By: Habiba Cooper Diallo
The planning started in February while I was on a study abroad program in France. My mother and sister, Afua and Lami, along with a close friend, Juanita, worked tirelessly to organize my fundraiser while I was away.
The morning of my party, I was invited onto the African Woman & Family show on CIUT radio to give an interview about starting WHOI and my recent trip to Ethiopia. I really enjoyed the interview as I was able explain the tragedy of the affliction and discuss the ways in which WHOI intends to do to support fistula.
I quickly left the studio and made my way to the party venue, a lively restaurant in down town Toronto called the Harlem. Upon arrival, my mother, sister, and some friends were setting-up. Ron Fanfair from the Share newspaper was also present to do a brief interview with me about the fundraiser. We went into one of the back rooms where he could get a good audio recording.
On April 6th, I turned 16. On Saturday, I held a sweet 16 birthday party fundraiser and pre-launch of my organization, WHOI.
Soon, the party was on. Guests started streaming into the Harlem vibrantly dressed in green, blues, and reds. Master Djembe player, Nation Cheong along with fellow drummers energised the space with spirited West African Djembe rhythms; while Hameed Shaqq, the Panpiper, filled the room with inspiring and upbeat steel pan melodies.
Once the guests had enough to nibble on and the energy in room was content and relaxed, I took to the stage greet everyone and thank them for coming. I spoke to them about my new organization, WHOI, and the mandate we are going to pursue with regards to bringing awareness about obstetric fistula to Canada and addressing health issues faced by women in the African diaspora in Canada. I shared Anafghat’s story with them and explained how she is my inspiration and the inspiration behind WHOI.
Everyone became subdued when I explained what an obstetric fistula is and the kind of shame and stigma experienced by the fistula patients. I also highlighted some of the presentations I’ve given on fistula, such as at the Word On The Street. I think the audience was perhaps most taken when I began the slideshow about my trip to the fistula hospital in Ethiopia.
We had an engaging question and answer period during which time the guests asked extremely thoughtful questions around how fistula occurs and ways to prevent it.
Next up was the Habesha Crew dancers which constituted by friends, Betiel, Feven, Rahwa… and apparently myself, once I was invited to join in ;) we danced Guayla a traditional Tigrayan dance from Ethiopia and Eritrea. We shook our shoulders to the rhythmic throb of the Kebero drums, while long-time family friend Zeinab, ululated from the audience.
Then, we did cake and everyone began pouring onto the stage to commend my work and extend their best wishes to WHOI. I could not have asked for a better Sweet 16.
I must thank everyone who came out, all of my friends and relatives. I owe a big thank you to my mother, sister, and friend Juanita who worked so hard to put this together. To Betiel, Rahwa and Feven from the Habesha Crew dance group, you all brought so much joy to my celebration. Thank you also to C.J. Cromwell, Jordan Viera, and Akeem Segree for the amazing videography, photography, and IT support.
As well, I am very grateful to Mesfin Aman, from the African Woman & Family Show on CIUT Radio, Fana Seife (who although could not attend was a great supporter), Beza Seife from CBC News, and Ron Fanfair from the Share newspaper for supporting WHOI and my work on fistula so tremendously by featuring me on their media. Thank you all.
Habiba Cooper Diallo
I am a Canadian fistula advocate and blogger, and the founder of the Women’s Health Organization International, WHOI. I have been doing fistula awareness-building in Canada for the past 10 years. My work on fistula has led me to Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone. I have been featured in Forbes, the HuffPost, and UNFPA