Kristie McLean: Advocacy of the Heart

I first came to Ethiopia with the idea of profiling women who had suffered from an obstetric fistula and who were now serving as advocates for other women.
Then I stumbled across three men waiting in the parking lot outside of Hamlin Hospital. They told me they had just arrived from western Ethiopia and had brought three women in for treatment. These were kind-hearted Ethiopian men bringing agonized, shamed women to a hospital where they could hopefully reclaim their health. Along with these examples of empathy, I also saw other men cradling their wives’ heads in their laps as the women waited to be examined. My personal observations contrasted sharply with the stories I had heard about all Ethiopian men abandoning or divorcing their wives after they suffered from obstetric fistula. Surely, this does happen. But clearly it does not always happen. And that is a triumph and a blessing all its own.
This awareness of how men can play a pivotal, though often unrecognized, role re-shaped my vision and brought forth a new story. It shifted my focus from a smaller, more commonly cited frame of sisterhood to a larger view of a human community and the way that each part and each effort contributes mightily to the whole.

Kristie McLean: Advocacy of the Heart – Images by Tsega Mekonnen

Kristie McLean

Kristie McLean is a Seattle-based documentary photographer, writer, and professional coach with a passion for empowering others through conversations and images. She has traveled to more than 50 countries on six continents and is dedicated to raising awareness of social issues and sharing those stories across diverse networks and communities. Over the years, Kristie has profiled unexploded ordinances in Laos, child brides in Afghanistan, access to clean water in rural Kenya, and drug-and-alcohol-free First Nation communities in the Pacific Northwest.
Kristie’s photography has been showcased at two global summits in Europe and Asia, respectively. Both the “Women of the World” and the “Sacred Connections” exhibits raised awareness of peaceful tourism initiatives, sustainable community development, and measures to alleviate poverty. Her work has also appeared in numerous books, magazines, and websites, including Women of the World: Afghanistan and Guinea-Bissau, published by Blurb.

Kristie traveled with SalaamGarage in 2010 to Ethiopia to highlight the issue of obstetric fistula. She believes unfailingly that empowering images and ongoing conversations can, and do, change the world.

More of her work can be seen at

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