Class Assignment Prompts Mars Hill Student To Take Action

Araya Houghton

An otherwise routine reading assignment in her final college semester struck a nerve with Araya Houghton. The Mars Hill University student from Greensboro, North Carolina, was so moved by what she learned in her sociology class last fall that she started a fundraiser to help women in less affluent countries.

Professor Brett Johnson assigned Houghton and the rest of the “Class, Status, and Power” class to read the book “Half the Sky.” It focuses on the treatment of women and girls in the developing world, and the resulting inequalities.

“One of the tragic inequalities that’s addressed in Half the Sky are obstetric fistulas,” said Johnson. Obstetric fistulas are injuries caused by obstructed labor, and can lead to humiliation for the women, as they can become incontinent and often are ostracized by their families. “If you’re in the United States, you’d just get a C-section when you have obstructed labor,” said Johnson, “but in many of these poor countries, they don’t have access to those, and so they go into three, four, five days of labor.”

Houghton was not expecting the reading assignment to have such a profound impact on her, even though a friend who previously had taken Johnson’s class told her it would be the best book she ever read.

“At first, I was like, OK, we’ve probably read dozens of books having to do with women who are dealing with a lot of things that American women don’t,” Houghton said. “I picked up the book and I started reading the first couple pages, and I realized that this is way bigger than myself. I felt more moved and more challenged to make a change than I ever have felt, just sitting down reading a book.”

Houghton says that, after talking with Johnson about the issue, they each decided to donate 20 dollars to a nonprofit which raises money for fistula repair surgeries. But when they learned that a single surgery costs only $586, Houghton decided to broaden her effort into a campaign to raise the money to pay for one surgery.

She worked with Johnson to set up a GoFundMe online fundraising account with a goal of $586, to be donated to the Fistula Foundation. They launched the MHU Fights Fistulas! campaign in mid-December, just a few days before Araya walked across the stage to receive her bachelor’s degree, and now she’s watching the contributions slowly rise toward the goal, as word of her campaign spreads.

Houghton says, “I think that if I can change one woman’s life in my lifetime, then I have done what I was destined to do.”

The MHU Fights Fistulas! fundraiser is online at

Watch: Araya Houghton and Brett Johnson talk about the fistula project in a video at