Debra Matityahu – Partner Spotlight

Est. Reading Time: 4 Minutes

In this week’s “Partner Spotlight” we meet Debra Matityahu. Debra is the founder of Beyond Fistula. In this blog, you will hear about how and why Debra founded her organization. She also shares some encouraging stories of success and why she loves the DonorSee community.

Tell us a little about you. What inspired you personally to get involved with this work?

I am an OBGYN physician in Northern California. In 2010, my family and I traveled to Eldoret, Kenya, where I volunteered to work alongside Dr. Hilary Mabeya, on women with obstetric fistulas (severe childbirth injuries). Dr. Mabeya runs the Gynocare Women’s and Fistula Hospital. While working with Dr. Mabeya, I was quite devastated to see the horrific damage that prolonged labor had done to these women and the social isolation they endured due to the smell from constant leakage of urine and/or feces due to their fistula. Most of the young girls had to drop out of school due to their leakage and smell, as they were bullied by classmates. Older women with fistula were considered “cursed” by their villages and were often abandoned by their families and husbands.

My oldest child (10 yrs old at that time) and I interviewed many of the women and girls after surgery to ask what they wanted to do, now that they no longer were leaking. They all wanted to either return to school or develop a skill that allowed them to earn money to support themselves and their families. These are women from remote villages, with no skills and no support. They have been economic hostages of their families. I felt that I had a moral obligation to become a voice for these women and tell their stories. I could be their voice and raise awareness and money to help them break their cycle of poverty and oppression.

Our mission began in a very grassroots fashion, helping just 3 girls return to school. We applied to be a non-profit in 2012, and have slowly grown and expanded our reach. We have now helped hundreds of women gain life and business skills to support themselves and their children.

Tell us about the work your Beyond Fistula does.

Beyond Fistula supports women in rural western Kenya to obtain an education, vocational training, business skills training, and business grants to help them reintegrate into society. These are women who have been ostracized from their communities due to stigma from having an obstetric fistula (severe childbirth injury). We help to support and train these women after they have undergone surgery to repair their fistulas (injuries).

Tell us about one amazing project you fundraised for on DonorSee this year.

We have many school girls and older women who have a colostomy due to their fistula. The cost of colostomy bags is quite high for them and in addition, there is a shortage of colostomy supplies in Kenya. We have raised funds for many of our women and girls to obtain colostomy supplies, and one in particular Faith. She is 15 yrs old and a good student. She is being supported by us to attend school, however, she struggles with managing her colostomy. She often does not have a colostomy bag to cover the stoma, which results in stool coming out and staining her clothes, and causing a strong odor. She attempts to stuff paper towels in the stoma to avoid leakage, but that doesn’t work well. She has avoided class trips or any event where she is not able to easily run to the latrine to clean herself or place fresh toilet paper or paper towels into the stoma. Raising funds to help purchase colostomy bags allows her the freedom to concentrate on her studies and her relationships, instead of continually worrying about her colostomy. It is truly life-changing for Faith and the others with colostomies.

Faith with the colostomy bags that the DonorSee community provided for her.

What are the key challenges you face?

Our biggest challenge is continuing to follow up with these women. Often they do well initially, and then their families intervene and demand that they give the family more and more of their money. We are working on offering longer-term support and follow-up for the women, but due to the remoteness of their villages, this is often a huge challenge.

What are your hopes and dreams for next year?

Our hope and plan for the coming year is to begin working on creating support groups for women in proximity to each other. We would like to facilitate the women in gathering a few times a year to support each other, learn from each other, and possibly create economic opportunities together.

Do you have a message for the DonorSee community?

The DonorSee community is clearly a group of caring and empathic individuals that want to make a difference in the world – one person/one cause at a time. The DonorSee community realizes the importance of giving a helping hand. We often have the desire to help others but are not sure where to start, or the best way to make a difference. Most of the time, so little of what we have can alter the course of another person’s life. DonorSee helps individuals from around the world share their voice and their story with us. It’s powerful, it’s meaningful, and the needs are real. I am proud to be part of this community and humbled to be able to share the stories of the women from my program in Kenya. I sincerely appreciate this community and can say with full honesty, you are making a difference in the lives of these women and their children.

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