Long Distance Cyclers Helping to End Fistula

30 May 2008
Author: UNFPA

SEATTLE --- "Making a positive change is really a choice,” said Kelsea Peterman, 23. Kelsea and her sister Amber, 27, have recently made that choice by merging two of their individual passions – the cause to end obstetric fistula and the physical challenge of long-distance cycling.

On 27 May 2008 the women embarked on an 1,100-mile bike ride from Seattle to San Francisco to raise money for the global Campaign to End Fistula, spearheaded by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

Kelsea and Amber Peterman hit the road.

The initial goal, as stated on the ‘Bike to End Fistula’ website was to raise $3,000 for the Campaign, which covers the cost of the repair and rehabilitation of 10 women. The two women surpassed this objective, raising $3,316 before even hitting the road.

“I hope people will not stop donating because of this,” said Amber, acknowledging the achieved target. “But the point is more to create publicity around the cause and inspire others.”

It was Amber, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, who educated her sister about obstetric fistula, a devastating injury of childbearing that results in incontinence, and then, typically, social isolation. Amber learned of the condition, as an undergraduate, through the work of family friend, Maggie Bangser, founder of the Women’s Dignity Project in Tanzania. Struck by the resilience and strength of fistula survivors, she decided to focus part of her doctoral dissertation on traumatic fistula in sub-Saharan Africa. Last summer she worked in Nairobi, Kenya in the safe motherhood unit of the Population Council.

In an effort to transform her desire to help fistula survivors from a pastime into a lifestyle, Amber partnered up with her cycling-enthusiast sister. “The goal should be to integrate your passion into everyday life so that we all can be part of a positive change and social awareness,” explained Amber. “So it just clicked that this was the perfect opportunity to spread some awareness and raise money for the Campaign to End Fistula.”

Likewise, Kelsea, inspired by her sister’s work, embraced the cause as an impetus to pedal. “This experience will be one that continues to remind me that, there are so many ways to give back and make a difference, no matter how small,” she said.

This is not the first time the sisters have worked towards a goal together. Growing up in the San Juan Islands in Washington State, the women spent summers crewing on their father’s commercial salmon fishing boat to earn money for college.

Both have also made it a mission to volunteer their time to various causes, at home and abroad. Following her tour of the West Coast, Kelsea, who finished a marine biology degree at Western Washington University last year, will be heading to Kalamos Island, Greece, to work on whale and dolphin conservation with Tethys, an Italy-based non-governmental organization. Amber is returning to Africa to take on a project dealing with HIV and marriage transitions amongst adolescents in Malawi.

But before they go the sisters plan to brave the “wind, weather, traffic, and bugs” and soak in the glorious sunsets and breathtaking West Coast vistas from 27 May to 11 June. Coordinating the donation process while on the road, will be their other sisters, Kiyo and Misa.

They hope to connect many generous people along their journey, and encourage people to act to end fistula. “Do what you can-- if you have time, like we do. Consider making a statement. If you have extra money, consider donating, and simply spread the word. If you are inspired, and if you are a parent, raise your children to understand the world is bigger than themselves and their immediate lives,” said Amber.

reported from New York by Anusha Alikhan