Christian Demands Threaten Renowned African Charity


World-renowned Australian gynecologist Catherine Hamlin has been helping Ethiopian women suffering the pain and shame of pregnancy complications for more than 50 years. But her life-changing work is under pressure from the very charity she established — by a hardline interpretation of Christianity.

With her late husband, New Zealander Dr. Reg Hamlin, Catherine co-founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1973, the world’s only medical center dedicated exclusively to providing free obstetric fistula repair surgery to poor women suffering from childbirth injuries. Now 87 years old, she still works in the hospital.

But Hamlin says she’s deeply hurt by an executive decision to only accept donating partners with Christian ideologies.

Problems started when Dr Hamlin wrote that what had motivated her and her husband to found their hospital was a Christian sense of good will.

“It was only written to record how we started, and how we had continued with the work, and our work is to welcome anyone to the hospital,” Dr Hamlin said.

“[The charity] is nothing to do with our faith, it is to do with the love that we have for these patients.”

“This is not the way we run this hospital,” Dr Hamlin said. ”My staff come from many religions, as do our patients.”

However, the executive of the charity which funds the hospital took Dr Hamlin’s declaration of her faith against her wishes as fuel to tell their donors that they must live by a Christian ethos to continue as partners of the charity. Three major funders in Europe are secular and Hamlin says she is heartbroken at the threat to her life’s work.

“And this has broken my heart,” she says, “and I feel every time I see a woman, ‘How could they do this to me? How could they do this to this poor woman?’”

Hamlin says that because of the rift between her team in Ethiopia and the major arm of the charity in Australia, the hospital has not received any money for seven months. The Australian charity arm has, she says, stopped fundraising because of the rift. It has also called for her son, Richard, to ‘toe the line’ with their insistence on ‘Christian ethos’ or resign. The conservative Christian lobby in Australia stands accused of trying to take over the work for their own ends in anticipation of Catherine’s death or disability.

Says Art director Lucy Perry, who has worked pro-bono for Hamlin for the past seven years:

“I just think these white Christian corporate boys here in their shiny suits have lost sight of who we work for, and it’s destitute Ethiopian women with tragic childbirth injuries.”

Watch a film about five Ethiopian women whose lives have been devastated by obstetric fistula and the difficult journey they undertake to reach the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital:

Related stories:

Maternal Health Care Can Prevent Disabilities

Back to Life: A Brave Woman’s Story

The Lepers of the 21st Century: Women and Girls Suffering from Obstetric Fistulas

Photo of doctors at the Addis Ababa hospital from Samuel M. Gebru via flickr

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Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin3 years ago

How surprising that a bunch of white, rich men wants to cripple the work of women helping other women!

Shelly Peterson
Shelly Peterson3 years ago

There is nothing "christian" about the misuse and abuse of Dr. Hamlins's words and wishes....just politics and power corrupting everything...aauurrrgghhh!

Katherine Babiak
Katherine Babiak3 years ago

Starting another foundation all over again, especially at her age, is no easy task, but I hope she finds help. How heartbreaking it must be for her! It is too bad that people who call themselves Christian have lost total sight of just what it means to be Christian... to love your fellow man, and all that is around you, and do everything you can to help them and make their lives better, without judgement. Their is no love in these peoples hearts.

Stefanie D.
Stefanie D.3 years ago

It's NOT Christian Ideology when it is MISOGYNISTIC... and in fact counter to the LOVE (thy neighbor) Ideology within Christianity.

has Christian Ideology now degenerated to Anti-Love-Thy-Neighbor??? (Anti-Humanitarian)?

Samuel Williams
Harley W.3 years ago

I have to agree that his group is being ham fisted hypocrites. That is the reason they are acting unchristian. But Protetants are not against birth control at all so that is painting all Christians with a brush that does not fit. I also agree people can be stupid and obsitnate. After all we are people. The Religous right is not a solid orginaztion they are way to political for a church group but we cannot blame them for everything those who call themselves Christians so.

Yes there are nonfundamenalist churches that do good there are also fundamentalist churches that do good. Look up ADRA some time.

If everyone would give a dollar to certain causes it would change the world. Most give some many do not give at all.

Seventh day Adventist Love GOD his world and all people.

Lawrence Travers
Lawrence Travers3 years ago

Dr Hamlin should start ANOTHER foundation of her own and tell the usupers to get lost! If she starts one, and those of us in the Care2 community gave only $1.00 she could win.

Harry Coverston
Harry Coverston3 years ago

See these Christians how they love one another. - Tertullian

Philip Amos
Philip Amos3 years ago

In all fairness, I must point out that the Christians involved here a fundamentalists, often the offspring of American fundamentalists doing much mischief among the African peoples, including encouraging laws against homosexuality. If the fundamentalists ever appear to be doing something for those in need, it's because they think they may get a convert. However, there are non-fundamentalist churches that do much to help the needy and do so altruistically. With regard to Dr. Hamlin's hospital, I have seen a documentary about it, and I am all the more upset for that. The plight of the women with fistulae is shocking, for they are often shunned by their families and communities. The only solution to this is an alternative source of funding, not so easy to find. And the lesson is not to tie yourself to a conservative Christian church.

Julia W.
Julia W.3 years ago

This is so sad.

Sandra L.
Sandra L.3 years ago

This is a terrible shame. Catherine Hamlin is doing great work and helping women who would otherwise be shunned and left to suffer. I am an atheist but give to a variety of charities regardless of the denomination but rather based of the value of their work.