By Ron Severson
As director of MAPLE Microdevelopment, I recently returned from a one-month visit to MAPLE’s field offices in Uganda. This was my seventh visit since MAPLE started operations in Uganda eight years ago, so being there with Ugandan colleagues and friends is beginning to feel like a second home. While much happened during my visit, this blog entry focuses on MAPLE’s growing partnership with TERREWODE. A Ugandan NGO founded by Alice Emasu, TERREWODE focuses on preventing obstetric fistula, identifying and treating girls and women who have suffered fistula, and restoring survivors to lives of dignity (Check it out! http://terrewodeug.org/). MAPLE is partnering with TERREWODE to help fistula survivors develop sustainable income generating opportunities. We are starting by building a business, together, to export handmade, all-natural goat milk soap made by fistula survivors in the Teso sub-Region of Uganda to Italy. More on that later in this blog entry!
Fistula is a birthing injury that occurs when a hole forms between a women’s birth canal and rectum or bladder, often leaving her incontinent of urine and feces. In wealthier nations obstetric fistula has nearly been eradicated. Yet over 200,000 women in Uganda currently suffer from this condition, and those who do are often ostracized due to misunderstandings about the causes and treatability of the condition. The causes of obstetric fistula are many and include inadequate access to medical care and illegal practices of child marriage still occurring in some villages, but these and other causes mostly arise from realities associated with living in poverty.
TERREWODE is the leading organization in Uganda dedicated to eradicating obstetric fistula. Together with other organizations, TERREWODE is transforming the lives of girls and women, not only through prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation but also through advancement and increased enforcement of the rights of girls and women—the right to avoid childhood marriage, the right to attend school, the right to medical care, the right to own land, the right to make a livelihood.
MAPLE Microdevelopment is devoted to assisting families and communities achieve financial self-sufficiency through education and entrepreneurship. We are not a health services organization. Yet, anyone from a family or community that struggles economically knows how difficult it is to separate issues of health and well-being from economic empowerment. Entrepreneurial businesses often fail if a person or a family member becomes ill. At the same time, strengthening the capacity to generate income and to support others can also strengthen one’s dignity. This is particularly true for fistula survivors in Uganda, which makes TERREWODE Uganda and MAPLE Microdevelopment Uganda strong partners. In its core areas of expertise, MAPLE can assist the women served by TERREWODE to build and manage sustainable sources of income.
For almost a year, now, TERREWODE and fistula survivors who live in rural areas in the Teso sub-Region of Eastern Uganda have been working to start a goat milk soap project. When Joni Kabana, a photographer from Oregon, visited TERREWODE and gave Alice Emasu, TERREWODE’s founder and director, a gift of goat milk soap from a ranch near Spray, Oregon, Alice immediately said, “We could do this ourselves!”
Since then, much has happened, and this blog entry will not do justice to the full story. Let it suffice to say that TERREWODE received an initial grant to obtain and raise milk goats, that fistula survivors are now rearing and milking those goats, that Dardi Troen, a designer and soap-maker from Portland, Oregon, helped train fistula survivors to make beautiful, all-natural soap with goat milk and local shea butter, that students from Oregon State University’s Humanitarian Engineering Program tested the soap under various conditions and production processes, and that MAPLE Microdevelopment is now working closely with TERREWODE to design and implement a viable business plan to empower fistula survivors and their communities.