Kinross & District Rotarian, Jo Middlemiss, who co-founded a charity to support a medical clinic for women in Ethiopia, more than a decade ago, has been recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list 2020.
Jo was awarded an MBE for her work which has helped more than 8,000 women.
And the honour comes just months after receiving a Rotary Champions of Change award from the then Rotary International President, Barry Rassin, in Nottingham.
Jo began the Ethiopia Medical Project with her cousin, Maureen Burnett, from Glasgow, in the tiny clinic in Buccama, in a remote part of Southern Ethiopia. Maureen has also been awarded an MBE.
At the time the centre was inundated with patients suffering with severe uterine prolapse, and staff were struggling to cope, without enough food or medical resources.
The painful condition, often caused by carrying heavy loads or frequent pregnancies with little recovery time, happens when the pelvic muscles are too weak to support the uterus.
In some cases, the entire womb falls outside the body, where it can develop ulcers and become infected.
Many women over the years have reported living in shame and fear, hiding their pain due to the social stigma, where those affected have been seen as ‘impure’ and ostracised from their families.
After hearing about the experiences of patients and the dedicated staff, Jo launched the first appeal at home in Scotland. She ran a Burns’ Night Supper and hoped to raise enough for a few basics, such as mattresses.
Now, the charity aims each year to make a minimum of £25,000 through charity events, and donations from hundreds of people in Kinross, and beyond.
The charity receives support from organisations such as the Rotary Club of Kinross, St Paul’s Church, Kinross and the Common Grounds Charity Cafe in Milnathort.
The management of the charity is done on a shoe string, where apart from items like postage and leaflets, all money goes directly to the clinic. Both founders pay all their own expenses when travelling to Africa.
The clinic has expanded to become the Buccama Health Centre with two wards, a laboratory and 22 members of staff, including five qualified nurses.
Jo was awarded an MBE for her work which has helped more than 8,000 women.”
The dedicated staff educates women about their bodies, explaining that they are not to blame, prepare those who need it for a relatively simple operation, and treat those with less severe cases, using a £3 ‘pessary’ ring, which helps keep the womb in place.
Jo Middlemiss explained how their work was making a difference to hundreds of women over the years.
She said: “There have been women who had the worst cases imaginable, and they literally danced for joy when they were supported back to health.
“Women can gain back their self-respect, they’re no longer banished from their homes, and can go back to their children and families, and contribute to the community.
“The impact stretches way beyond the individual women helped.
“One of the many highlights has been witnessing attitudes around the stigma evolve, as more and more women speak out, and those who need to, get support.”
Jo said she was surprised to receive the honour from the Queen, and burst into tears when she received the letter informing her of the award.
“I was in shock really. I was jumping up and down and wanted to tell everyone, but you have to keep it a secret, until it’s announced, so I was bursting to tell my family all Christmas.
“My co-founder Maureen Burnett, who is also to receive an MBE, feels we have learned and gained so much more than we have given.
“We feel like we are going back to family when we go to Ethiopia, and we’re not just two old grannies – the women there don’t care how old we are, or how grey our hair is, they know we believe in them, and that we will do everything we can to continue to support them.”
Each February, Jo travels to live and work at the clinic for a month at a time, to assess what is required for the coming year, and as the health centre has recently expanded to treat those with the endemic foot disease Podoconiosis, the need for funding continues to grow.
The charity aims to raise £5 million to enable the clinic to be self-sustaining in the future.
Jo said: “My wish is that through this award, some great benefactor or organisation will discover the charity, and will want to come on board and support us to help more people.”