A Pyrmont Woman Is Changing Lives

A Pyrmont Woman Is Changing Lives

How a Pyrmont woman is changing the lives of thousands of women in Ethiopia when she buys gifts

From artillery shells in the mountains of Northern Ethiopia, to a beautiful necklace being worn in Pyrmont, the story of how scrap metal can change someone’s life is not lost on Sandra Gav.

The 60-year-old Pyrmont woman is a passionate supporter of the world’s most vulnerable women through the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation.

“To think I am wearing a necklace that’s made out of scrap metal is amazing. To know the story behind a product is very special, you don’t get that with most things you buy. And on top of this you are helping to provide employment for women who really need it,” she says.


In the mountains of Northern Ethiopia, farmers supply bead makers with artillery shells (from former war conflicts) that are found on their lands.

Through traditional techniques passed down for generations, the village artisans melt these shells down to produce handmade, delicate beads. Eventually they are sent to Entoto Mountain where a project employs women from the area. These women make the beautiful jewellery that ends up in Australia and with people like Sandra.

“I read a book about Catherine and Reg Hamlin moving to Ethiopia and I have just been in awe of their work ever since. They could have come back to Australia and lived a very comfortable life, but they chose to stay and help women who desperately need it.” 

The Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation was founded 60 years ago by Australian surgeons Catherine and Reg Hamlin. What started as a three-year posting in Ethiopia turned into a lifetime quest to provide treatment to the most marginalised women – those who have suffered an obstetric fistula.


Over the last 60 years the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation has helped over 60,000 women who have suffered an obstetric fistula. 

“It’s pretty amazing to think that buying a small gift for someone like a necklace or lip balm can contribute to such life-changing work,” Sandra says.

The Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation sells products online so everyone in Australia can have access to their Fairtrade and ethical products.

Artisans across Africa make Hamlin's products. They range from homewares, fashion accessories, jewellery, books, baby wraps and toys, spices, coffee and kitchen accessories. Every purchase helps provide income and employment to these artisans. It's all about conscious consumption. Shopping for a sustainable gift that supports employment in places where it is needed most.

In addition, the profits are used to support the work of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. Proceeds fund fistula treatment for many hundreds of Ethiopian women. 


Obstetric fistula is virtually a thing of the past in the western world.  But in rural Ethiopia, where women have little or no access to maternal healthcare, they will be in agonising labour for days if their birth is obstructed. They almost always lose their baby and suffer unimaginably horrific internal damage that leaves them leaking urine, faeces, and sometimes both. They are shunned and cut off from their communities.

With support from the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia gives these women back their life and dignity through surgery, rehabilitation and counselling. 

This article was written by Kate Mayhew.

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