Seynabou Sow first heard of Tostan through a classmate.  She had told her how Tostan had covered the costs of treatment for the fistula that her mother had been living with for some time. Fistula is a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged obstructed labour without access to caesarean section, and causes women to live with chronic incontinence. This can lead to psychosocial repercussions as many women feel ashamed, are often abandoned by their husbands, and, unable to work because of their injuries, struggle to make a living. The condition can usually be treated with a simple operation, but many women are not aware of this, or cannot afford the cost. Seynabou’s mother, Khady, was living with this condition.

“For 15 years, she suffered”, said Seynabou, describing how her mother was too ashamed to leave the house. Scared to move from where she sat in case someone would notice her incontinence and mock her, she cut herself off from society as much as possible.

As part of a research project in partnership with Fistula Foundation, the Tostan team had been to Keur Mari, the village where the Sow family live, earlier in the year. The team was looking for women who had fistula, or who had been healed of fistula. Khady had not been in the village at the time, and so had missed the team’s visit. However, upon her return, and around the same time that Seynabou heard about Tostan from her classmate, Khady’s doctor put her in touch with Tostan.

In May 2013, Khady met Dieynaba Diallo, assistant in the Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning department at Tostan’s headquarters in Dakar, Senegal, who was part of the research team. Seeing that Khady was in need of assistance, Dieynaba then set about planning for her treatment.

Khady made the trip to Dakar to begin her treatment in October. Seynabou explains how her mother spent the following two months in hospital, with costs covered by Tostan and Fistula Foundation. “We didn’t have the means to pay for it”, said Seynabou, explaining that her mother’s treatment could not have gone ahead without this financial support. Although the operation itself is free of charge, offered by the hospital through funding from the UNFPA, the cost of scans, analysis, and food still had to be covered.

The support that Tostan offered Khady was not just financial, however. Seynabou explained that she saw how close her mother had become to Dieynaba. “It’s as if we’re from the same family”, she said, explaining how Dieynaba regularly calls Khady to check how she is doing, offering her moral support when she is feeling down.

Now out of hospital, Khady is recovering well and is ready to return to her village. She came with Seynabou to the Tostan office before heading home, which is where I interviewed her.

The physical aspects of fistula are straightforward to treat, but the psychological effects can take longer to heal. Expressing her thanks to Tostan for helping her mother to get the treatment that she had waited for 15 years for, Seynabou says that the most important thing for her is that her mother will once again be able to live without shame.

Story by Shona Macleod, Grants Assistant, Tostan.