Editorial: Ethiopia Honors Dr. Catherine Hamlin with Honorary Citizenship

Australian-born Dr. Catherine Hamlin, who is known for her work with childbirth injury patients, has lived in Ethiopia for over 50 years. (Photo credit: Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital)

Tadias Magazine
Editorial

Published: Sunday, April 29, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Ethiopia’s recent conferring of an honorary citizenship on Dr. Catherine Hamlin, founder of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, is a well-deserved recognition for a remarkable woman who has spent a better part of her life in the service of her adopted home. According to The Ethiopian News Agency (ENA), Prime Minister Meles Zenawi vested the honorary citizenship at a ceremony held at his office in Addis Ababa on Thursday, April 26th. Meles announced: “Dr. Hamlin was awarded the citizenship for serving the fistula patients for more than five decades by establishing a fistula hospital in the country.”

“When we first arrived we were rather taken with the country because we saw our eucalyptus trees,” Dr. Hamlin, had told Tadias Magazine a few years ago in an interview recounting her memories of arriving in Ethiopia in 1959. The Australian native initially traveled there on a three-year government contract to establish a midwifery school at the Princess Tsehay Hospital. “I felt very much at home straight away because the scenery seemed very familiar to us,” she said. “We got a really warm welcome so we didn’t really have culture shock.”

Until her journey to Ethiopia, Dr. Hamlin, a gynecologist, had never met a fistula patient. “We had read in our textbooks about obstetric fistula but had never seen one,” she admitted. After arriving in Ethiopia with her husband Dr. Reginald Hamlin – a New Zealander who was also an obstetrician and gynecologist – she was warned by a colleague “the fistula patients will break your heart.”

Obstetric fistula is a childbirth injury that affects one out of every 12 women in Africa and approximately three million women worldwide. In developing nations where access to hospitals in remote areas are difficult to find, young women suffer from obstructive labor which can otherwise be successfully alleviated with adequate medical support. Unassisted labor in such conditions may lead to bladder, vaginal, and rectum injuries that incapacitate and stigmatize these women. Most patients are ousted from their homes and isolated from their communities.

Dr. Hamlin described the professional environment in the country as one where they “worked in a hospital with other physicians who were trained in Beirut and London.” However, as the only two gynecologists on staff they found it difficult to get away even for a weekend. For the first 10 years of their work with the hospital Reginald and Catherine Hamlin took weekend breaks at alternate times so as to have at least one gynecologist on call at all times, barely managing to take a month off each year to travel to the coast in Kenya. It is during their time at Princess Tsehai hospital that they first encountered fistula patients.

Since surgeries to cure fistula were not considered life-saving, few operating tables and beds were available for such patients at Princess Tsehai Hospital. Fistula patients were also not welcome and were despised by other patients and it wasn’t long before Reginald and Catherine decided to build a hospital designed to help these women, some of whom traveled hundreds of miles to seek treatment.

Speaking of her late husband, Hamlin noted, “When he saw the first fistula patient he was really overwhelmed. He devoted his whole life to raising money to help these women. He was a compassionate man and if he took on anything he would take it in with his whole heart and soul. He worked day and night to build the hospital.” The dream was realized in 1974 and soon the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital received 1 to 10 fistula patients at its doorstep on a daily basis. Women who heard about the possibility of being cured traveled to the Capital from distant villages across the country. Today the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital is a state-of-the-art, full-service medical facility entirely dedicated to caring for women with childbirth injuries.

Asked what her greatest satisfaction has been in this endeavor, Dr. Hamlin responded “It is in knowing that I am working somewhere where God has placed me to work. And I think that we gained more by living [here] and working with these women than we lost by leaving our own countries.” She fondly speaks of her late husband and his infinite compassion for his patients and his attachment to the country. “He loved the whole of Ethiopian society and when he was dying in England it was his final wish to return and be buried in Ethiopia,” she stated.

Dr. Hamlin equally enthused about her ‘home away from home’, emphasizing the joy she feels in seeing a happy, cured patient and her continued enjoyment of the landscape of Ethiopia and its people. Amidst her busy life she had found time in the “early hours of dawn” to write down the story of her life in her book The Hospital by the River, which was a bestseller in Australia. Her humble personality is evident as she replies to our inquiries about her past nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize by saying she didn’t know about it. Indeed along with being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 she has also been awarded the Haile Selassie Humanitarian Prize in 1971, the Gold Medal of Merit by Pope John Paul in 1987, and an Honorary Gold Medal from the Royal College of Surgeons in England in 1989. In 2003 she was nominated as an Honorary Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and she was the co-winner of the 2009 Right Livelihood Award.

At the ceremony last week, she said: “Although I was not born in Ethiopia, I love the country very much.”

We welcome Dr. Catherine Hamlin’s induction as a fellow Ethiopian!

11 Responses to “Editorial: Ethiopia Honors Dr. Catherine Hamlin with Honorary Citizenship”


  1. 1 Dr. Rodas Tefera Apr 29th, 2012 at 2:07 am

    Congratulations Dr. Hamlin! Indeed, You deserve it. i Met her briefly a few years ago while visiting AFH. Her sympathy for others is infectious! She is a marvelous lady and I admire her energy even at this age!

    With love,
    R.T. – Boston

  2. 2 Annette Allen Apr 29th, 2012 at 6:22 am

    What a well deserved honour for Dr. Catherine, her family and the hospital. She’s a fantastic inspiration to Christians, women and humanitarians everywhere.

    There is nothing better in life than to use your skills to help others – especially something as shaming (to communities) as fistula. And through their cures, these young women can return with dignity, to help their families and communities grow and prosper.

    Thank God for the Hamlins!

    Annette Allen

  3. 3 Mimi Apr 29th, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Yes, I too welcome Dr. Catherine Hamlin as fellow Ethiopian.

    Thank you for all the work you and your husband did and continue to do in my beloved country.

  4. 4 Ras Mitat Apr 29th, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Betam Tiru zena… enqan des alot Dr. Catherine Hamlin! Her contribution to the country merits it and more!

  5. 5 Matt Apr 29th, 2012 at 10:49 am

    What a wonderful story of human compassion and dedication to alleviating a problem where there is an acute need.

    Congratulations to Dr. Catherine and her late husband Reginald Hamlin.

  6. 6 Solomon Apr 29th, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    I heard a lot more about Dr Hamlin from colleagues who used to work for the fistula hospital. Dr Hamlin is a joyful, dedicated hardworking, unconditional loving person who was called upon right from heaven. Her compassion and love to her patients surely is unique and clear to those who witness that she brought them direct from haven.

    I would not claim I had enough words to express my appreciation to the great work this exemplary God loving woman did over those years. Simply put, she is the glories of the contemporary God’s love that overgrows in the heart of millions of women touched by her cures and those witnessed her unreserved love. Dr Hamlin is a great leader by example, always pierce her colleagues with love and devotion thereby transcending them to a level higher than they were. Wishing her well!

  7. 7 Des Apr 30th, 2012 at 7:11 am

    Congratulation Dr. Catherine! Dr Reginald’s and your dedication for Ethiopians and Ethiopia will make you live forever in the minds and hearts of all people like the “Axum and Lalibela” monuments/statues.Thank you so much for the half century devotion and love. With Great Respect and Love. Des

  8. 8 Osman Ahmed May 1st, 2012 at 3:12 am

    It is a great pleasure to know that you have been honored Honorary Citizenship. Well deserved and probably the least we can do considering your dedication, five-decades-long accomplishments and love for Ethiopia. The energy in you is commendable! …….and I look forward to read ‘The Hospital by the River’!

    Osman Ahmed

  9. 9 Milkiyas K.Amba May 5th, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Dr. Catherine E. Hamlin’s deed is a great event in the lives of many Ethiopian Fistula patients. There is no enough words to praise Dr. Catherine Hamlin. I say, thank you very much. Your Humanitarian work will shine and will shine the lives of many fistula patients. Dr. Catherine you are in the hearts of Every Ethiopians for ever. Great Job!

    BLESSINGS!

    Long LIVE!

  10. 10 Abecho May 9th, 2012 at 3:16 am

    I feel really honoured to call you my fellow Ethiopian. You are our Mother Theresa. God bless you!

  11. 11 TESFA May 28th, 2012 at 1:54 am

    ‘….These are the women most to be pitied in the world.They are alone and forgotten,bearing their injuries in silent shame….’ Dr Catherine Hamline,from THE HOSPITAL BY THE RIVER.

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