Healing Hands of Joy is a community based, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization committed to improving the lives of women who have suffered from obstetric fistula and preventing more women from developing fistula. The organization’s motto is “Fight Fistula – Delivery Safely” and its overall aim is to “Make Motherhood Safer in Ethiopia.”
In 2009, Allison Shigo and Brett O’Donnell began researching and developing the program in Ethiopia, meeting with key maternal health partners including the Ministry of Health, Clinton Foundation, USAID, UNFPA, UNICEF and other major organizations. Healing Hands of Joy was officially incorporated as a non-profit in the United States and soon after reached an agreement with an Ethiopian NGO, People to People to operate in Ethiopia.
In 2010, Healing Hands of Joy researched and developed a Healing Hands of Joy Pilot Project in Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region of Northern Ethiopia where the rate of fistula is 1.6%, the highest in Ethiopia and one of the highest in the world. Committed to working in concert with existing health networks and avoiding activity duplication, Allison formed a local Steering Committee comprised of government and non-government organizations including the Tigray Health Bureau, the Tigray Women’s Association, Tigray Women’s Affairs and the Mekelle Fistula Hospital.
Healing Hands of Joy determined that while much was being done for fistula surgical treatment there was a gap in social reintegration efforts for fistula patients post-surgery as well as preventive services. There is a limited knowledge of fistula in the community and its root causes and consequently many new fistula cases develop. In November 2010, Healing Hands of Joy opened the first center in Mekelle to provide a home for former fistula patients during their two weeks training. Healing Hands of Joy has hired exclusively Ethiopian staff (including several former fistula patients) resident trainers, literacy trainers and other supportive staff. In 2014, Healing Hands of Joy was licensed by the Ethiopian Charity and Society Agency as a Foreign Charity. In July 2014, the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health launched a fistula elimination campaign and Healing Hands of Joy was asked to serve as a member of the Fistula Task Force with a goal to eliminate fistula from Ethiopia.
In 2015 Healing Hands of Joy opened two more centers in Bahir Dar, Amhara Region and Hawassa, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region(SNNPR). Reports show that, Amhara region has the highest percentage of home deliveries and prolonged labor is the leading cause of fistula. According to a 2015 report by Ethiopian Ministry of Health, SNNPR is the 2nd highest populated among the regions of Ethiopia with high suspected cases of fistula. To date, Healing Hands of Joy's three centers have trained more than 1,450 Safe Motherhood Ambassadors who are successfully reintegrated into their respective communities. HHOJ looks into the future with goals to expand the program across rural Ethiopia to eradicate fistula while providing a range of opportunities to empower women in their communities to deliver safely and reduce the maternal mortality rate in Ethiopia.