Photo: A woman learns about maternal health during the Community Empowerment Program. 

For 15 years, Khady Sow had been living with fistula. As a mother of five, she endured physical pain and embarrassment from her condition ever since complications occurred during the birth of her last child. Despite efforts to receive treatment in her village, the local health worker was unable to help. As part of an ongoing project partnership with the Fistula Foundation, Tostan had the opportunity to do research and travel to various villages around Senegal to interview community members on their knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes regarding fistula. Tostan staff visited Khady’s village of Keur Mari where her daughter, Seynabou Sow, learned about Tostan through a classmate. The family was then put in touch with Tostan through the nurse from the local health post. In October 2013, Khady underwent a surgical intervention in Dakar by specialists on her condition and has been living without fistula since then.

Dieynaba Diallo, a member of the Tostan Fistula Project team, revisited Khady and her family in March 2014 to check up on her progress. Khady said that while she felt little isolation from her family when she had fistula, she was often cautious when interacting with other community members as some would not go near her. Now cured, she no longer is self-conscious about her condition. She is now encouraging other women with fistula to receive the same treatment: “For those who refuse to go to the hospital, I will tell them they are crazy because they have nothing to lose. They can be cured from this condition.” Furthermore Galo Ba, Khady’s husband, was very grateful for Tostan’s assistance in providing the means for his wife to undergo treatment. He insisted that other husbands support their wives during this particularly difficult time, instead of isolating them from the family and community. He also encouraged them to seek out community partners and medical professionals to find a solution to their wives’ condition.

Now that Khady is cured, she is ready to live a normal life and participate in community activities. She hopes to partake in income-generating activities in order to financially contribute to her household, such as buying and selling local goods or livestock. For 15 years, Khady never dared to travel and spend the night at someone else’s home for fear of wetting the bed, a common symptom of fistula. She no longer has this fear. “Because of Tostan’s generosity,” Khady said, “I have taken back my life.” While the emotional healing process will be longer than the procedure itself, Khady has restored confidence and is determined to live a full and happy life.

Story by Meredith Schlussel, MERL Volunteer, Tostan, Photograph by Bjorn Westerdahl (c) Tostan