Members Attending (16): Terry Brewer, Debbie Rodriguez, Murray Forth, Pat Bailey, Bill Dowd, Roberto Martinez, Peter Brown, Debbie Brown, Dick Drumm, Dean Calamaras, Doris Calamaras, David Taylor, Ray Hannan, Melissa Bill, Len Leonidas, Ron Annis.
Guests (6): Rebecca Raymond, Mike Strangle, Collen Dundas, Lorenzo Murray, Willie Widby, Monica Annis.
PROGRAM: “Fistula Care in Malawi, Africa”
Debbie Rodriguez introduced a former colleague, Rebecca (Becky) Raymond. Becky retired from the NYS Department of Health in 2013, then volunteered with the Peace Corps to work on maternal health issues in the tiny African nation of Malawi. She was accompanied by Colleen Dundas, who lived in Malawi for two years as a health care volunteer. Both are members of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) of Northeastern New York.
Becky’s presentation, titled “Life Regained — Freedom from Fistula,” described the enormous problem of obstetrical fistulas in Malawai, the poorest nation in Africa.
An obstetrical fistula is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder that is caused by prolonged obstructed labor, leaving a woman incontinent of urine or feces or both. During such prolonged difficulty, the labor produces contractions that push the baby’s head against the mother’s pelvic bone. The soft tissues between the baby’s head and the pelvic bone are compressed and do not receive adequate blood flow, so the delicate tissue dies.
Women in impoverished areas of Africa who go untreated usually are abandoned by their husbands and ostracized by their community because of their smell and constant leaking. However, Becky said, with the proper surgical intervention they can resume normal lives.
The Freedom From Fistula Foundation, an organization founded in Scotland and financially supported by Rotarians there, is working to correct the problem in Malawi. Becky said progress is being made and deaths have been reduced by about half throughout sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to providing surgical care, the foundation helps train midwives, helps affected young women learn about proper hygiene and family planning, help some become “patient ambassadors” who spread the word throughout their mostly-rural communities about the medical care available, and even provides literacy and occupational training.
Some women who “graduate” from the fistula repairs and classroom training are given what is referred to as a “B Box,” a kit containing a solar panel and a small electrical charging device. Cellphones are popular in Malawi, but places to recharge them are scarce. Using the B Box, a young woman can collect a small amount of money by providing a charging station and, thus, having a small but steady income to help support herself.
A few other facts Becky shared: Only about one in every 50 Malawian women living with fistula gets treatment; 42% of women in poor countries deliver without the assistance of a midwife or doctor; fistula treatment costs $400 to $600 per case which, while inexpensive by our standards, is well beyond the reach of most Malawian women.
The RPCV will hold a “Freedom From Fistula Event” fundraiser from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 12, at Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church, 2291 Western Avenue, Guilderland. Tickets for the event, which will include a speaker and film from the foundation, along with food and a silent auction, are $30 and available online. Proceeds will go to the Freedom From Fistula Foundation.
President Terry Brewer asked Becky for details on the foundation’s financial practices. She said the Peace Corps group had asked for and examined three years’ worth of foundation records to ascertain how much donated money goes to direct services to women. Virtually everything does, she said, unlike many other NGOS (non-governmental organizations) that spend copiuos amounts on administration and overhead.
Terry said he will discuss with members an SRC donation, probably setting a goal of $5,000. He also noted that we might try partnering with another club to obtain a Rotary grant to help fund the foundation’s work. Becky and Colleen expressed their gratitude.
• ROTARY EXPO — Lorenzo Murray, a member of the Capital Region Rotary Club, was among the evening’s visitors. He spoke briefly about his club’s upcoming “3rd annual Business & Service Expo,” set for 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 5, at the Raddison Hotel, 205 Wolf Road, Colonie. The business-to-business networking event is open to the public. Details are available online. (Lorenzo, a member of the District 7190 Membership Committee, said the SRC club is the talk of the district because of its success in attracting many new members.)
• CLUB WEBSITE — Terry spoke about Bill Dowd’s continuing excellent work on our website and again urged all members to make a practice of regularly checking the site to stay up to date on local, district, and global Rotary news.
• RONALD McDONALD HOUSE — Debbie Rodriguez is firming up volunteer teams to prepare two meals at the family services complex in Albany, a breakfast in April and a dinner in May. See Debbie if you would like to assist.
• DR. JIM UPDATE — Roberto Martinez, who has been keeping members updated via e-mail on Jim Leyhane’s cardiac surgery this week, said he last spoken with Jim just an hour before the meeting. He has been moved to a regular room at Albany Med, and may be discharged over the weekend. Terry circulated a schedule for people to provide meals for Jim during his recuperation at home. Because he usually will have family members with him, meals should be enough for three or four people.
• THE LION KING — Doris Calamaras reported that there are only a few $20 balcony seats left for the Thursday, April 14, performance of the musical at Proctors in Schenectady. Center-section seats on the main floor still are available at prices ranging from $60 to $120.
• INDOOR GOLF — The “Early Spring Simulator Golf Tournament” scheduled for this Saturday at Burden Lake Country Club has two team slots still available. Contact Murray Forth if interested.
• THANK-YOU NOTE — Murray read a letter from Boy Scout Troop 41 thanking the club and some individual members for again underwriting camping expenses for troop members.
• ROTARY HOME COOKING — Next in the member-hosted series is at Pat Bailey’s residence on Saturday, March 19, then April 16 at the Dowd residence. In addition, a social mixer to help veteran and new members get to know each other better will be held at Roberto Martinez’s residence in April.
• SHELTERBOX SUPPORT — Terry said all clubs received an e-mail from District Governor Milan Jackson asking that they make every effort to underwrite one ShelterBox this year at a cost of $1,000. Terry said he responded that our club was buying five (5) boxes this year. Murray this week delivered our donation to Jack and Nancy Faddegon, the district coordinators for ShelterBox.
NEXT MEETINGS: We have both breakfast and dinner sessions scheduled for Thursday, March 17. Breakfast will begin at 7 a.m. at the Greenbush YMCA, and dinner at 6:15 p.m. at Quigley’s.