A Walk to Beautiful
Produced by Mary Olive Smith

[2007. Santa Clara, California: The Fistula Foundation; 53 minutes, DVD.]

[Review first published in Midwifery Today Issue 93, Spring 2010, © 2010, Midwifery Today, Inc. Review by Cheryl K. Smith.]

I’ve read the articles about women with fistulas and the programs that help them in Midwifery Today (“Iye Sowodie’s ‘Gladdie, Gladdie’ Day,” Issue 80, Winter 2006; “What Hope Looks Like: A Visit to the Fistula Hospital,” Issue 76, Winter 2005) and, while they artfully depict the situation, nothing beats a documentary film for showing what it’s like. Emmy-winning A Walk to Beautiful follows the stories of five women from Ethiopia who suffered obstructed labor, developed fistulas that left them incontinent, and were shunned by their families and society at large. Their fate was heartbreaking—not only had they lost a baby, but they found themselves with no friends and living in separate lean-to’s or shacks because of the odor that no one wanted to be around.

A number of social factors cause so many women to develop fistulas in Ethiopia. First, the women have to do physical labor starting as very young girls. Because of the heavy lifting and carrying water for long distances, and inadequate diet, many of them have stunted growth. Then they also are pushed into marriage at 8, 9 or 10 years of age—usually with an older man. When they get pregnant under these circumstances, their pelvises often aren’t large enough to deliver a baby without assistance. And this is where the final social factor comes in: The nearest health care facility may be hours away on foot, and that is the only way they can get there.

Each of the women makes the journey to the Fistula Hospital, which exists thanks to Catherine Hamlin (and her late husband, Reginald Hamlin) who started the nonprofit. The dedicated staff works tirelessly to repair the fistulas suffered by a seemingly endless number of women.

Despite the content, this movie is not a downer—it’s uplifting. What struck me was the look on the women’s faces when they realized that other women had this problem, too. Learning that they were not alone was the first step in healing. The surgery, along with counseling, gave them new lives and some women were able to return home feeling normal. For each woman helped, there is one more to spread the word about the hospital so others can come out of hiding and get help. You can watch this movie free online at Nova, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/beautiful/program.html.

Reviewer Cheryl K. Smith is a freelance writer. She wrote and published Goat Health Care and is currently writing Raising Goats for Dummies. She also raises a small herd of mini dairy goats in the coast range of Oregon.