Hot property: Sonia Fenton’s $1m gift to Ethiopian women in need

MARCH 5, 2014 

The proceeds from the sale of one of Sydney’s hottest properties are being handed over to help some of the world’s poorest and most desperate women.

Businesswoman and former South Sydney councillor Sonia Fenton had lived in the glamorous The Quay apartments at Circular Quay for about eight years when she heard of the life-changing work being done by an Australian obstetrician in Ethiopia.

On a whim, she flew to the African nation to see for herself the hospital that Catherine Hamlin, who has just been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, set up 40 years ago to provide medical services to poverty-stricken women suffering from damaged bodies after childbirth.

Ms Fenton was so moved by the experience that on her return, she put her apartment onto the market. She settled on the sale of the property last month and is now donating $1 million to the charity.

 

“When I came back from seeing what incredible work is being done to save the lives of women in the most agonising hardship, I realised how many more lives could be changed with a little more help,” says Ms Fenton, 69, a former banker.

“I read Catherine’s book about her life and the lives of these women and sobbed over every page. So really, it was an easy decision.”

The hospital treats women with obstetric fistula, which occurs when childbirth causes problems with the bladder and/or rectum where there is no adequate medical care. As a result, the women suffer severe urinary or 

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Sonia Fenton

rectal incontinence, and are often abandoned by their husbands and cast out by their families and communities.

A $600 operation can completely transform their lives.

As a child, Ms Fenton had an ovarian cyst. “I had the best medical attention and parents who doted on me,” she says.

“These women, on the other hand, have pee and poo running down their legs, no running water and no one to help them. They’re all so skinny because they try not to eat knowing it’s going

rectal incontinence, and are often abandoned by their husbands and cast out by their families and communities.

A $600 operation can completely transform their lives.

As a child, Ms Fenton had an ovarian cyst. “I had the best medical attention and parents who doted on me,” she says.

“These women, on the other hand, have pee and poo running down their legs, no running water and no one to help them. They’re all so skinny because they try not to eat knowing  it’s going to make the problem worse. It’s

absolutely heartbreaking.”

Ms Fenton says seeing the care and the second chance the women get is incredible.

Dr Hamlin, the multi-award-winning former Sydneysider, founded the hospital with her late husband Reg and has dedicated her life to helping the women. It has been said of her that she has one son and more than 40,000 daughters.

“It’s so wonderful to have so much financial support from my home country, Australia,” says Dr Hamlin, who turned 90 in January.

“My vision is to eradicate obstetric fistula and have a midwife in every village in Ethiopia. It might not be achieved in my lifetime, but with continued support from Australia, it will be achieved.”

The Australian-registered charity Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia raises funds for the hospital as well as for training midwives to prevent the problem occurring and a farm for long-term patients.

Ms Fenton’s donation will be used to set up and equip midwifery clinics in rural Ethiopia, among other activities, and the hospital relies on regular donations from supporters to keep its work going.

”It’s those regular small donors who give us $50 or $100 a month we’re so grateful to for making the work of the hospital sustainable, and Australians are the largest donors of anywhere else in the world,” says the charity’s chief executive, Lucy Perry.

Ms Fenton’s apartment was valued by the bank at $1.7 million. But when a neighbour, who by coincidence turned out to be a supporter of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, wanted to buy it, they negotiated a price of $1.9 million to enable her to give the round sum.

Source:hamlin.org.au


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