Imagine your home being burnt down by soldiers when you’re eight years old.
Imagine becoming the girlfriend of your married teacher so you can go to school even though you can’t afford the fees.
Imagine waking up to find your baby died during labour and you’re wet with incontinence.
Biawoe didn’t have to imagine. At the age of 22, this was her life story.
Describing the night her family’s house was torched during Liberia’s long civil war, or talking of the teacher who got her pregnant and then disappeared, or explaining how she stayed home for months with her condition, Biawoe spoke softly and without bitterness as she shared her story.
She endured labour for three days before being taken to a clinic near her home in rural Liberia. Her family borrowed almost 30,000 Liberian dollars (£600) for a caesarean that couldn’t save the baby and didn’t stop Biawoe developing a vesicovaginal fistula (VVF).
“I asked my mother if she put water on me,” she remembered. “But she said there was water nowhere near me.”
Her family couldn’t afford £100 for fistula surgery. After three months at the clinic, Biawoe stayed at home for another nine months.
“Every day you wash-wash-wash,” she said. “Washing clothes continually.”
A year after her difficult labour, Biawoe heard about the Mercy Ship Anastasis, the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, which was docking in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city. Biawoe attended a screening and was accepted to receive free fistula surgery onboard the ship. A Scottish surgeon, volunteering with the charity, operated on Biawoe and helped put her life back on track.
After the surgery, Biawoe hoped to complete her education and realise her dream of becoming a nurse – imagining a future quite different to her past.
I met Biawoe while I was volunteering with Mercy Ships in West Africa.
The World Health Organisation estimates that more than two million women in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa live with social ostracization and continuing health problems resulting from untreated obstetric fistula.