Every day, Philomene feared that her daughter would die. In 2008 she had given birth to a beautiful child with a small bump on the back of her head … it was brain matter protruding through an opening in Oceane’s skull and collecting in her ballooning skin. In more developed countries, this condition, known as an encephalocele, is easily identified, often before birth.
But Philomene and Oceane lived in Benin, West Africa, and did not have access to modern medicine. What started out as a small protrusion grew day by day, month by month, into a massive growth that took over both of their lives. Philomene watched in terror as her baby’s condition grew worse and worse. “I stopped bathing her head because I was afraid the tumor would explode,” she says.
Not only was the young mother terrified, she was also deeply ashamed. She overheard the comments of other women, passersby, and neighbors. “Look at the horrible baby she has,” they would say.
In October 2009, Philomene managed to take her infant to the Africa Mercy. Doctors examined Oceane. The growth was so large that the baby was unable even to lift her head. The necessary procedure would normally require multiple specialists, expensive equipment, and a follow-up stay in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. It would be high-risk, even with the boundless resources of western medicine. You can understand why the doctors on the Africa Mercy were concerned.
Finally a translator informed Philomene that the surgeon would operate. The young mother soon found herself waving goodbye to Oceane as her daughter was taken into surgery.
And Philomene waited …
Hours later, Oceane was wheeled back to the ward. Her mother could not believe her eyes. For fifteen minutes, Philomene stared, oscillating between contented smiles and joyful tears. Her daughter was lying before her, without the unnatural growth. Oceane would soon be able to lift her head with ease.
And now the calendar has moved forward seven years …
Mercy Ships returns to Benin, and Oceane is one of 40-plus former patients gathered for long-term check-ups with Mercy Ships. Volunteers who have been with charity since 2009 are anxious to hear the former patients’ stories. What difference did surgery make during the past seven years of their lives?
Their answers were overwhelmingly positive. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised!” says Dr. Gary Parker, Chief Medical Officer. “But still, when you see it after seven years, to see the children growing up, to see them in school, to see them speaking clearly, to see these people who had big tumors without the tumors, it’s great.”
But Oceane’s case was complex, and seven years is a long time. Before the mother and daughter arrive, murmurs go around the evaluation tent. What will this check-up reveal about the young girl’s progress, her future?
Mid-morning, mother and child are issued into the examination tent. A small crowd forms around the pair. Oceane has excitement in her eyes, and Philomene’s face displays pure joy. Dr. Gary Parker smiles in recognition.
Philomene, Oceane and Dr. Parker enter a curtained-off portion of the tent. A few minutes go by before they pop back out. It is a good report. “Oceane is quite an amazing little girl,” says Dr. Parker. “To see her able to see, to hear, to respond to her mom, even to walk … it’s amazing.”
But Oceane’s smile and her mother’s joy don’t come as a result of a perfect fix. The encephalocele affected her brain deeply, and its trace will never entirely depart. She has come today – at the age of seven – strapped to her mother’s back. Her head will always be rather small. “Nowhere in the world do we have good answers to that,” says Dr. Parker.
Later on, Philomene talks to one of the ship’s writers. From behind her mother’s back, Oceane plays an endless game of peekaboo. Whenever she pops out, she starts giggling, as if this is again the first time.
Before Oceane had surgery in 2009, Philomene had refused even to leave the house because she was so ashamed. Now she looks at Oceane and smiles. ”My heart is filled with joy,” she says. “I have nothing else I could ask for … because my daughter is alive.”
Story by Anna Psiaki
It’s back! Ride for Refuge, the super-fun, family-friendly walking/cycling fundraiser -and Mercy Ships Canada is proud to be a participating charity once again. Locations are found across Canada, or you can ride or walk anywhere (special conditions apply).
Start your own team, or join an existing one. This year we have a special incentive – to help you raise even more support for Mercy Ships.
For every $300 you raise, a ballot in your name will be entered into a draw for one free return airline ticket** to a destination in Canada that can be booked through Air Miles. Relatives in the East? Vacation in the West? Want to see the Northern Lights? It’s possible!
Can’t participate this year? Simply use the link above to find a Mercy Ships team and sponsor a rider.
All donations over $20 will receive an income tax receipt issued by the organizer Blue Sea Philanthropy.
Join us!.. and thanks to you for helping us transform lives in Cameroon,West Africa. For more information please contact: Jane at email@example.com or call 1-866-900-7447
~ Totals will be taken from your page on the Ride for Refuge ride site on Tuesday Oct. 10/17
~ Your flight will be in economy, and booked through the Mercy Ships Canada office in your name using our Air Miles points
~ The winner will be notified by an email from Mercy Ships Canada on Tuesday Oct. 10/17
~ Air Miles black out dates and routes are not within the control of Mercy Ships Canada
~ This offer must be redeemed by September 30, 2018
~ Employees and Board Members of Mercy Ships Canada are not eligible for this draw
When Valerie was four, she asked her father to pull her out of school. “I didn’t want to go anymore,” she recalled. Her legs had begun to bow outward. Her father complied, eventually sending her to live with her uncle’s family in the city, closer to help. But, instead of undergoing the necessary surgery, Valerie became apprenticed at a nearby tailor shop. She spent most days cutting, ironing, and stitching fabric together.
Despite her legs, she had plans to one day open her own business.
It was a stranger who eventually told Valerie about Mercy Ships. One day, the 14-year-old left the shop on an errand, only to be startled by a woman following her, trying to give her information. “I was scared,” remembered Valerie, “but, looking back, I think that woman was an angel.”
Not long after, Valerie came onboard the Africa Mercy. She would be one of 76 children and teenagers who would receive orthopedic surgery during the ship’s 10-month field service. With a successful surgery and proper physical therapy, her legs would become straight, and she would be able to walk normally, even run. But correcting bowed legs, especially for older patients, isn’t a quick process. Valerie’s straightened legs would need plenty of time and rehab to grow strong enough to walk.
That process would be discouraging at times, but it would also give Valerie an opportunity to grow. One night, early on in her recovery, she called a friend over to her bed. “I want to learn how to read,” she confided. It was the first time the woman had seen the 14-year-old smile without prompting. She found a few alphabet pages for Valerie to trace.
The next night the friend came back. “How is it going?” she asked.
“These are not enough,” responded Valerie, pointing to the pages tucked away in her mattress. “I need more.”
Fast forward a few months, and Valerie had almost finished with rehab. She wasn’t staying in the hospital anymore, but instead she was staying in the nearby HOPE Center (the Mercy Ships outpatient facility). It was a sunny afternoon, and she was lying down, looking at the sky. “I was very happy that day,” she remembered. “I told myself, ‘Now that the white people have healed my legs, I no longer want to be a seamstress … I want to go back to school.’”
Not long after that moment, Valerie’s legs had become strong enough to go home. She didn’t go back to her apprenticeship. Instead, she was going to return to school. “It will be great,” she anticipated. “People will say, ‘Is this the same girl? Her legs are straight!’”
Story by Anna Psiaki, Africa Mercy Writer
When I was on the ship, it was amazing to me to see how many volunteer crew members also volunteered for extra volunteer work!
In 2011, I served in Sierra Leone, and was involved in co-leading a Women’s Prison Ministry. Prison Ministries are part of each Mercy Ships outreach. Every two weeks on a Saturday, we visited a group of women ranging from 27-50 in number. Their ‘crimes’ ranged from unpaid debts, to marijuana sales to murder. Frequently, they waited for a trial longer than the sentence would ever demand. ‘Justice’ depended on who you knew, where you lived and which tribe you were from.
We tried to bring a little joy. We did crafts together, sang, shared stories and served a snack. When we arrived their faces were often long and sad. I was amazed at how bright and cheerful they became by the time we left. One of the most moving things happened when we sang together. The strength of the voices of the women in the prison of Freetown rang within- far after their voices were silent.
What an amazing experience!
One of the saddest inmates was Cia, who was in her 70s. She was asked to care for her son’s 5 year old daughter while he was campaigning for political office. His opponents came, killed the child and set Cia up as the murderer. When she arrived at the prison she was so badly beaten she could hardly walk, and would not talk. Over the weeks that we visited with her, she started to open up, and would even smile upon our arrival. One week we heard that Cia had just been released from prison as part of Sierra Leone’s 50th Anniversary of Independence celebration-along with two other prisoners. All of the prisoners’ names had been submitted to the government, but only three had been chosen.
That same week, we did a craft with the ladies which involved embroidering used towels. We divided up into three groups, and tried to get some dialogue going as we sat and sewed together. I had a wonderful prison guard with my group, who was an excellent translator. I started by sharing my ‘story’ and was surprised when several others opened up as well. We got into some amazing dialogue. They told me about their families and about their lives growing up. Some spoke of their ‘crime’ and of their arrest.
We talked about the release of the three prisoners. The ladies spoke of the joy they felt when the prisoners were freed, but also of the sorrow-when they learned that they themselves had not been chosen.
They spoke about the civil war in Sierra Leone…about the memories of that…about forgiveness…about forgetting. Most of the women had lost family members and land during this bloody conflict. I was blown away when they honestly told me they had forgiven the rebels for their actions, but that they would never forget. Suddenly our time was up – and so was the dialogue.
As the Africa Mercy’s time of service has come to an end in Benin, West Africa…I think with pride and affection of the 1, 200 volunteers that come and go in a service period- and of those that sign up for Volunteering +.
Until next time, Jane
Yikes! Father’s Day is just around the corner and who could forget to honour that one guy who has been there for you every day?
Do another pair of socks, BBQ mitts or chocolates cause your Dad to sigh? Give him something that can really light up his life!
Mercy Ships Canada is building a HOPE Centre – a place of rest and healing for patients after their surgeries in Cameroon (our next country of service). The renovations are well under way-but there are some critical items necessary to the opening of the HOPE Centre. Give a unique gift to honour the best Dad in the world!
With three months left until patients and family members begin to fill the beds of the HOPE Centre, there’s still a lot to do. As you can imagine, it gets really hot in West Africa and 40 air conditioning units are needed to take proper care of patients before and after surgery. 200 meters of electrical wire is also needed to wire in the lights.
Help to power the HOPE Centre, and show your Dad he’s the light of your world this Father’s Day.
$10 could provide 1m of wire
$30 could provide 3m of wire
Do you think your Dad is cool? Tell him so, with a gift of air-conditioning. Provide a climate that helps wounds heal better and faster
$100 could support the purchase of an A/C unit
Give an amount of your own choosing!
With every gift, you have the option to get an eCard emailed to you that you can forward to your Dad!
This is the story of William, a blind father who relied on his four-year-old son to guide and help him. A free 30 minute cataract surgery changed his life.