Story transcripts

Saint Catherine

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Reporter: Tara Brown
Producer: Stephen Taylor

In Africa, she's considered a saint. And having seen her at work, we’re not about to disagree.

Dr Catherine Hamlin has devoted her life to healing the broken bodies of Ethiopian girls who have been forced into marriage and then get pregnant at far too young an age.

But today this gentle woman is angry — angry with the Australian charity that has collected millions in her name.

She accuses the charity of not passing the donations on.

It's a $15 million rift that threatens a lifetime's work.

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia (Australia) Ltd is now the official, authorised representative in Australia for Dr Catherine Hamlin, the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and the Hamlin College of Midwives.

Dr Hamlin and CEO, Lucy Perry can be contacted at:

Go to the original story here.

Full transcript:

STORY – TARA BROWN: At 88, Dr Catherine Hamlin has the energy and fire of a much younger woman.

CATHERINE: I think I do fight a bit.

TARA BROWN: I know, I think the warning should be “don’t mess with Catherine Hamlin”.

CATHERINE: But I don’t like to be in a fight. I hate it, really.

TARA BROWN: But she’s not about to back away from the ugly stoush she currently finds herself in. I guess you still fight for what you believe in, don’t you?

CATHERINE: I do, I do fight for it.

TARA BROWN: A power struggle with the people she thought were her biggest supporters - the Australian fundraising arm of her very own charity, which she now accuses of withholding $15 million of donations.

CATHERINE: I feel betrayed. I feel that they’ve let me down, and they don’t care about the patients anymore. It’s affecting my health and my feeling of wellbeing, and I’m really, really very, very upset indeed, the way they’ve treated me.

TARA BROWN: Do you think they’re concerned that they’ve hurt you?

CATHERINE: No. I don’t think they care at all. They’re hoping that I’ll die, perhaps - I don’t know but I feel like that - they want me out of the way. Then we’re going to take a fat graft from this side here.

TARA BROWN: This is Dr Hamlin’s real job, and real joy, and what the donations are for - fixing young Ethiopian women who suffer terrible injuries in childbirth. You could have had such a different life, Catherine. You could have been a wealthy gynecologist in Australia.

CATHERINE: I don’t know, I think I’m lucky just to be here. She better have a drip put in.

TARA BROWN: When I first met Catherine in Ethiopia 10 years ago, her dedication and compassion were undeniable. Do you ever yearn for that sort of life?

CATHERINE: No, I don’t. I love my work here.

TARA BROWN: And her patients love her - and with good reason. What would have happened to you if you hadn’t come to this hospital?

CATHERINE: I would rather have died.

TARA BROWN: To be a woman in Ethiopia is tough. Just girls, many are married off to older men they don’t know. And because this is a poor country with very little medical help, when it comes to giving birth, they suffer terribly.

CATHERINE: All our little girls have been through a tremendous ordeal, five, six days - up to ten days of labour. And the only reason they finally deliver is because the baby is dead inside them. Give her some Maxilen now.

TARA BROWN: The stress of childbirth rips their tiny bodies apart - often, the girls are left incontinent which, unless treated, means a lifetime of suffering.

CATHERINE: They’re completely outcast, just because of this one thing that’s gone wrong in their labour. Now we’re very excited to see you all going home looking so beautiful.

TARA BROWN: With a relatively simple operation, Catherine can fix these young women, restore their dignity and return them to a normal life - and she does it for free, thanks to donations from all over the world.

CATHERINE: It was given by people that were touched by the plight of these women, and I’m very, very grateful to all the Australian public for their sympathy with what we’re doing, and for their love of what we’re doing.

TARA BROWN: But those donations are now in jeopardy. Catherine has cut ties with her former fundraising organisation here, after it supported demands she only accept fundraising help from hardline Christians. Against Catherine’s wishes, it continues to use her name, and keep control of the $15 million. Doug Marr is its boss, but he refuses to be interviewed. And so this dispute - the genesis of this dispute was all about religion?

CATHERINE: Yes it was. I don’t want to just put my beliefs or anyone else’s beliefs on top of people that don’t have the beliefs themselves.

TARA BROWN: If they’re donating money to you, it doesn’t matter their religion does it?

CATHERINE: No, I don’t mind at all.

SPEAKER: Would you please welcome into the room Dr Catherine Hamlin.

TARA BROWN: Catherine is in Australia to reassure her loyal donors the work at the hospital continues. With her son Richard, she has now established a new fundraising charity in Australia, with Lucy Perry as its CEO. Is the future of the hospital safe?

CATHERINE: I think so, because the future of the hospital is on the back of the reputation it has built over 53 years, and I think donors will support that. But it’s having a massive cash flow problem at the moment because this money is being held in Australia.

TARA BROWN: Half a century after she and her late husband Reg dedicated their lives to Ethiopia’s women, Catherine needs Australia’s help more than ever. Her simple message to all of us is don’t give up on her, and don’t give up on them.

CATHERINE: And if they could see the joy of a woman’s life being transformed from absolute dejection, isolation, and shame because of an injury that shouldn’t happen to a woman - if they could just see all this there would be no problem.

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