Habiba Cooper-Diallo’s Sweet 16 birthday was different from most young women coming of age celebration.
Instead of a large and wild party with a DJ, makeup and hairstylists, Cooper-Diallo invited a few of her close friends to share the special occasion with her at a downtown restaurant last Saturday.
In lieu of presents, she asked for a small donation to be made to the Women’s Health Organization International (WHOI) which she launched at her birthday party. The organization was inspired by the teen’s strong interest in obstetric fistula which is a severe medical condition in which a hole develops between either the rectum and vagina or the bladder and vagina after severe or failed childbirth when adequate medical care is not available.
Cooper-Diallo became aware of the condition in Grade Six while reading the story of Anafghat Ayouba in the Wall Street Journal. Given into marriage at age 11, Ayouba suffered a severe fistula at childbirth. She died five years ago in her native Niger from complications of an infection.
It’s estimated that there are close to one million young women with the debilitating condition in Africa. Because of their severe incontinence and smell, many have been ostracized by their families and villages and live by themselves or with fellow fistula sufferers.
“I was so touched and moved by Ayouba’s story that I started to do research, write stories and make presentations about the condition,” said Cooper-Diallo. “She was so young and I was about her age when I read the story.”
She said the goal of WHOI is to empower women in Africa and the African Diaspora through health care education.
Earlier this year, Cooper-Diallo visited Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa’s Fistula hospital, which was established in 1974. It’s the only medical institution of its kind in the world dedicated to females with obstetric fistula. The hospital provides free surgery to almost 2,500 girls and women annually.
After the visit with her mother, Dr. Afua Cooper, and her older sister, Cooper-Diallo decided she wanted to pursue obstetrics and gynaecology instead of law.
“I have found my calling and I am committed to it,” said the young girl. “I am also grateful to my mom for that trip. When I was younger, she used to take me to community events, but it was not until about five years ago that I started to develop an appreciation for how important her work is to the Black community.”
Cooper, the James R. Johnston Endowed Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, said she’s extremely proud of her daughter.
“She was really inspired by the visit to the hospital in Ethiopia and as soon as we came back home, she said she wanted to get into the field dealing with female reproductive organs. She has my full support.”
This has been a difficult 18 months for Cooper-Diallo. In October 2010, her father suffered a massive heart attack and last September, the family relocated to Nova Scotia.
“I miss my dad every day and I wish he was here today to celebrate my birthday,” said Cooper-Diallo who attended Harbord Collegiate Institute and Vaughan Road Academy in Grade Nine. “I know he would be so proud of me.”
The Halifax Grammar School Grade 10 student said leaving her friends behind was the most difficult part of relocating to a new province.
Individuals interested in learning more about WHOI can contact Cooper-Diallo at 902-210-2582 or at email@example.com.
By RON FANFAIR