Woman using soccer to remove shame from fistula victims

When the halftime whistle blows, members of Wadadia Football Club (FC) use the time to educate their opponents in the match and the spectators on obstetric fistula and all that it entails.

Other than participating in the Football Kenya Federation Women Premier League (WPL), the 15-member, all-female team some of whom are obstetric fistula survivors, offers hope to fistula and sexual abuse victims through sensitisation programs.

“We engage our opponents during half time. After the match, we also speak to the crowds and tell them that fistula is treatable and they should seek treatment if diagnosed,” says Ms Lily Wanyama, a member of the team and fistula survivor.

She says they also use their matches to sensitise the public about other sexual reproductive related issues.

The advocacy and awareness soccer team established in 2012, finished eighth in the women’s league last season, and are determined to perform better in the new season. It also won two tournaments in western Kenya ahead of the 2018 Kenya Women Premier League season.

Reaching out

Ms Wanyama says that through the club, which trains at Nabongo grounds in Mumias town, she is able to sustain herself and reach out to more fistula victims.

Wadadia (Western Kenya-based Women and Development against Distress in Africa) is the brainchild of Fistula Foundation Programs Director Habiba Mohamed who doubles as patron of Wadadia FC also known as ‘Kick Fistula out of Africa’.

Habiba, 41, has been an advocate for obstetric fistula and sexual violence survivors for a long time.

Wadadia won the 2019 global NOthing about us Without Us (NOW Us) Award. The ‘Spindle, Partos and Voice’ award particularly recognised Wadadia’s project ‘voices of hope and action’ a fistula survivors’ movement, for being the most impactful innovative initiative.

The project, partially supported by Fistula Foundation, identifies women with fistula, helps them access free treatment, and takes them through a comprehensive reintegration program that involves psycho-social support.

The NOW Us award recognises and honours initiatives from Africa and Asia that promote diversity and inclusion to trigger self-empowerment of marginalised and excluded groups and communities.

Fistula cases

Ms Habiba has empowered women economically, given them access to sexual and reproductive health services, education, and mentorship. She offers them platforms to interact with policymakers and other stakeholders who advocate for safe motherhood and sexual reproductive health and rights that lead to prevention of new fistula cases as well as recurrence.

“Winning a global award to me was a great validation that Wadadia’s ‘Voices of Hope and Action’ is changing lives and shaping the future by including fistula survivors in advocating for their sexual reproductive health rights and socio-economic wellbeing,” says Ms Habiba who was born and raised in Mumias, Kakamega County.

Childbirth injury

Fistula is a childbirth injury associated with prolonged obstruction of labour that causes women to leak urine and faeces or both. Women suffering from the condition suffer multiple losses.

 “I am passionate about healing and restoration of survivors because if not addressed, it affects their families and community,” she says.

“Low self-esteem, anger, resentment and doubt, make the women and children vulnerable to re-victimisation.”

Habiba says such women not only lose their baby(s) on delivery, but also lose their spouses, friends, ability to control their bladder, ability to work and feeling of unworthiness, making some sink into depression and even get suicidal.

“Though obstetric fistula is preventable and treatable, it is heart-breaking that about two million women in Africa and Asia still suffer this condition. We plan to use our cash prize in establishing a safe place where women in our program can stay as they access the services our centre offers for their holistic recovery,” explains an excited Habiba who won the award alongside Nadhifa Jama, a fistula survivor.

Community needs

The prize earned the two 25,000 Euro (Sh2.7 million) to put toward the program.

Wadadia started as a self-help group gradually changing their status to a community-based organisation and eventually an NGO, to effectively address the community needs.

“Obstetric fistula is the most devastating of childbirth injuries that it has been labelled the most frightful affliction of humankind. To curb this, I started Wadadia FC alongside the late club chairman Yusuf Omenda, to give hope to survivors through sports therapy,” says Ms Habiba.

She adds that the football club redefines the role of the youths and particularly young girls in the community.

“The team brings together beneficiaries of our programs to help them through play therapy. Through the games, they have recovered their self-esteem and fit well in the society,” she says.

She reiterates that they note the impact they have had on the lives of fistula survivors when they gain confidence and start interacting with other members of the community

“Initially, we had activities like Tae Kwondo, music, and drama in which they participated. But as we continued, it was clear the girls had a lot of talent in football, and that the game was also a crowd puller. We decided to use football as not only a way of impacting on the girls, but also reaching out to the community,” she explains.

Through the club, they have supported 300 women to access free fistula treatment within Kakamega County courtesy of the Fistula Foundation.

Women's league

The team was registered in the national league, going through various stages, and are currently in their third year in the women’s league.

Apart from football, Wadadia management provides mentorship to the Wadadia FC members. The girls have embraced the reintegration program where they access computer training, beadwork, sewing, catering, quilting and hairdressing.

Faith Atieno, a midfielder in the team says they are committed to creating awareness about the devastating conditions of obstetric fistula through Wadadia FC.

“We reach out to victims of fistula at the grassroots through community outreach and field officers and corps, to help them heal and become productive in the community because some of us have been there, and overcame it,” explains Atieno, a fistula survivor from Siaya County.

Ms Atieno says she now aspires to play for Barcelona Women Football club in Spain in future.

Main challenge

Among notable faces in the team are Harambee Starlets goalkeeper Monica Odato and Joventine Simba spotted in the Safaricom Chapa Dimba, both students at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology.

Team manager Florence Nanjala, says the team’s main challenge is mobility.

“Shuttling from our Mumias home base for away matches is a challenge because we don’t have our own vehicle. We appeal to more well-wishers to support us so that we can continue touching more lives, and giving hope to women and young girls who are victims of obstetric fistula,” explains Ms Nanjala.