Artist and Philanthropist Sue Hoese Travels to Ethiopia with Oprah Winfrey
I learned about obstetric fistula after seeing Dr. Catherine Hamlin on the Oprah Winfrey Show in January 2004. Obstetric fistula is an injury that can occur during child birth when a woman has obstructed labor that goes unrelieved because there is no emergency obstetric care. The resulting injury leaves the woman incontinent, and she often lives a life of loneliness and shame. I was shocked to learn that so many women suffer from this devastating child-birth injury in developing countries. Dr. Hamlin’s Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia provides free surgery to repair these injuries.
How did you get from seeing Dr. Hamlin on Oprah to making bracelets?
After watching Oprah, I was so shocked and saddened to learn that millions of women in developing countries are suffering from this devastating, cruel childbirth injury. As a mother, it was upsetting to learn that childbirth is so dangerous for women in developing countries. I was so touched by Dr. Hamlin and her work that I had to do something to increase awareness of this issue and help raise funds.
Why bracelets in particular?
For several years prior to seeing the broadcast, I had enjoyed making beaded jewelry as a hobby and received great pleasure from giving friends and family members gifts that were made from the heart.
Dr. Hamlin explained how she gives the patients a brand new dress before they leave to go home as a symbol of their new start in life. I was really touched by that gesture and wanted to give these women bracelets to go with their new dresses as a gift from women in the U.S. and as a symbol that women in the U.S. care about them and are supporting them.
That was when I had the idea to host bracelet-making parties. It was a great way to get friends and family together to not only do a fun project, but to spread the word about this issue and recruit help in supporting this cause.
I recruited about ten friends, and they, in turn, starting hosting bracelet-making parties. After a couple months, we had made over 1,500 bracelets.
When the Oprah Show heard how inspired I had been by their show on Dr. Hamlin, they invited me to travel with them to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia and present our bracelets to the fistula patients.
How did the Oprah Show learn about how inspired you were by their show on Dr. Hamlin?
I emailed the show to thank them for bringing this issue to our attention and told them about the bracelets we made for the patients. Shortly thereafter, I was invited by the show to travel with them to Ethiopia to deliver our bracelets to the patients. It was such an honor to meet Dr. Hamlin, Oprah, the patients and the incredible hospital staff. The lasting impressions I have are of the women who arrive at the hospital in such despair, but leave with their bodies healed and their dignity restored.
When I got home, I worked with jewelry designer and manufacturer, Jill Johnson, to create a bracelet that the Fistula Foundation could use to help raise funds to support the Fistula Hospital. The silver-plated Dignity Bracelet incorporates the Fistula Foundation logo and the word “Dignity” in English on one side of the central bead and in Amharic, the most common language in Ethiopia, on the other side.
Are you still affiliated with the organization?
I have represented the Fistula Foundation at International Women’s Day in Minneapolis and still speak about this issue at different events in the Twin Cities. I am now a life-long supporter and advocate.