Two Scottish Grannies Awarded MBEs For Charity Work In Ethiopia

EMP is delighted to receive an MBE. What a surprise. A Huge Thank You to everyone who has helped us a little no the way. The Award is 100% dedicated to our friends in Buccama Health Centre who work tirelessly for their people 365 days a year.

Two Scottish grandmothers who co-founded a charity to support a medical clinic for women in Ethiopia, more than a decade ago, have been recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list 2020 for their work which has helped more than 8,000 women.

Maureen Burnett (74) from Glasgow and her cousin Jo Middlemiss (71) from Kinross began Ethiopia Medical Project (EMP) after Maureen came across the tiny clinic in Buccama, Southern Ethiopia while in the country volunteering. 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 witnessing the experiences of patients and seeing the dedication of the staff, Maureen and her cousin Jo launched the first appeal at home in Scotland planning 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 Glasgow, Kinross and beyond as well as through 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 and both founders pay all their own expenses when traveling 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. The dedicated staff educate 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.

EMP co-founder Maureen Burnett spoke about some of the women who have been helped over the years, she said: “One woman’s story will stay with me forever, she had one of the worst cases of uterine prolapse imaginable. When it happened she didn’t know what was wrong and was so ashamed that she didn’t leave her bed for four years which wasted the muscles in her legs and she could no longer walk. The staff gave her the best care possible and after her operation and lots of physio she is now back up walking and dancing!”

EMP co-founder Jo Middlemiss said: “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 on her reaction to receiving the award: “Opening the letter took me by surprise, it was a shock really and I just burst into tears! 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’ve been bursting to the tell my family all Christmas.”

“Maureen and I feel 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 Maureen and Jo travel to live and work at the clinic 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 for the new year is that through this award some great benefactor or organisation will discover the charity and will want to come onboard and support us to help more people.”