Real Life

Sam Bloom returns to Africa

Sam Bloom had always wanted to share her love of Africa with her three boys and last Christmas, 10 years after the accident that left her in a wheelchair, that dream finally came true.

When I was six, I first dreamed about Africa, and I decided I wanted to be a “nurse adventurer”, healing the sick and exploring the pyramids. My childhood dream became reality when I was 21. Cameron (my then boyfriend, now husband) and I visited Egypt during an epic journey across the Middle East to London. Afterwards, I stayed on in the UK, working as a nurse. And as soon as I could afford a plane ticket I flew to Senegal, where I joined an overland expedition, travelling across Africa in the back of an old truck.

Sam and Rueben at Savé Valley. (Photo: Cameron Bloom)

That was my first overseas trip and, far from quenching my love of adventure, it taught me that the world was even bigger and more fascinating than I’d imagined, and made me want to see more – a yearning that has stayed with me my entire life.

Noah and Rueben inside a 1000-year-old baobab tree. (Photo: Cameron Bloom)

A few years later, I learned about Catherine Hamlin, the Australian obstetrician and gynaecologist who had moved to Ethiopia to establish the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. For 50 years Catherine provided free lifesaving operations for Ethiopian women and girls who’d suffered unimaginable physical injuries during childbirth. I said to Cam, “We’ve got to do a story on this woman.” So, we did!

Mamitu Gashe and Sam reconnect at the Fistula Hospital. (Photo: Cameron Bloom)

In Addis Ababa we spent time with Catherine and some of the women she had helped. It brought tears to my eyes to see how much the patients and staff adored her, and how much she loved them. Catherine was in her eighties but still operating every day. She invited me to join her in the operating theatre, a great honour. I also met Mamitu Gashe who was treated at the hospital at just 14 years old and had dedicated her life to Catherine’s work, finally training at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.

A group of Daasanach women singing and dancing. (Photo: Cameron Bloom)

This experience was life-changing, reinforcing my most cherished values and deepening my lifelong connection with Africa. I loved the landscapes, the wild places and the colourful, chaotic cities, the diverse cultures, dazzling art and, above all, the wonderful people who welcomed us with such kindness and joy. I finally understood why Africa had been calling me since I was a little girl.

Oli, Sam and Noah being greeted by a woman from the Hamar tribe. (Photo: Cameron Bloom)

Life didn’t slow down once Cam and I returned home. We married and had three beautiful boys, Rueben, Noah and Oliver. As soon as they were old enough we wanted to show them the Africa we knew and loved. We were going to take them to Egypt and Ethiopia in 2013, until conflict broke out and we postponed our trip.

Cameron and Sam in Addis Ababa. (Photo: Noah Bloom)

We promised our boys that, one day, we’d take them to Africa, and then we made new travel plans.

Our trip to Thailand was life-changing in a very different way. This was where I fell through a rotten balcony railing, plummeting six metres, headfirst, onto concrete. I almost died, and the damage to my spinal cord left me paralysed from the chest down. So many of the things I loved – playing soccer with my kids, surfing with my husband and exploring the wildest corners of the world – were taken away in an instant.

Patients at the Fistula Hospital. (Photo: Cameron Bloom)

The story of the dark years that followed has been told in my book, Sam Bloom – Heartache & Birdsong, and in the film and book, Penguin Bloom. In all those years, I couldn’t imagine I’d ever be able to travel anywhere interesting again. But with a lot of help (not least from a baby magpie) and hard work, I eventually became the mother to my boys that I’d always wanted to be, and a kayaking and para-surfing champion. Best of all, last Christmas, Cam and I were finally able to take our boys to Africa. I say “boys”, but they’re all young men now. Rueben is 22, Noah is 20, and our baby, Oli, is 18 and has a moustache!

Sunset safari in Zimbabwe. (Photo: Cameron Bloom)

Bryce and Lara Clemence from Savé Valley Conservancy in south-east Zimbabwe invited us to stay with them. It’s a magical place of natural wonders where rangers protect wildlife from poachers and other threats. Bryce and Lara took us out every day to spot wildlife, but even having a cup of tea at their house was an adventure. One day a massive bull elephant came up to the pond in their garden for a drink!
We were all included in the action. One day we were called to tend an injured rhino; another time, a wild dog had a snare caught around its jaws. I was part of everything. Bryce and Lara said, “You’re not coming all this way to sit in the car.” Even if someone had to carry me as they ran through the bush, I was included. Our boys loved every minute.

Sam with a young boy from the Mursi tribe in Mago National Park, one of the most isolated regions in Ethiopia. (Photo: Cameron Bloom)

From there, we travelled to Ethiopia. We wanted our sons to experience the energy of the local people, which is like nothing else. Strangers will invite you into their homes and offer you delicious food and warm hospitality. There were times we’d pull into a village and the local kids would grab hold of my wheelchair and take me for a spin. All of us would be smiling and laughing.

Just seeing Cam and our boys having the best time made me feel more alive than ever. There were so many highlights: Meeting tribal people; finding ourselves in the middle of a festival for Timkat (which celebrates Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan); watching our sons make lifelong friends.

A group of Hamar women from the Shank’a Village in Southern Ethiopia. (Photo: Cameron Bloom)

We arrived at Catherine Hamlin’s hospital in Addis Ababa on Christmas Day. The progress they’d made since our last visit was incredible. Catherine (who passed away in 2020) had dreamed of creating a training hospital for rural midwives. Now it’s up and running. We met students from the regions who will all establish local clinics in their villages where women can give birth safely.

Sam is welcomed with singing and clapping to a small Arbore village in Southern Ethiopia. (Photo: Cameron Bloom)

After I was paralysed I didn’t think I’d ever get back to Africa. But we did it, and it was better than my wildest dreams. Cam and I created beautiful new memories that we’ll all cherish forever. Thinking about the people we met, the wonders we saw and the places we went lights me up inside. I can’t stop smiling.

Whenever I’m sharing my story I tell people we’re never too old or too damaged to do the things that matter most. If you’re alive, your dreams are alive. Our trip to Africa is proof of this. I can’t wait to go back again.

To learn more about Catherine Hamlin’s work, visit

To find out more about Sam Bloom, visit her website or follower her on Instagram.

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