Monday, August 12, 2013

AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: New York School Teacher Becomes International Humanitarian

Barbaro Margolies and Rwanda genocide survivor
Barbara Margolies, an author and former school teacher from New York City, is changing lives in Africa, and even saving them. As founder and executive director of the International Organization for Women & Development (IOWD), she's helped thousands of African women living with fistulaa devastating childbirth injury that afflicts hundreds of thousands of African women and can result in the chronic leaking of bodily fluids, among other serious health problems. 

When she first learned of this problem, which plagues much of the African continent, Barbara says she just had to do what she could to help. So in 2003 she started IOWD. As a result of her work in Niger, Barbara was recognized by that nation's president with the highest award given to a foreigner, the medal of honor. Here's a video of IOWD's work in Niger, where Barbara stayed for seven years before being forced to leave because of political upheaval and an eventual coup. 

The American Ambassador to Rwanda, Stuart Symington, knew of Barbara's work in Niger, and invited her to come to Kigali, Rwanda, which has allowed Barbara to expand the IOWD program for more specific teaching to the medical staff in many hospitals. 

In 2010, she brought her big heart to Rwanda, a country almost completely destroyed by Genocide in 1994. In an exclusive interview with The Reno Dispatch, Barbara says that when she stepped off the plane, she saw flowers blooming everywhere. 

"There were clean streets, beautiful people, new buildings rising up into the sky, the air was pure and cool," she says. "I could feel the vibrancy. Rwanda would become our second home. I knew it."

Barbara has been to Kigali 11 times since 2010. "Kibagabaga Hospital is where we receive women who are leaking urine or feces due to difficult, unattended labor or complications from C-sections," she explains. "They come from all over the country, poor women, desperate for help, ostracized because they constantly smell as urine soils their clothing and drips down their legs."  

IOWD doctors and nurses spend long hours in the operating rooms to repair as many women as possible. It’s worth every minute to see a woman smile, Barbara says, knowing she is dry and can return to her family and a normal life. 

"We travel to Rwanda for two weeks, three times a year," she explains. "We are teaching Rwandan doctors skills so that they will be able to do these surgeries independently; we teach them how to perform proper Cesarean deliveries to prevent fistulas; our outreach educational program advises women how to take better care of themselves during pregnancy, while suggesting they deliver in health centers or at a hospital, and not at home, where complications might occur." 

IOWD is building a sustainable program for the prevention and repair of existing fistula cases, and hoping that in the future, they will no longer be needed.

"There is tremendous joy and accomplishment knowing that we have, in some small way, provided help for those who have suffered for so long," Barbara says. "When you step inside the hospital tents, the overwhelming smell of urine doesn’t matter because the women begin to sing, welcoming us. I dance with them, as they praise God that help has come."

Barbara met a 57-year-old patient who was raped during the genocide, and her husband and two of her children were killed. She had been leaking urine for 17 years. Now, because of IOWD's doctors, she was dry. 

"She hugged me and kept saying 'thank you'," Barbara recalls. "Her dignity was restored. She touched my heart, my soul. We leave for Rwanda in a few weeks. I can’t wait to get back."


  1. Yes, it is true. Barbara is truly a God given angel. God bless her and her good team that help her to fulfil her dream.

  2. Thank you for turning the spot light on incredible people like Barbara ... I loved it!

  3. Barbara is truly amazing, a hero in every sense of the word. So wonderful to see some attention being paid to the great work of IOWD. The Rwandan people are remarkable, and have accomplished more than anyone thought possible in such a short time. I too, cannot wait to get back to Rwanda.

  4. Barbara is a very kind person! she does many different things for Africa, the world could be a paradise if every person has the same heart as hers! be blessed Barbara!

  5. I could feel the vibrancy. Rwanda would become our second home. I knew it