NYC exhibition update

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The Drawing Out Obstetric Fistula exhibition at the Kimmel Galleries in NYC has been extended through December this year! I am delighted of course and this is great news as it will allow the exhibition to reach a bigger audience and continue the good work in raising awareness and increasing understanding of the experience of fistula. The reaction to the show up to now has been really encouraging…below is a comment on progress from sponsors and organisers, the Kupona Foundation.

To see a slide show of the work in the exhibition check out the dedicated page on this site.

So far, the exhibition has raised over $26,000 in support and sponsorship as we fight to end fistula within a generation. It has also triggered multiple conversations with potential new partners. Our Twitter chat the day of the launch made over 3 million impressions, and our efforts to publicize the exhibition continue. We have been thrilled by the response, and are so grateful for support from the artist, Jac Saorsa, and our sponsors Johnson & Johnson, Fistula Foundation, the UNFPA-led Campaign to End Fistula and New York University’s Kimmel Center and College of Global Public Health.

New York Exhibition open!

The Drawing Out Obstetric Fistula 2016 exhibition is now open!

I am in New York, the work is hung, and I am preparing for the launch night – it kicks off at 7pm tonight and we are looking forward to a great evening. Being back in the city is strange for me as it harbours  many memories. I lived here while studying at the New York Academy…  it has been an emotional few days for very many reasons and on very many levels.

I will post images of the whole show, and of tonight’s event, once I get back to the UK…in the meantime here is a ‘teaser shot’ shot of part of the show on the wall at the Kimmel gallery.

My grateful thanks to everyone who has worked so hard to help me realise this exhibition


drawing classes at Mabinti Centre, Dar es Salaam

The first drawing class at Mabinti was yesterday and was a great success. It felt so good to be back with the women again especially as they were now so much more confident. The feeling at Mabinti is so very different from that at the CCBRT Fistula clinic. The women seem to have regained their sense of self, and the sadness, though still there, seems to have lifted out of the despair that always lurked in the shadows of themselves.

I am working with half the group of trainees this week and with the other half next week. With such a small group – only five women – it is easier to get to know the individual personalities. This time the smiles are genuine and happy, they no longer lower their eyes and we are equals – as it should be!

The first lesson is about pattern and colour. The thick book full of pattern examples is eagerly accepted and pored over. I show them the colour wheel, I teach them ‘first’ colours and ‘second’ colours. I continuously use my Swahili dictionary and my phrase book to try to smatter my explanations with nouns and adverbs of their own language. I wanted to show respect and they joined in the struggle with much laughter and giggling as I stumbled through colours – ‘rangi’ – and the relation between hot (‘johto’) and cold (‘baridi’). They had fun and so …so very much…did I.

The images below are examples of the work done by the women.


Drawing from the first lesson


Drawing from first lesson

The next lesson today was about drawing and decorating feet (mgoo). Much laughter accompanied the drawing around of each others feet and once everybody had their two feet outlined on the page they began to decorate one with ‘hot’ colours and one with ‘cold’. Inevitably hands were next and the designs became increasingly complex. The remainder of the session – which continued for over three hours – was taken up by my demonstrating the difference between shape and form and how to ‘construct’ a convincing three-dimensional bottle on the page. All this was obediently copied but it wasn’t long before I was showing them how to draw far more interesting things – a zebra for example, a giraffe, and of course an elephant. The women just love copying and multi-coloured elephants soon presided over boring wine bottles!!

DSCN0510Lunch was a deep pleasure. I ate together with the whole group, shoulder to shoulder at makeshift tables in the sunshine. We ate rice from plastic boxes ordered in as every day from a local café. I was the only one eating with a spoon, which had been politely and thoughtfully provided for me. I had been prepared to eat with my fingers as everybody else did but I have to admit I was secretly relieved! I felt warmly accepted, I felt real and full of life. I felt as if I was close to something – a way of being – that has become unreachable in the western society to which I am more accustomed.

I teach in the mornings and I focus on my own work in the afternoons. The following images are some of the sketches I’ve made in the last couple of days. Together with photographs I am taking they will provide a basis for studio work when I get home.

Ironing cushion covers in the sun

Ironing cushion covers in the sun




At lunch



Looking from the Banda to the sewing room

Looking from the Banda to the sewing room


We are excited to announce that there will be TWO exhibitions this year of the work for Drawing Out Obstetric Fistula. The first will be at The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in May, and the second will be at the Waterloo Tea gardens Gallery in August.

More details to follow!


On the ward

On the ward

On the ward

She looks tiny. Very young

as she lay covered in the rough cotton sheet

one thin arm visible

a chin

the sole of a foot

motionless, sleeping

under the window

through which the soft, warm breeze is blowing.

A woman comes

brings her food and wakes her.

She is tiny. But not young.

Drenched in urine

the pale blue gown is soaked through.

The woman who has come helps her up

and she follows

slowly, obediently

out of the ward.

As she passes she glances at me

an old face, careworn

full of emotional pain

all defiance gone

all defences down.

She glances at me but only for a second

before she lowers her eyes.

Urine runs down her legs.

She looks tiny.


Wednesday December 12th

Mabinti in Swahili means ‘girls’. It is a fitting name for a place that gives girls and women who have lived through the trauma of having a fistula a chance of a new life. Mabinti is a centre where each year ten girls recovering from fistula surgery at CCBRT (Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania) are given the opportunity to study sewing, beading, crochet, screen-printing and, very importantly, business skills. The course lasts for twelve months and the aim is that the skills learned will equip the women to start up their own small businesses making and selling quality textiles to tourists. The success rate is high, indeed, since Mabinti opened in 2007, many graduates have built thriving small businesses and after, for some, many years of misery and shame, now live happily and independently .

As Katia, the founder and director of the centre, gives Alison and I a guided tour I warm to the place immediately. The facilities are basic but well designed and laid out. There is no hostel here, the women are found accommodation in local family homes around the centre and have to attend regularly each day, and on time. This may seem a reasonable expectation but as Katia tells us often the women come from a way of life in the villages where there is no real concept of keeping to a schedule and the discipline of doing so is something they have to learn.

This from the Mabinti brochure:

The Mabinti women are from very poor families and have rarely had access to education. At Mabinti they learn a range of important skills such as entrepreneurship and English as well as life skills including: decision making, communication, family planning and HIV?AIDS prevention.

At Mabinti the women are taught how to dye the cloth and screen print their own original designs to create textiles that they then use to sew into bags, make-up cases, pencil cases, cushion covers, table runners and various other things that have become very popular with tourists over the years. Katia, a former primary school teacher, is clearly a very astute business woman and has researched the market intensively. She also has high expectations of the quality of the goods that bear the Mabinti logo and is fastidious in ensuring that everything from the least expensive key fob to the most expensive bag comes up to the required standard. This being said Katia also comes across as one of the most enthusiastic people I have met for a long time. Her obvious passion for what she does and her complete satisfaction in her job shines through her easy smile and friendly engaging manner. She makes us feel very welcome and is obviously, and quite rightly, proud of her centre.

In the classroom students sit at sewing machines, however the lesson is not sewing this morning, it is business skills. The teacher expounds in Swahili and the women seem attentive and happy. It is great to see these women looking so healthy and cheerful. They demonstrate their individuality in the vibrantly colourful kangas they are wearing, a far cry from the blue hospital gowns they must have worn, as all the patients do, on the fistula ward. Further on through the low building other students are making cushion covers. Katia inspects the quality of the sewing as she passes, smiling and with a few words of encouragement for the women. Outside two students are working with a teacher learning how to screen print onto square cloth which most likely will later be sewn into more cushion covers. One student is more experienced that the other and waits patiently for her turn to pull the white ink through the screen with the rubber squeegee. I recognise her as the woman who came to CCBRT to teach the patients crochet and Katia told us that she is in fact a graduate of the program who has stayed on to now work at Mabinta helping others. The design is a simple flower petal in white on a silver grey background and the delight on the first woman’s face when she sees the result on her labour is a joy to see.

screen printing at Mabinti

screen printing at Mabinti

Mabinti seems to be a great set up and offers a fantastic opportunity for a small number of women, some of whom may have nowhere to go and once they have been treated for their fistula. Often families and husbands have abandoned their women because of the condition and, as outcasts from society, they have no home or way of life to return to after their time at CCBRT. After graduating from the program each woman is given a start-up kit which includes a sewing machine, scissors a supply of material and a calculator. All the graduates maintain links with the centre visiting once a month for a coaching session and home visits are organised to gather information about how their business is progressing.

Of course not all of the women can benefit from the opportunity that Mabinti offers, but it has been proven without doubt that for many of those who do gain a place on the program the rewards are great.