Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Walk to Beautiful

The Human Rights Film Festival opens in Dunedin on 28 May and runs till 5 June. I picked up a programme in town this weekend and was reminded of a piece I've been wanting to post for some time. The attached story was written by my friend Pauline Durning in response to the film A Walk to Beautiful  that was first shown in NZ during last year's HR Festival. In the intervening twelve months, groups of women (and a handful of men) in and around Dunedin have been getting together to knit brightly-coloured blankets for the women whose story Pauline tells here...


"Millions of women in Ethiopia suffer from fistulas.  Unheard of in western countries this is a “curse” of poor women living in isolated, extremely poor communities with no access to obstetric care.  Women, often young and of small build find they cannot deliver their unborn child.  As a result of long, fruitless labours they often lose their children during the childbirth process.  Once their baby has been removed, these women end up with incontinence resulting from fistulas (tears/holes) that are created in the birth canal.  Their condition is regarded as a curse, and they are ostracised from their families and communities.  Some resort to suicide to free themselves from the suffering and humiliation. 

A New Zealand man and his Australian wife - Drs Reginald & Catherine Hamlin - set up the Hamlin Trust and The Fistula Foundation and built hospitals for these women to receive treatment.  The movie A walk to Beautiful follows 5 young Ethiopian women who make their way from remote villages to the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa in search of a cure.  One woman took 6 years to get enough money to get the bus and had to walk for days in order to catch it.  The treatment is free.  Women arrive bewildered and frightened.  They receive education and care. In 93% of cases they can be cured.

And the knitting?  Where does it fit in? Well… Before the women head on their long journey back home after their treatment, they are given new clothing and warm knitted shawls/blankets from the hospital as a symbol of new beginnings.  A relative of the now 84 year old Dr. Catherine Hamlin (who set up the trust in 1959 and is still doing fistula operations in Addis Ababa Hospital)  talked to us after the film.  “Donations and bequests are needed, of course, but knitting blankets for these young women would be every bit as wonderful,” she said.

Friends in my singing group and many in the Education Review Office have been knitting. We knit during tea breaks, lunch times, at home, watching the news, at meetings and conferences, while singing or chatting together.  The vision is  to “just do it!”  Knit knit knit… as a meditation or a prayer... as a way of contributing and doing something.  We can see a time when a load of colourful warm cloaks will grace the shoulders of these young mothers about to leave the hospital.  It is a comfort to think maybe the blankets express in some small way compassion and empathy,  and will warm these women heading out to begin the long walk home, hopefully feeling cherished and with new hope.

We invite you to knit. Knit a row... knit a few rows and pass the knitting energy on. Contribute in any way you can to this vision.  Any size or shape will be combined with others' efforts and stitched into blankets.  We are mostly using 6.5 needles, 8 ply pure wool but will happily take anything contributed and create a blanket around it.'


Winter is the perfect time to knit - and, if you don't yet know how to, then now is the perfect time to learn. (This invitation goes out to all you men out there, too.) Please contact Pauline at if you're keen to add your knitting to Dunedin's steadily growing pile.  

Photo acknowledgements:  and Wubete at The Fledgling Fund. 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Thanks, Claire, for drawing our attention to this life-affirming endeavour. Please clack your needles at me if I don't have a pair of 6.5s and a ball of wool by the next time we meet. :) P

  3. According to a survey, each year over 600,000 women in USA undergo a tubal ligation. Tubal Ligation means permanent birth control and this ends a woman’s ability to have children. But what if a woman decides to become pregnant again?

  4. tubal reversal - greetings. 600, 000 women in the USA undergo tubal ligation each year? That's a lot of women making a choice not to fall pregnant... Of course, in this as in so many things, cultural realities determine so much what choices might - or might not - be available to communities. As is the case with other, non-surgical, forms of contraception, tubal ligation would not be considered an option for women bound to adhere to the mores of their particular culture or religion. It's a complex subject, isn't it? In some countries, large families are regarded a statement of wealth and standing. In others, the opposite is true...

    I popped along to your very informative website and was impressed by the care and counsel you offer to those seeking MTR. In this life, choice counts for soooo much. Atchafalaya sounds like an amazing place (landscape- and ethos-wise). You confirm what I'd understood about tubal ligations being for the most part, reversible; in much the same way a vasectomy is.

    All the best with your work - and thanks for visiting.

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