Linda Chamberlain appreciates the Gorge-wide support she’s received in her work with The Fistula Project at Kitovu Hospital in Uganda.

This September, that included a donation of three messenger-style bags from Hood River’s DaKine in vibrant colors for a new ambassador program aimed at shining the light on reparative surgery.

Chamberlain has worked with The Fistula Project-Kitovu, based in Salt Lake City, for the past five years, and said Mid-Columbia residents have supported the cause by knitting blanket squares, making hygiene bags for patients, and attending the High Tea fundraiser she throws each June at her Wilinda Blueberry Patch on Frankton Road. Some have even traveled with her to Masaka, Uganda, to work with patients as they wait for reparative surgery.

The group is “an unaffiliated community group that strives to provide fistula repair and other assistance to women in Uganda,” according to its Facebook page. “This is done through grassroots efforts, fundraising and awareness.”

Fistula “is an injury, caused by obstruction in labor during childbirth, which leaves women incontinent,” Chamberlain explained, that often results in the death of the infant.

And while surgery is an option, there is a lot of misinformation floating around the country about the procedure — rumors of women going into the hospitals and turned into sex slaves, or of being killed and eaten.

But recently, Chamberlain read about an ambassador program sponsored by the Fistula Foundation in San Jose, Calif., where women who have undergone the surgery go “deep into villages to identify, educate and mobilize women who may not have information about reparative surgery,” she said.

She wondered if such a program could be replicated for the patients at Kitovu Hospital.

“Ambassadors are needed because of the ‘been there, done that’ that we all feel. Up to now, nurses and nuns have gone into the villages — and they will continue to do so — but the ambassador go deep into villages. In such situations, there is much less communication available and a lot of misinformation.”

In October, Chamberlain returned to Uganda to interview 20 interested repaired women for three ambassador positions in a pilot program for the hospital. “I found the women to be happy and relieved about returning to a normal life after the repair,” she said.

The new ambassador each “needed a phone, a teaching book and a few schillings to catch a motorcycle ride to travel beyond the paved roads,” she said. “A messenger bag was needed to carry these items, so I decided to ask DaKine, who generously donated three bags for the ambassadors.”

The ambassador program is in its beginning stages, “so we are being patient,” she added. “They are to do three presentations in villages by October 2016.” She’s arranged to touch bases with the program’s Ugandan supervisor in January.

“They all love the bags and the phones — their very own,” Chamberlain said. “They also received embroidered aprons. To have these items makes them look and feel ‘smart,’ and others will treat them with respect.”

For more information on The Fistula Project-Kitovu, visit FistulaProjectKitovuHospital.

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