Sr Germaine Aoulassa from Cameroon has just completed three years of study for her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She shares with us the experiences and emotions that marked the elaboration of her thesis, which she defended with a very honourable mention.
Discovery of a shocking reality
In the course of my studies, during an internship at the Protestant Hospital of Ngaoundéré, I discovered a reality experienced by some women that upset me. They suffer from obstetric fistulas, most often following prolonged and obstructed labour. They are stigmatized, forced to isolate themselves and remain silent about their condition because of the physical consequences of this condition and their rejection by society.
My thesis at the end of my Bachelor of Nursing degree focused on “The experience of women who have undergone obstetric fistula repairs“. I was called upon to step out of my comfort zone and to question my comfortable life in order to make way for active and loving compassion. This condition affects human dignity and in particular the dignity of women. As a Daughter of Jesus, this did not leave me indifferent, as this year in community we have opted to live the orientation “Towards the periphery”. I tried to better understand what these women with this condition were going through and how they live after the surgical repair. Do they regain their dignity?
Living in solitude and isolation
In order to do this, I conducted my study in the far North of Cameroon, in the locality of Mora, particularly in five surrounding villages where an already often difficult access to emergency obstetric care is made even harder by the threat of Boko-Haram (terrorists). I discovered that, once the fistula is repaired, most of these women still live in loneliness and isolation, because of the way society looks at them and the prejudices that have not changed much. This environment does not easily assimilate the repair and the concomitant disappearance of signs and symptoms. Women themselves continue to have a disturbed self-image. They are struggling to regain their dignity and to reintegrate. Nevertheless, they mobilize personal, spiritual and social resources to get by on a daily basis.
Learning to get out of this situation
These women made me discover that simply being listened to can allow them to free themselves. Where no-one had been interested in them post-repair, they found an attentive ear. They taught me to dare, to cultivate patience, perseverance, and abandonment to God. I felt very small in front of them. They also taught me to develop ways to face up to any situation and to trust the Lord who is always faithful.
This is in line with the words of Mother Marie de Saint Charles, Superior General for 38 years in the 19th century, who accompanied me:
“Let us strive to progress continuously
in the spirit of faith
which sees God in all things
and all things in God
and which learns to turn all obstacles
into means of advancing towards Him”
Rule of Life p.38.
This experience taught me that prejudice can destroy a life. I learned to listen. I was thus able to allow some women who are still waiting for a repair to establish a link with a care structure.
I felt called to follow Jesus who never condemns, who welcomes and helps each person to regain his or her dignity, to rise again, to follow Him and to witness. I give thanks to the Lord who allowed me to dare to travel to the far North, despite the insecurity, to meet these women and get to know more about their living conditions, in order to work for an improvement in the future.
Thank you to my community and to all the people who supported me in this research.
Sr Germaine Aoulassa, fj