude for everything.”

With increased empathy, understanding and some first-hand knowledge garnered from their visit both Kylie and Elizabeth are considering ways to further support the charity, Hamlin Fistula Foundation.

“I can't wait to be more effective in helping achieve the goal to eradicate obstetric fistula for good,” said Elizabeth.

Back home in Australia since 20 November, both women are now participating in a service-giving Christmas initiative launched by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide which invites people to #LightTheWorld.

“This time, this is something we can do as a family,” said Kylie. “The first week focuses on helping others in the world, the second week is about helping out in the community, next is serving within your family, and the final week in December is about lighting or strengthening our individual faith in God and Jesus Christ.”

Kylie, who is married to Jared and has four children, attends the Morialta ward (parish) of the Church and is a youth leader, while Elizabeth attends the Mount Gambier ward where she’s a leader in the children’s auxiliary, Primary.  

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