A Walk to Beautiful
Tuesday, May 13 at 8pm ET/PT on PBS
A difficult journey that begins in hopelessness and shame for thousands of women in Ethiopia ends in a productive new life on A Walk to Beautiful, an award-winning documentary airing in its television premiere on NOVA, Tuesday, May 13 at 8pm ET/PT on PBS (check local listings).
Shot in a starkly beautiful landscape, the film juxtaposes the isolated lives of village women who are outcasts because of their medical condition, with the faraway hospital that offers a miracle after a long and arduous trek–a “walk to beautiful.”
The feature-length version of A Walk to Beautiful took top honors at the 2007 International Documentary Association Awards Competition, where it was named Best Feature Documentary. It also won the People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary at the Starz Denver Film Festival, the Audience Award at both the San Francisco and St. Louis international film festivals, and the Best Human Rights Film Award at the International
Documentary Festival of Barcelona.
The film tells the personal stories of rural women who make their way to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, seeking treatment for obstetric fistula, a life-shattering complication of childbirth that was once common in the pre-industrial United States but that is now relegated to the poorest regions of the world. In Ethiopia alone, there are an estimated 100,000 women suffering from untreated fistulas.
Women with small pelvises, whether due to malnutrition, overwork, or because they married too young, are most at risk, since there is often not room for the baby to emerge during birth. The result can be an obstructed labor that may last up to 10 days, a stillborn baby, and a trauma-induced hole, or fistula, in the vaginal wall that produces chronic incontinence. The women profiled in A Walk to Beautiful are treated as virtual lepers in their villages, where they are shunned by family and made to live alone. One woman admits to contemplating suicide.
Through chance they learn that there are other women who share their affliction, and that the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital exists to help them, if they can manage to walk for hours to the nearest road, find public transport to the capital, and then search out the hospital in a strange and forbidding city. Once there, they enter a haven that they never imagined, surrounded by women like themselves and a medical staff of Western and African doctors who treat them like human beings, not outcasts.
The story of this experience is told through the women’s own eyes and voices. There is Ayehu, 25, living in a makeshift shack behind her mother’s house where she has hidden for four years. Almaz, also in her 20s, has suffered from a double fistula for three years. For Wubete, 17, early marriage and her small physical stature left her with bladder damage that makes her case especially difficult.
“My husband and I came to Ethiopia in 1959,” says the hospital’s cofounder, Dr. Catherine Hamlin, who is from Australia. “The previous gynecologist that we replaced said to my husband, ‘The fistula patients will break your hearts.'”
And so they did. Dr. Hamlin and her husband devoted their life’s work to the cause. Her husband died in 1993. But she is still there.
Now in its 35th year of broadcasting, NOVA is produced for PBS by the WGBH Science Unit at WGBH Boston. The Director of the WGBH Science Unit and Senior Executive Producer of NOVA is Paula S. Apsell. Funding for NOVA is provided by David H. Koch, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and public television viewers.
Funding for A Walk to Beautiful is provided by The Fistula Foundation, The Marianthi Foundation, The Fledgling Film Fund, and others.
NOVA is closed captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers and described for people who are blind or visually impaired by the Media Access Group at WGBH. The descriptive narration is available on the SAP channel or stereo TV and VCRs. A Walk to Beautiful will be available on DVD wherever videos are sold. To order direct from WGBH Boston Video, visit shop.wgbh.org or call 800.949.8670.