Iris Fistula Project: Q&A with Ade Osinubi ’14 and KT Choi’14

In 2011, KT Choi ’14 and Ade Osinubi ’14 learned about obstetric fistula—an injury that occurs during childbirth, plaguing thousands of mothers in Ethiopia and up to 2 million worldwide. In response, Ade and KT started the Iris Fistula Project, which helps women recover from their condition, which, without treatment, can cause pain and ostracism for life.

How did you become aware of obstetric fistula?
Ade: During the summer of 2011, I attended the annual Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas conference. One symposium was on women’s health. I watched A Walk to Beautiful, a documentary that showcases obstetric fistula in Ethiopia. I left the documentary inspired and motivated to do something in regard to women’s health. KT learned about obstetric fistula after attending another medical conference in Boston.

Can you sum up what the Iris Fistula Project has accomplished so far?
Ade: The Iris Fistula Project currently has raised enough money to fund 10 different Ethiopian women to receive rehabilitation services at the Healing Hands of Joy Foundation (HHOJ). While at HHOJ, the women also learn about safe motherhood and graduate as safe motherhood ambassadors, who then bring awareness about safe delivery and how to prevent fistula to their communities. We are currently planning to sponsor more women in this program and to expand our project to other countries.

Have you been to Ethiopia?
Ade: We both went to Ethiopia during the summer of August 2012.

You both plan to study pre-med. Do you expect to continue working on the Iris Fistula Project while you’re in college?
KT: Yes, definitely. We plan on making our project into a 501(c)3 in the future. We do not feel ready to do so yet, but with more education from college (I plan to take courses in non-profit organization management), we hope to expand our project in college and beyond.

What’s been happening lately with the Iris Fistula Project?
Ade: KT and I are currently working on a documentary that showcases both obstetric fistula and the rehabilitation process. In early June, we plan on hosting a Fashion Fights Fistula fundraising gala at a school in New Jersey. The proceeds will go toward the women at Healing Hands of Joy (HHOJ). Lastly, we just created a harp/pictorial CD—featuring KT on harp—to raise more funds. They’re $20 and you can email KT or me if you’d like one.

KT: We plan to donate 100 percent of the profit to various fistula organizations.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start a nonprofit to help a cause?
KT: First of all, you must truly care about the cause. We have run into different challenges while working on this project, and there were many times when we wanted to give up because we thought we were too young or “not good enough” to make this project successful. For example, when we were producing the harp album this past summer, the recording process was so exhausting that we thought about giving up. I also felt like I wasn’t good enough at harp to produce a CD. However, we were able to push through because we have seen with our own eyes the radiant faces of the women whose lives have completely changed after the treatment.

Another piece of advice would be to believe in yourself. As cliché as that sounds, it is the most important lesson that we have learned while working on the Iris Fistula Project. We thought perhaps the Rotary Club, which gave us a $500 grant, wouldn’t take us seriously since we were so young; we had issues opening an account for our project because of our age. But the thing is, being young actually had more advantages than disadvantages. All we had to do was to knock on their doors and present our cause with confidence.

Finally, our one last piece of advice is to take advantage of all the opportunities, especially at Groton. There are so many grants one can apply for. There are countless conferences that one can attend and meet potential donors or partners. By taking advantage of these opportunities, one can really make unimaginable things happen.

What grants did Groton provide?
Ade: We received grants from the John Endicott Lawrence 1927 Global Scholars Fund, and two Groton Opportunity for Leadership Development (GOLD) grants. We also received a Parents Independent Network (PIN) grant. The grants went toward airfare and production of the harp CDs.

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