Radical differences allowed the girls to relate. Lauren Burgess, 18, Launika Arya, 17 and Rebecca Gray, 17 were watching Oprah when a bit came on about a hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The medical center catered to women suffering from a condition called obstetric fistula. "This affected girls who were our age, 13-19," Burgess said. "We were sitting at home on our couch. Our lifestyles were completely different."
The differences allowed the girls to imagine themselves in the position of their counterparts halfway around the world. It also spurred them to action.
Obstetric Fistula is a condition caused as a result of an extremely long (sometimes lasting days) labor, Launika said. The condition is virtually unknown in industrialized nations as a result of the Cesarean Section.
Women who survive the labor typically have severe injuries such a hole in the bladder or rectum which reduces their control over the function of these organs. This lead to discomfort and a terrible smell, Burgess explained. "They are usually shunned," she said.
In 1974, Drs. Reginald and Catherine Hamlin opened the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital to help women with the condition. Women from all over the country visit the institution, typically by walking there from remote, rural areas.
According to the hospital's Web site, more than 100,000 women in developing countries are stricken with the condition each year.
In spite of the consequences, the condition is relatively easy to cure through an inexpensive surgical procedure. "It's a really easy procedure," Launika said.
The hospital not only helps the women medically, but also teaches them a trade, most often midwifery or animal husbandry.
AFTER SEEING the program on Oprah, the three Robinson students wanted to do something to help, and cmae up with a creative solution. "We held a charity benefit at the Embassy of Ethiopia," Burgess said.
The girls are members of the DECA program at Robinson Secondary and used the benefit as part of their annual project. "We always go out into the community for our projects," Burgess said.
"It was great," said Girmachew Tadesse, non-government organization liaison for the embassy. "We were very impressed with their whole initiative. They were able to raise awareness which is important."
About 130 people attended the $50-per-plate benefit. The girls were able to get catering donated by Etete Ethiopian Restaurant, and other aspects like stationary and flowers were donated as well.
In the process, they found out how difficult it can be to plan a dinner for 130 people. "You don't realize all the little details that go into it," Burgess said. They also learned skills that will likely help them in the business world. "We learned how to work with a non-profit and with an embassy," Burgess said.
The benefit was able to raise thousands of dollars. The money was collected by a group known as the King Baudouin Foundation because Fairfax County Public Schools regulations make it difficult for school-sponsored groups to raise money, the girls said. The foundation will forward the funds on to the hospital.
For more information about obstetric fistula or to make a donation to the hospital, visit www.fistulahospital.org.