7th Annual Family of Women Film Festival

I had the unique opportunity to interview Allison Shigo to be included in the publication for the 7th Annual Family of Woman Film Festival. Below is a description of the event. To find out more, visit www.familyofwomanfilmfestival.org

The Family of Woman Film Festival was launched in 2007 by Friends of UNFPA Board Member, Peggy Elliott Goldwyn, in Sun Valley, to bring attention to the work of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The first year, four films were presented highlighting the status of women in the developing world.

The festival has grown to include five films, both drama and documentary, along with guest speakers from UNFPA, who give free lectures to the public through the sponsorship of The Ketchum Community Library, as well as visits to local schools along with guest film-makers. Other local collaborators include The Community School, The Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence, The Wood River Religious Leadership Council, and St. Luke's Wood River Foundation.

As well as the main Festival, other films have been presented as special events and a photographic exhibit by local women photographers of women and children in the developing world was presented, from which a series of note cards were developed to benefit UNFPA.

Several films from the festival have also been screened by Friends of UNFPA in Minneapolis, Seattle, New York and other locations.

In 2012, Stephanie Freid-Perenchio became Co-Chairman of the Family of Woman Film Festival.

The 2014 Sun Valley Family of Woman Film Festival will take place from March 7 – March 9. Five dramas and documentaries will be screened at The Sun Valley Opera House.

Filmmaker Update with Allison Shigo

A Walk to Beautiful is an award winning documentary that follows five women in Ethiopia and their transformation after having surgery to repair their obstetric fistula. Allison Shigo, coproducer of the film, was so affected by the crisis in Ethiopia that she co-founded Healing Hands of Joy, a program designed to educate mothers about fistula, and reintegrate fistula survivors into society. She is now the Executive Director of HHOJ, determined to give survivors of obstetric fistula a new and better future. Communicating from Ethiopia, Allison updated us on her life since the release of the film in 2007. 

Q: What first brought your attention to the fistula crisis in Ethiopia? 
A: In 2003, I was working at the NYC -based documentary production company, Engel Entertainment and my co-workers brought to my attention an op-ed piece written by NY Times columnist Nicolas Kristof about Ethiopian women suffering from obstetric fistula. Everyone in the office was shocked to learn about this issue, that was destroying the lives of an estimated 2-3 million women worldwide and we had never heard about it. We decided a documentary had to be made on the subject. 

Q: Was the filming of A Walk to Beautiful your first experience in Ethiopia? 
A: Filming A Walk to Beautiful was my first time traveling to sub-sahara Africa and I feel in love with Ethiopia immediately. The countryside is beautiful, the people so friendly and kind and the experience unforgettable. At the time, I never dreamed I'd have the opportunity to return and build a center for fistula survivors. 

Q: How much time are you spending there now? 
A: Healing Hands of Joy has established a center in Mekelle, Ethiopia that provides fistula survivors with counseling, income-generating skills training that includes a micro-loan, literacy training and maternal health education. After one month, women graduate as Safe Motherhood Ambassadors to educate pregnant women about the dangers of home delivery, how fistula is caused, and promote safe delivery. We have a full staff of 11 people and I serve as HHOJ's Executive Director. I spent about 5 months/year in Ethiopia. 

Q: What are the 2014 plans for HHOJ? 
A: We’ve grown rapidly over the past three years. Since opening our center in 2010 we've trained 225 fistula survivors who have educated over 4,000 women across the Tigray region of Northern Ethiopia. We've also conducted dozens of Community Engagement Events and Launching workshops to link our Safe Motherhood Ambassadors with Community Leaders, health workers and midwives. In 2014, we are partnering with World Vision, A Glimmer of Hope and a local-NGO, CSSP to train 110 fistula survivors from 16 counties in the Tigray region - it's a vast area where there has been little intervention to identify fistula patients. We are also working with Mekelle - University school of midwifery to establish "Skilled Hands of Joy" a program to upgrade the skills of rural midwives. Finally, working with the Ministry of Communications and Chinese tele-com company, Huawei we will equip our Safe motherhood Ambassadors with mobile phones and innovative software to alert Health workers and midwives of complicated deliveries. 

Q: Elaborate on some of the educational and therapeutic methods employed by Healing Hands
of Joy that are important to the 'whole' healing of a fistula patient. 
A: Education and counseling are vital in the holistic care we provide. Many of the women we work with have been married at a very young age, 10-13 and have had no opportunity for education. Our literacy training teaches them how to write their name for the first time, which empowers them. One SMA said of the training "my mind has become bright." Psychological and Spiritual counseling are also very important in their healing process. These women have been outcast by their families and communities and in some cases considered "cursed" by God. They have dealt with abandonment, divorce and anxiety over thinking they will never be cured. Our center also serves as a "retreat" where we provide a loving home environment, beds, water and
meals that are difficult to come by in the rural Ethiopian countryside. 

Q: Will you talk about your affiliation with UNFPA, and the meaning of UNFPA's work in Ethiopia? 
A: We worked with UNFPA on our outreach film "Fistula is Not A Curse" that we screen in rural communities to raise awareness about fistula prevention, treatment and the work of Safe Motherhood Ambassadors. We were honored to attend the UNFPA's launching event for Intl. Day to End Obstetric Fistula. The UNFPA invited Safe Motherhood Ambassador, Beriha Reda, from rural Ethiopia to speak at the United Nations on behalf of fistula survivors worldwide. In Ethiopia, the UNFPA is working to train midwives and we hope to partner with them on Skilled Hands of Joy. 

Q: A Walk to Beautiful was a hugely successful film - beautiful, moving and educational. How has your life changed since its success? 
A: Working on A Walk to Beautiful changed my life dramatically. After spending time with Ethiopian women suffering from fistula, I felt called to work to eradicate fistula and support the social reintegration of fistula survivors. At the time, there were very few programs assisting fistula survivors-post surgery and no programs that believed that these strong women could join the fight to end fistula by educating their communities. Over time I realized this work could not be part-time. I decided to leave Engel Entertainment in 2010 to work full-time to establish the Safe Motherhood Ambassador training program in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has become my home away from home...i would like to be here full-time one day once we have a full-time fundraiser to help us in the US. 

Healing Hands of Joy (HHOJ) 

HHOJ is a non-profit organization that exits to bring hope, happiness and a second chance to women affected by obstetric fistula. Currently working in northern Ethiopia, their focus is to empower survivors with the causes and prevention of fistula, so they can re-enter their communities and help prevent future cases. To ensure a sustainable model, these trained survivors known as Safe Motherhood Ambassadors return to their villages with education, financial support, and the partnership of local health and social service providers. Learn more at www.healinghandsofjoy.com