From Kenya with Love
A story of profound dedication to create change for marginalized girls and women
Habiba C. N. Mohamed
Just months after her speaking engagement with Soroptimist International of Benicia, Habib C.N. Mohamed is writing to us from the Netherlands where she is receiving the NOW-Us! Award 2019, for her innovative and inclusive work with Women and Development Against Distress in Africa (WADADIA). She’s the founder and director of the organization that helps locate women who are living with obstetric fistula in remote parts of western Kenya, and makes sure they have access to treatment.
According to the Fistula Foundation, obstetric fistula usually occurs among women who give birth without access to medical help. When a woman’s labor becomes obstructed, she may remain in excruciating pain for days. Due to the constant pressure from the fetus, many mothers are left with obstetric fistula, a tear or hole in the reproductive regions of the body that renders her severely incontinent. The shame and stigma associated with fistula in some cultures creates an even heavier social and emotional burden, in many cases breaking up the family and leading to isolation and deeper poverty. Habiba has dedicated her life to eradicating these traumas, — while also helping to empower women globally.
From across the globe during her tireless crusade, Habiba responded to our questions with gratitude for the interest coming from our small town. Afterall, she came from one too, and she has been able to change the world. Here are her passionate responses:
BMag: Where were you born, and where do you live now?
HM: I was born in a small town of Kapenguria in West Pokot County. Am currently living in Mumias, Kakamega County which is based in the Western part of Kenya
BMag: Can you briefly describe the journey that led you to the work you are doing now with WADADIA?
HM: Finding a 4-year boy tied with a rope behind a house simply because he was disabled and born out of wedlock, was the turning point of my life. I wasn’t able to live with the sight of that angel boy in my mind and set out on a mission to track down his mother and discover the story behind his situation. She was a mother who had dropped out of school at age 14, was chased from her family for being a disgrace due to her pregnancy and turned to prostitution to survive. I found my purpose when I was able to help her manage to go back to school and finish her diploma in social work and community development. This impact on her set me on my life work.
BMag: What are the top three most important things you would like to tell us about WADADIA and its mission?
HM: WADADIA works with the most marginalized women in Kenya, most of whom are survivors of obstetric fistula, gender-based violence, or female sex work. We empower them to advocate for their sexual reproductive health rights and socio-economic well-being. We envision a world where women are healthy and are socio-economically empowered to carry out their obligations to themselves and in society.
BMag: For those of us who did not get to hear you speak for Soroptimist International of Benicia when you were here, could you let us know the key points you shared that day?
HM: WADADIA identifies women with obstetric fistula. We support them to access free treatment with help from the Fistula Foundation. We then lead them through our reintegration program for holistic recovery and empowerment to be advocates for themselves and societal change. Our reintegration programs involve: counseling services to the women, their families and the community; economic empowerment through vocational skills training; education and mentorship; and the establishment of small income-generating activities. We also support them to access sexual reproductive health services, such as family planning.
BMag: What do you hope we will take away, learn or change from your work and your message?
HM: Though fistula has been eradicated in the western world, there are so many women in Africa and Asia who are still suffering from this preventable and treatable condition. In Kenya, we have 3,000 new fistula cases every year. There are recurrences because of the inability for some to complete post-repair instructions and to prevent infections. I hope you will want to get involved in some way to help eradicate fistula, and to support marginalized and isolated women globally.
BMag: What can we do to help you with your work?
HM: We need your help in the following areas:
- Spreading the word about our work to all those who care about empowering marginalized and isolated women.
- Support to raise resources and funds for the construction and equipping of the accommodation section in our Centre.
- Support us by buying and promoting sales of handicrafts made by the fistula survivors. This was done at the Soroptimist International of Benicia meeting.
- We need volunteers to work on our website, create an online store, find ways to ship the products the women have made with their new vocational skills, and other volunteer support of the organization.
BMag: What is next for you?
HM: Being able to provide residential accommodations for the women. Our vision for the WADADIA Empowerment and Rehabilitation Centre is to provide a sustainable way of ensuring women with fistula receive what they need to heal holistically. We will continue our work to eradicate the complex issues related to fistula within our society.
BMag: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
HM: Fistula is both preventable and treatable. No one should be suffering from this condition in this era. But we can’t do it alone, I am hoping to appeal to everyone to join us in taking action by reaching us through our website www.wadadia.org and email firstname.lastname@example.org to help make a difference.