How is it that Fran Snedeker, a comfortably middle class Larchmont resident, became so absorbed with obstetric fistula?
Few American women have ever heard of this condition, much less suffered from it. Yet Ms. Snedeker has arranged for a special screening at Mamaroneck High School on January 19 of A Walk to Beautiful, the 2009 Emmy-winning docudrama on the subject.
She has also arranged for a post-film discussion moderated by Carrie Ngongo, fistula care program coordinator for EngenderHealth, the international reproductive health organization.
Ms. Ngongo has won accolades for her work, including one from New York Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristof for an essay in which she compares her own joyous experience of childbirth as a first-time mother to the adversity faced by less fortunate women in the developing world.
Ms. Snedeker’s aim is to spread the word about the devastating pall this preventable affliction casts over its victims.
“Once you become acquainted with the misery obstetric fistula inflicts on its victims, you will most likely become as concerned as I am,” Ms. Snedeker posits.
A Walk to Beautiful
Emmy-Winning Film & Discussion
*January 19, 6:30 pm
*LMC-TV Studio I at MHS
*For free tickets: email Fran Snedeker
“Obstetric fistula is the outcome of a prolonged labor endured without benefit of trained medical care,” she explains. “The end result is a tear (“fistula”) in the vaginal wall which causes incontinence of either urine or feces, or both.”
“This humiliating leaking continues the rest of the young woman’s life,” she continues, “unless she is one of the fortunate few who attain medical intervention. It is the fate of millions of poor, ill-educated women in the developing world, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa where health facilities are too few and too far.”
A Walk to Beautiful, tells the stories of five Ethiopian women who suffer from devastating childbirth injuries and embark on a journey to reclaim their lost dignity.
“I feel at the end of the movie as if I have known these women personally,” says Ms. Snedeker. “On hearing their stories I feel compelled to join in the worldwide effort to eradicate obstetric fistula.”
One Larchmonter Teaches Another
Ms. Snedeker muses that the first time she heard the words “obstetric fistula” was nearly 20 years ago from a Larchmont native, Maggie Bangser, who was the director of the Women’s Dignity Project in Tanzania. Ms. Snedeker was serving on the board of EngenderHealth when Ms. Bangser, “came to us during a brief trip to New York to convince us to establish fistula on our program agenda.”
“Not surprisingly, except for the doctors on the board, few of us had ever heard of obstetric fistula before Maggie undertook to educate us,” states Ms. Snedeker. “As I learned at that time, obstetric fistula is a tragic outcome of the deeply intertwined issues of health care, gender inequity and poverty.”
Since then EngenderHealth has taken on obstetric fistula with a vengeance, spearheading programs all across Africa and Bangladesh. Local health professionals have learned to identify its victims, develop strategies for prevention and help women whose fistula have been repaired to reintegrate into the community.
Obstetric fistula has become an integral part of Ms. Snedeker’s agenda as well. As producer of the show Future Choices, she has focused on the topic in four separate installments. This month’s episode, entitled “Back to Beautiful” airs weekends on LMC-TV and at various schedules on other local access stations in Westchester County.
Tickets for the screening of A Walk to Beautiful may be obtained by emailing Ms. Snedeker. She explains, the screening is free and all are welcome, but because seating in the studio is limited, reservations are required.