Fighting Fistulas: Women’s Studies Students Take Action at St. Thomas, Thank Campus Community

Obstetric fistula. It’s about as ugly as it sounds and affects hundreds of thousands of women in undeveloped countries. An obstetric fistula is a hole that develops between the birth passage and an internal organ such as the bladder or rectum as a result of obstructed labor. Women who suffer from fistulas are unable to control the flow of their urine and bowel content. These women are often shunned by their villages and left by their families to die.

It is hard to learn about such an issue and not be moved to do something about it. Dr. Angela High-Pippert’s WMST 205: Foundations of Women’s Studies class read about the issue in the book Half the Sky, co-written by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof. We were compelled and inspired by the stories of the women portrayed in the book and decided to take action. Meg Buelow, the initiator of our project, Funds for Fighting Fistulas (FFFF), feels that “to talk about these hard truths is not enough for a Women’s Studies student.”

At first, raising enough money for one fistula operation was our goal. A total of $450 seemed a small price to pay for saving a woman’s life and giving her a chance for a better future. The cost includes the operation as well as post-op care and physical therapy. We had to act quickly, with only one week before WuDunn was coming to speak at St. Thomas. An informational table seemed like the best idea, where we could ask for people to donate a percentage of the cost. Certificates were provided to those who donated in this way. We also asked for donations in exchange for fair-trade bracelets. The table was a huge success and we raised enough money to pay for one surgery that night. We guess you could say we got a little carried away by our success and resolved to raise money for another surgery.

We had already gained permission to hold a bake sale and decided to go through with it in an attempt to raise enough money for a second surgery. The bake sale started off pretty slow and, yes, we were worried; however, the business picked up thanks to students directing others toward the sale and carrying tempting cookies around the Anderson Center. The bake sale was a huge success. In total, our class has raised nearly $1,000 to send to Ethiopia.

This could not have been a success without the cooperation and support of the university, its faculty, its students and the community that surrounds us. We are thankful to everyone who participated in organizing our events and for those who attended and donated. As a class, we would all like to give a special thanks to Dr. Angela High-Pippert for giving us the opportunity to work on this project as a class and for pushing us to transition our words into actions.

“I feel as though the success of our FFFF project really had to do with Dr. High-Pippert’s willingness to take this on as an entire class project, rather than just affirming one student’s wish and moving on,” reflected Heather Statz, a student in the class.