Tag Archives: community service

The Fistula Foundation

A family friend of mine recently attended  the first annual International Day to End Obstetric Fistula at the UN.  I’m so grateful for the service he and the Fistula Foundation are doing for the global community.  To learn more about the fistula tragedy, the video below is narrated by Natalie Imbruglia and designed by The Draw Shop (which I’ve blogged about for their work on various TED videos in the past).  Just four minutes tells the story perfectly …

Obstetric Fistula: No Longer A Neglected Tragedy

Posted: 05/23/2013 10:16 am on the Huffington Post

In September of 1994, the world community gathered in Cairo for the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). It was the largest intergovernmental conference on population and development ever held, producing a comprehensive Programme of Action that remains today as both touchstone and framework for the field. Yet in all 194 pages of that landmark document — which covers everything from female empowerment to male responsibilities in family planning — the childbirth injury obstetric fistula is not mentioned. Not once.

Obstetric fistula is a profound traumatic injury that’s been ruining the lives of would-be mothers throughout history; the first historical occurrence recorded dates back to 2050 B.C. It’s an injury that affects women like 16-year old Goni, from Ethiopia, who labored for days until her stillborn baby was delivered, and was then left incontinent until surgery years later could heal her wounds. Yet, until a decade ago, fistula was literally not on the global health agenda, even though it is arguably the most devastating and disabling of all childbirth injuries.

The simple reason: women who suffer from fistula live almost exclusively in rural areas of very resource constrained countries, and are therefore some of the least empowered human beings on the planet. Obstetric fistula impacts almost no one in the developed world since it was largely eradicated a century ago when access to emergency obstetric care became widespread.

Nearly two decades after the ICPD, the world has come together to create a global, multi-sector response to this previously neglected scourge, and now the tide is turning. To both commemorate progress and inspire future efforts, the United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed today, May 23rd, as the first annual International Day to End Obstetric Fistula.

This date is particularly fitting because it’s been a decade since the United Nationslaunched its Campaign to End Fistula, helping strengthen the visibility of the issue and increase collaboration and coordination amongst doctors, hospitals, advocates and governments. Large bilateral donors, such as USAID’s funded Fistula Care program at Engender Health, have provided critical policy and research leadership. Further, a nascent organization, the International Society of Fistula Surgeons, was formed in 2007 to advance the practice of fistula surgery, a field that draws specialists from obstetrics, gynecology, general surgery and urology.

The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, in partnership with UNFPA, has pioneered both a training manual and a field-based fellowship training program. These multinational, bilateral and medical community efforts have proven critical to providing leadership, assessing need and injecting data into a field where little existed before, and distributing government resources where they are needed most.

The private sector fills the last crucial piece of the fistula treatment equation. Nongovernmental organizations, such as the Fistula Foundation, are advocating on behalf of fistula patients and forging relationships with corporate and individual donors to raise and subsequently distribute funds that expand the capacity for treatment at facilities in Africa and Asia.

In response to the vast need and growing awareness, generous donors have stepped forward to help the Fistula Foundation expand dramatically in the last four years, now supporting treatment sites in 19 countries. As donors in the United States and Europe learn about the issue, coffers to fund treatment have swelled.

Organizations like ours also fill a role in increasing the capacity of hospitals, through injections of critical funding for surgeries and training by expert surgeons to help provide fistula treatment where none was available before. Direct Relief provided key leadership in working with us and UNFPA to pioneer the first Global Fistula Map, a dynamic tool that provides information on treatment facilities around the world.

Several leading private sector corporations have also stepped forward to fund and support fistula treatment and prevention efforts, but none with greater resolve and dedication than Johnson & Johnson. The company has provided significant funds and supplies for fistula treatment, and been a strategic partner with our Foundation helping get critical funds to advance treatment in under-resourced communities. In addition, internet powerhouse Google has given in-kind advertising on its network to the Fistula Foundation to help expand awareness and fund our operation.

The media has taken notice as well, creating awareness of fistula among citizens and potential donors, where little existed before. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times elevated the issue through numerous columns that brought the stories of women with fistula and the doctors that treat them to the attention of his readers. His bestselling book, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” (published with his Pulitzer Prize-winning wife, Sheryl WuDunn), devoted a section to fistula. Further, Oprah Winfrey featured the work of pioneering fistula surgeon and founder of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, Dr. Catherine Hamlin, on two of her programs.

We have a long way to go to provide treatment to the enormous backlog of women with untreated fistula, let alone provide the emergency obstetric care needed to prevent the injury. But while there is no silver bullet to solving this global problem, our coordinated response is making headway.

We must continue to fight for the women who have been traumatically injured while trying to bring a child into the world. They need our help to regain their place in their families, their communities and their societies.

More on obstetric fistula….

Obstetric fistula is the most devastating and serious of all childbirth injuries. It happens because most mothers in poor countries give birth without any medical help. So many are young girls. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are among the leading causes of death and disability for women of reproductive age in these places. Obstetric fistula was largely eliminated in the United States in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century with improved obstetric care in general and the use of c-sections in particular to relieve obstructed labor.

After enduring days of agonizing, obstructed labor a woman’s body is literally broken by childbirth. During labor contractions, the baby’s head is constantly pushing against the mother’s pelvic bone — causing tissue to die due to lack of blood flow to this area. All of that pushing creates a hole, or in medical terms a “fistula”, between the birth passage and an internal organ such as the bladder or rectum. A woman cannot hold her urine, and sometimes bowel content as well.

Her baby is unlikely to survive. If she survives, a woman with fistula is likely to be rejected by her husband because of her inability to bear more children and her foul smell. She will be shunned by her community and forced to live an isolated existence. These women suffer profound psychological trauma resulting from their utter loss of status and dignity, in addition to suffering constantly from their physical internal injury.

The numbers are staggering

Right now, hundreds of thousands of women are suffering from this heartbreaking, treatable childbirth injury because they are too poor to afford surgery that costs about $450.

This number keeps growing bigger. Each year approximately 30,000 – 50,000 women develop this childbirth injury. The international capacity to treat fistula patients has been estimated at just over 14,000 a year — less than half the amount of new women who develop a fistula each year. Surgeons would describe this as an enormous backlog of untreated patients. There is clearly an overwhelming need for treating far more women.

Your donation will change one woman’s life forever >>

Fast Facts

  • Fistula used to be present in the U.S. and Europe, but was largely eliminated in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century with improved obstetric care in general and the use of c-sections in particular to relieve obstructed labor.
  • The World Health Organization estimates there may be as many as 50,000 — 100,000 new cases of fistula each year, yet the global treatment capacity is less than 20,000 cases a year. There is a large unmet need for treatment. Fistula is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
  • For example, in Ethiopia, there are an estimated 100,000 women suffering with untreated fistula, and another 9,000 women who develop fistula each year.
  • Less than 6 in 10 women in developing countries give birth with any trained professional, such as a midwife or a doctor.  When complications arise, as they do in approximately 15% of all births, there is no one available to treat the woman, leading to disabling injuries like fistula, and even death.
  • The root causes of fistula are grinding poverty and the low status of women and girls.  In developing countries, the poverty and malnutrition in children contributes to the condition of stunting, where the girl skeleton, and therefore pelvis as well, do not fully mature.  This stunted condition can contribute to obstructed labor, and therefore fistula.
  • But, fistula is both preventable and treatable.  For instance, the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital has treated over 30,000 women over 33 years.  Their cure rate is over 90%.  Fistula can be prevented if laboring women are provided with adequate emergency obstetric care when complications arise.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ


Project Surya Fundraiser for STEPS!

I’m always at my happiest when I’m either A) in a backbend or B) organizing meaningful projects . . . and I’m very grateful it’s about that time of year!

The 2013 Project Surya outreach will be held on June 1st – 108 Sun Salutations in Prospect Park for STEPS to End Family Violence.   Check out the press release below (park permit pending!):


Yoga Gathering and Fundraiser to End Family Violence

On Saturday, June 1st, yoga practitioners and do-gooders across New York City will gather at the 15th Street entrance to Prospect Park for 108 for Peace, an event to raise awareness around ending family violence.  They’ll be dedicating 108 Sun Salutations in the name of peace, as well as fundraising for the New York nonprofit, STEPS to End Family Violence.  The event promises prizes for the most enthusiastic fundraisers, music, refreshments, and a stunning view of the lake in Prospect Park, the only freshwater lake in Brooklyn.


When STEPS’ founder, Sister Mary Nerney, began providing counseling to incarcerated women in 1986, she realized a grim truth: the vast majority of incarcerated women had been victims of some kind of violence in their past.  What started out as providing domestic and sexual violence services and education to incarcerated women, has now grown into a citywide phenomenon, addressing each stage in the cycle of violence, including services to children and teenagers.  STEPS now provides services in every borough and reaches over 5,000 New Yorkers each year.

STEPS provides culturally competent, multi-lingual, free services, offered through four areas: Criminal Justice Services for Women, Counseling and Advocacy (provides individual and group counseling for survivors and their children as well as financial counseling and connection to a range of social service providers), Civil Legal Services, and Teen Services.  (visit STEPS’ website for more details on services)

About Project Surya

The engine behind the gathering is Project Surya, an unregistered nonprofit founded by Hawaiian karma yogi and writer, Joanne OS Kelly.  Project Surya’s mission is to “Shed light on global issues.”  The organization is responsible for Kashi Ganga Cleanup, a gathering of 500 Varanasi citizens to clean the river Ganga and pledge to make their city a World Heritage City in the next 10 years.  Project Surya’s founder was also given an award from the Yoga Journal for efforts to bring yoga to under-served communities, including TMM Family Services in Tucson, Brookview Preschool in Tallaught, Ireland, and members of the Umonho Tribe in Nebraska. (visit Project Surya’s website for more)

About Sun Salutations

Sun Salutations is a series of movements used in many yoga classes to warm the body.  Traditionally, it is a sequence devoted to Surya, the sun god.  There are at least 23 documented variations of Sun Salutations in India, and as yoga has grown in international popularity, variations have increased exponentially.  The Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit, the mother language of Indo-European languages) will be performed as an offering to peace at the event.  Participants are encouraged to dedicate as many salutations as they feel comfortable doing.

About the Event

Participants will meet at the 15th Street entrance to Prospect Park at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 1st.  They will be led to a grassy field on the shore of the north side of the lake.  Each participant will set up their own mats or blankets, and though some refreshments will be served afterward, participants should bring their own water, sunscreen, hats and towels.  People may participate in any of four ways:

  1. Perform 108 (or fewer) Sun Salutations in the name of ending family violence.
  2. Come to the event to offer support.
  3. Fundraise by asking coworkers, friends, and acquaintances to donate some amount of money for every Sun Salutation they perform – fundraising sheets are availableon the Project Surya website.  The most enthusiastic fundraisers will receive prizes like acupuncture sessions and yoga class cards.
  4. Donate directly at the event or online (link).

A short dedication will kick off the event, and the Sun Salutation portion will take approximately 90 minutes, depending on the practitioner.  Light refreshments and music will be offered, and winners of the fundraising competition will also be announced.  Winners will receive healing prizes from Third Root Community Health Center.

Contacts and Useful Links

Contact Joanne Kelly: Jo@ThirdRoot.org  |  808.343.1850

Winning a Scholarship to Omega!

Friday I was graced with the greatest news of the season . . .

I’m going to Omega’s Yoga Service Conference: Bringing Mindful Yoga to Underserved Communities!   In addition, I’ll be appointed to the Yoga Service Council as an official member.


Check out all the goodness, training me to better serve my community . . .

Omega Institute and the Yoga Service Council are pleased to present the second annual Yoga Service Conference. The Yoga Service Council was formed at Omega in 2009 by a group of organizations bringing yoga to underserved populations. As membership of the council has grown, so has their desire to inspire more people to serve and empower their communities through yoga and mindfulness.

We’re honored to offer this unique and intimate opportunity to forge relationships, build skills, and draw inspiration from leading teachers who work with tens of thousands of people in underserved communities every day, including trauma survivors, incarcerated adults and teens, at-risk children, cancer survivors, the elderly, and domestic violence survivors.

With their expert guidance, we explore the benefits and challenges of introducing yoga and mindfulness practices to the underserved and gain tools to work with specific populations. We also address issues of diversity and cultural awareness, talk about getting yoga service projects started and funded, and learn how to conduct research on our work.

Anyone interested in working to create strong, engaged, and resilient communities is welcome. You do not need to be a yoga teacher, or even a yoga practitioner to benefit from this conference. Social workers, school teachers, health-care providers, yoga teachers, and all others interested in exploring the possibility of bringing yoga and mindfulness to underserved populations are invited to attend.


FRIDAY, JUNE 7, 2013

6:00 p.m.–7:15 p.m.

8:00 p.m.–8:30 p.m.

Jennifer Cohen Harper

8:30 p.m.–10:00 p.m.
Opening Keynote

Beryl Bender Birch


7:00 a.m.–8:00 a.m.
Yoga Practice in Lake Theater
Roxanne “Nikki” Myers

7:00 a.m.–8:45 a.m.

9:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m.
Strengthening Compassion

Kelly McGonigal

Teachers, caregivers, volunteers, health-care providers, and others in the helping professions know that compassion is their greatest strength, but they can also feel overwhelmed by compassion fatigue. No matter how much compassion we feel for others, the practice of self-compassion is often a struggle. Learn the latest science of what strong and sustainable compassion is (and is not), how to avoid burnout, and how to cultivate self-compassion. These ideas and tools can support you in your own work serving others and become skills you can share with those dealing with health issues, trauma, anxiety, depression, addiction, and other life challenges.

10:45 a.m.–12:45 p.m.

These workshops are unique introductions to the yoga and mindfulness practices that best support specific populations. Taught by some of the country’s leading instructors, you gain practical tools for teaching, as well as a deeper understanding of the challenges these communities are facing. Please choose one workshop.

The Issues Live in the Tissues: Addiction Recovery, Trauma Healing & Yoga
Roxanne “Nikki” Myers

As many as one in three Americans suffer from some type of addiction disorder. A multifaceted disease with many forms—including alcohol, illegal and prescription drugs, eating disorders, compulsive spending, gambling, exercise, sex, love, porn, and more—addiction causes social, psychological, and physical harm. It affects people of all ages, backgrounds, and socioeconomic statuses, and it is very much present in the yoga community. An equal opportunity destroyer, addiction affects not only the addict, but it also causes damage to families, friends, and society as a whole. This presentation, which includes an experiential practice, explores the truth behind addiction. It presents a rich, powerful framework for inquiry and explores daily practices to enhance physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Working With High-Risk Youth
Ali Smith
Atman Smith, and Andres Gonzalez

The Holistic Life Foundation (HLF) has been teaching yoga to high-risk youth for more than a decade, focusing their efforts in the many underserved communities in the city of Baltimore. The cofounders, brothers Ali Smith and Atman Smith and their college friend Andres Gonzalez, have developed their own unique blend of various yoga styles to best serve the youth population. In this workshop, we explore making yoga accessible and practical for high-risk youth, and we cover practices, teaching philosophies, youth engagement, and many other topics.

Building a Sustainable Wellness Toolkit
Claire Campbell

To give oneself in service to others can be risky business. While many of us are driven by our life’s purpose to remain open to the suffering of others, this stance can simultaneously leave us depleted and at risk. Unidentified stress, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma can, and often does, impact our entire system, including our struggle to live life in the present moment. This experiential workshop helps participants identify varied tools that support a sustained path to personal wellness through the use of expressive therapies, yoga, breathwork, and sensory integration. This workshop supports the “helper” to create an object of mindfulness that can be used to support future, ongoing self-care, and create new pathways for embodying a sustained change.

Sequencing Theory for Yoga Service
Jasmine Chehrazi

Discover how employing sound sequencing techniques in outreach/service settings can inspire students to come back to your class and connect even more deeply with yoga beyond class time. This hands-on workshop explores general sequencing theory and theme concepts according to a variety of perspectives and traditions, including yoga therapy and trauma-sensitive yoga. This workshop features interactive, hands-on sequencing exercises that leave you feeling prepared and experienced to share yoga more effectively with a variety of communities.

So You Want to Do Research
Kelly McGonigal

In this session, take a hands-on, do-it-yourself approach to research. Learn how to put together a plan to launch your own research project—one that can be done with resources you already have. Brainstorm and strategize on what kind of data you are after, how to collect it, and what you can do with it once you have it.

12:45 p.m.–1:45 p.m.
Lunch Table Discussions

Join organization leaders at lunchtime for lively conversations around topics relevant to the yoga service community.


2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m.
Meditation Talk & Practice: Lovingkindness
Sharon Salzberg
Lovingkindness is a meditation that cultivates our natural capacity for an open and loving heart. It is traditionally offered with meditations that enrich compassion and joy in the happiness of others, and also deepen our own sense of peace. These practices lead to the development of concentration, connection, fearlessness, and genuine happiness. Sharon Salzberg introduces these teachings and supports us in our own experience and cultivation of these qualities through direct instruction and guided meditation using classical techniques in a modern idiom. There will also be opportunities for questions. This workshop is suitable for both new and experienced meditators.
3:30 p.m.–5:00 p.m.
Please choose one workshop.
Yoga for Cancer Survivors
Tari Prinster

Research increasingly acknowledges yoga as beneficial to cancer patients. Western medical institutions now encourage yoga as part of a wellness/alternative healing programs. Rarely is there explanation of how yoga works, why the benefits are unique, and what kind of yoga is best. In this workshop, we explore the science behind yoga; concerns of cancer survivors; cautions for teaching yoga to the special needs of cancer survivors; and, most importantly, yoga poses that facilitate recovery and prevention, as well as yoga poses to avoid. We also learn compassion balanced with knowledge and a proven methodology that inspires hope and gives emotional support through safe, healing yoga.
Mindfulness-Based Elder Care (MBEC)
Lucia McBee

Western medicine has extended the quantity of our life expectancy, but physical and cognitive frailty, chronic pain, and stress continue to diminish quality of life for many elders. Professional and family caregivers working with frail elders may also struggle with feelings of helplessness and discomfort in the presence of illness and despair. Mindfulness-Based Elder Care (MBEC) is a program that has modified the skills of yoga and mindfulness-based interventions for elders with physical and cognitive disabilities, and their caregivers. Underneath the skills, the path of MBEC and mindful yoga embraces rather than confronts the challenges of chronic illness, pain, and loss. In this workshop, we explore the practices that are adapted at the intersection of our knowledge about elders and the essence of yoga and mindfulness, and how they can be used to assist in elder care.
Sustainable Yoga Service
Rob Schware
Bidyut “B.K.” Bose, and Meghann Beer
This workshop is intended for individuals and groups interested in starting, sustaining, or scaling yoga service efforts on a stable foundation. From individual and small group efforts all the way to nonprofits serving thousands of people every week, we discuss the ways in which each of us can serve most effectively through yoga, even as we survive and thrive. Bidyut “B.K.” Bose, founder and director of the Niroga Institute, addresses programmatic scaling issues in education, health care, and violence prevention, including direct service provision, training, research, policy, and advocacy. Meghann Beer, a professional nonprofit consultant who has worked with the Africa Yoga Project to create and run the Seva Safari program, explores the nitty-gritty issues of starting a service organization and growing it from a start-up to a formalized structure. Rob Schware, founder and executive director of the Give Back Yoga Foundation, discusses approaches to fundraising and the importance of product development and leveraging the Internet to distribute products for awareness raising and revenue generation. Come find out how to make your organization less vulnerable.
Foundations of Yoga Service: Practice
Jill Satterfield

Serving others is an act of compassion, and compassion includes oneself, as well as others, because ultimately there is no separation between the two. Keeping our inner perspective wide and tender enough to help ourselves so we might better help others is what practice is about. By taking kind and compassionate care of ourselves, we meet others where they are by directly experiencing interdependence. How might we self-prescribe a practice that is both for our present moment, and rewarding and personal? In this workshop, we explore how to take our own pulse, know what we need, and design a practice that is interesting, fresh, and provides self-care. Creating a daily practice of meditation, breathing, and yoga postures helps us to maintain space in heart and mind, keeps us in the present, deepens our understanding of ourselves, nurtures our basic sanity, heightens our ability to be kind, and facilitates the mental and physical stamina to be doing our work in the world.
An Introduction to Yoga-Based Mindfulness Programs for Women Trauma Survivors
Sue Jones

Recent studies show that early childhood trauma and adverse childhood environments are at the root of avoidance dysfunction and the adoption of health-risk behaviors such as addiction, eating disorders, obesity, self-cutting, dissociation, and propensity toward suicide. Sue Jones, founder of yogaHOPE, leads us in an exploration of integrated mindfulness treatments for women trauma survivors that are gender responsive and trauma informed. We gain a basic understanding of the neurology behind early traumas and health risk behaviors, and discover what elements define a gender responsive program. We also learn what it means to be trauma informed, and how integrated mindfulness practices work to help trauma survivors develop healthy coping mechanisms when experiencing a stressor.


6:00 p.m.–7:15 p.m.

7:30 p.m.–9:30 p.m.
Yoga Service Poster Sessions

Join us for an opportunity to learn from and network with conference participants and faculty. Yoga service organizations and community members will be present with materials to share, and representatives will be available to answer questions and offer support.

SUNDAY, JUNE 9, 2013

7:00 a.m.–8:45 a.m.

8:30 a.m.–10:30 a.m.
Yoga, Neurobiology & Trauma

Bessel van der Kolk

The body is one of the arenas in which the memory of trauma is re-enacted. Traditional Western psychotherapy has approached the resolution of trauma as something that needs to be understood, worked through, and put into the larger perspective of one’s life. In the wake of the emerging knowledge of the neurobiology of trauma, this workshop presents the theoretical underpinnings of how pranayama, asanas, and meditation can change core neurobiological, trauma-related deficits.

10:30 a.m.–11:30 a.m.
Panel Discussion: Diversity & Cultural Awareness
Bidyut “B.K.” Bose
Participate in a lively discussion around issues of diversity within the yoga service community and the relevance of cultural awareness and sensitivity.

11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Closing: Community Connections
Yoga Service Council Board
12:30 p.m.–1:45 p.m.
Lunch & Departure