Thérèse’s husband was already struggling to provide for their family when Elisabeth was born with a cleft lip and palate. Neighbors openly laughed at Elisabeth’s face, saying there was nothing Thérèse could do to save her baby.
Elisabeth was unable to breastfeed successfully due to her malformed palate, and she began to lose weight dramatically. Even her father thought that she would die.
Thérèse had never heard of anyone having this condition before and had no idea how to care for her tiny daughter. She kept the newborn alive the only way she could think of – by feeding her diluted sweetened condensed milk from a spoon.
“I was really sad because I was thinking about her future,” shared Thérèse. “I had in mind that she would have this problem all of her life.”
Then one fabulous day someone at church told Thérèse the Mercy Ship was returning to Madagascar soon. They were sure Elisabeth’s condition could be fixed onboard – for free! So Thérèse began an anxious wait.
At three months old and weighing a fragile 2.1 kg (4.6 lbs), Elisabeth was screened for the Mercy Ships Infant Feeding Program.
Under further care from dietitian Jillian Davis (USA), it took just eight weeks for Elisabeth double her weight. Then she was strong enough to undergo surgery on her cleft lip, and her appearance dramatically changed. She will continue to receive dietary support until after the surgery to correct her cleft palate, which will take place when she is 10 months old.
“Even though I am poor, I feel a lot of things have gone from my shoulders now,” reflects Thérèse. “Before I was so worried about the future, but now my baby will look like everybody else.”
Thérèse’s neighbors were completely shocked when mother and daughter returned after the baby’s first surgery. Elisabeth looked beautiful. “It’s done! It really happened, God was really with them!” the villagers exclaimed.
Story by Sharon Walls
We hear a lot from adults about life onboard the Africa Mercy, but what about from the perspective of the kids/young adults?
Many volunteers do not travel alone, they bring their families. There are about 50-55 children between the ages of one and eighteen living on board the Africa Mercy during the school year.
Children are exposed to many different cultures and nationalities and have opportunities to join the family in serving through various ways on and off ship. The Academy onboard offers a great school with small classes and excellent academics. There are a lot of people around that provide role models for children to interact with!
But enough of us talking about life onboard, let’s hear it from a young adult who’s been there and experienced life a little differently than many of the older volunteer onboard.
Shayli wrote this for us after her time spent in Sierra Leone a few years ago. Now almost 20, Shayli is in the world as an adult herself, continuing to develop a unique and special world view.
Living On a Ship
My name is Shayli, I am 16 years old, and I was 15 when I was on the ship. I currently am in grade 10, when I was on the ship I was in between grade 9 and 10 (around the end of grade 9 till the middle of summer). I live in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada (Eh?). Three things about me……… I like to snowboard, I like to make things like songs and editing pictures, and I love my family. I stayed on the Africa Mercy for 2 months around the end of my grade 9 year till the middle of summer.
My mom started off as a primary care giver for my sister and I, and then she moved on to being the hospital house keeping co-coordinator. She liked her job because she got to work with some Salone workers, and she grew close to some of them. In fact, we visited one person’s house. My dad on the other hand, was a nurse.
Africa Mercy, however, wasn’t the first missions trip I’ve done. My family and I have gone to India before with an organization called Child of Mine. My days on the ship were spent in many ways. I worked on the eye team. My job was to take patients up and down the gangway, to the washroom, take blood pressure and temperature, and to be a friend to the Sierra Leonians.
I wasn’t needed in that job, I was an extra member, I considered moving jobs to a place where I felt needed. Moving on, I then realized that where I felt needed and where God needed me were two different things. I’d talk my small amount of Creole language I knew to the patients to try and connect with them. And I did just that.More of my days………I also was trained at Starbucks, that was fun once and a while.
I was very much involved with the kids in Ward A. When they moved on I visited some of them at the HOPE center. I also met people from all around the world that I became friends with, and still keep connecting with them now. Most of them were older then I was. I love them very much. Continuing, there were a few kids on board, but it was around their school vacation, so most of them had left with their families on holidays. That was alright, because it worked on my people skills on being “brave” to hang with the big kids. We did share our cultures with one another, one girl even put a cool weave in my hair made of string.
There’s lots to volunteer for on the ship, all you have to do is sign up. I signed up for a lot, which consumed my days off and my weekends. That is one of the many fun things that can be done on the Ship. Not to mention staying up late with you friends to play card games or relax and watch a movie. However, visiting and getting close with the hospital patients is really, a very good time. Those people have a way of moving your spirit and implanting a seed in your heart. And before you know it you can’t stop seeing them. I visited them almost every night, no matter how tired I was.
Pros and cons though, unfortunately…… The worst thing about living on the ship is the food. An excellent job the kitchen staff does, but I was a vegetarian and I ate PB and J almost every day, 3 times a day for two months. Luckily they had salads every meal. That’s the great thing, if you didn’t like the meal, you could always have a basic sandwich and a salad. All this to say, if I wasn’t a vegetarian the food would have been a lot more enjoyable, I’m sure. When there’s pizza day or fish for dinner, it’s like the whole ship forms a unity of excitement. Who doesn’t like pizza?
Living with a family in close arrangements……….. Luckily, we got the penthouse, per say, on the ship. Thank the Lord I had my own bed, I love my sister but my own bed is really a great thing, if you know what I mean. The bathroom was a slight challenge, but really not too much. We got together better as a family. I don’t know why though. Getting back from Africa, I try to remember what I experienced in Africa with the culture and the people. Then I see that the materialistic “challenges” I face aren’t even comparable. Even my attitude has changed because of this in sports.
Now I seldom get angry, or disappointed in myself, the game, and my teammates; thanks Africa. Back on track, my family and I definitely experienced a positive note on being in Africa. We all love it and loved it. If I were to be crude I’d say that every kid my age would benefit from being in the experiences I had. But I suppose that’s not true.
I felt very out of place when I came back from Africa. I didn’t want to even be here. I still feel that way sometimes. The feeling is an emptiness of panic for a second. You can’t understand why you are here, and your purpose in the long run, and now. The hurt also, for me, is the pain of saying goodbye. I loved some of those people, so much. The absolute best thing to do is pray, and for comfort read the written word. “Rely not on your own understanding, in all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight.”
Advise for people my age to get along with other people, would be to simply have an open mind. If there is an argument, think hard about what you could have done to contribute to it.
The coolest thing in being in another country is meeting people and joining in on their culture. It’s the greatest when you see their faces shine with joy as you do your best to partisipate and love them. The coolest thing I did in Africa was go on ministry outings and being with the locals, or hanging with the kids, or walking through the town, or, or, or…..! So many great things that I did. I can’t pick one, I’m sorry. I had a lot of contact with the locals because I worked with them and I left the ship a lot. I couldn’t see operations because I wasn’t 16. That was hard because when your sixteen you get to do all that stuff, but not 15. I was taught patience through that.
I missed my friends, and food the most while I was away in Africa. I would most definitely go back to the Africa Mercy. I am interested in medicine, and I want to help people overseas with it and myself. If that happens, I think the Mercy Ship would play a role in that.
To live here in Canada now after the Mercy Ships is hard, but for now I have to do my best here as a person.
Jumbulani Jumbulani Africa, the Lord your God has risen above you now! I prey dat di body for do fine fine O Africa.
Peace and Blessings!
Neny’s life seemed to fall apart at every turn. When her daughter Somaya was born, Neny was deeply shocked to see her tiny baby’s mouth marred by a cleft lip and palate. She had never seen anything like it before.
Somaya’s father was outraged. “This is not my baby! No one in my family has this,” he ranted. “It is not mine!” He abandoned them both and moved to another village.
When the tearful Neny came home from the hospital, neighbours told her to get rid of the baby. “Give her away to an orphanage. Send her away!” they said over and over.
But Neny would not listen. “Somaya is a gift from God,” she replied.
Neny continued to pray for her baby. She remembers the day a few months later when she saw a program on TV about Mercy Ships. Surgeons were fixing people with the same problem as Somaya – with no charge to the patients. Since Neny did not have money to pay for a surgery, this was exactly what she needed to hear.
Early on the screening day morning, Neny took Somaya to be assessed. This was the first time she had seen another person with a cleft lip. She was encouraged they were no longer alone.
When Neny was given Somaya’s appointment card to be treated on the Mercy Ship, she was overjoyed.
But, once again, Neny’s joy turned to despair. Two days before the appointment there was a fire in her house. No one was hurt, but everything Neny owned was lost.
She explains. “Of course I was sad that our home got burned, but I was thinking more about the appointment card because it was about the future of my baby. Her lips should have been fixed, but the appointment card got burned.” This additional tragedy weighed heavily on her shoulders, and Neny felt like abandoning all hope.
Somaya was beginning to talk, but her malformed palate made forming words very difficult, and it made eating and drinking a challenge. “She had a problem even drinking water, the same for eating. It was going down the wrong way. She was often sick. She was always coughing,” her mother recalls.
Five months later, Neny’s hope soared when a radio broadcast announced that Mercy Ships was returning to Madagascar and would hold a screening day near her village. Somaya had second chance! Receiving a second card was easier than she imagined, and her two-year- old daughter was once again scheduled for surgery.
In the hospital ship’s ward, the Malagasy mothers of the cleft lip babies were a comfort and support to each other. “We had a good relationship because all those kids had the same problem,” Neny reflects. “We are asking each other, ‘How is your baby doing? And how about yours?’” It was a joy to no longer hear harsh words. Instead, there were only words of mercy and hope. Finally someone understood.
“Now she is healthy!” declared the relieved Neny after Somaya’s successful surgery. “Now she can eat and drink normally. Before the surgery, she was just able to say ‘Mumma.’ Now it’s starting to be clear when she wants something, like water. She says, ‘Water, Mamma!’”
Neny was full of anticipation as they prepared to return to their village. She could not wait to show her neighbors Somaya’s sweet new smile. “They will be amazed to see her back with these lips,” she says with a grin.
Written by Sharon Walls
Our patients may never know who their supporters are, but they will know that many people around the world are routing for them and praying for a quick road to recovery and a bright future.
It had always been her dream to be a mother. When she was fifteen, her captivating features and grace caught the eye of a handsome farmer, and they were wed. Not a day went by without him telling her that she was beautiful. He was her first love.
Her life became even more like a fairytale when she discovered that she was going to have a child. As the miracle inside her grew, she would smile to herself that secret smile that all mothers share.
She had no idea that her months of excitement were, in fact, a prelude to sorrow and suffering.
The fairytale ended when her labor became four days of excruciating, whole-body pain. On the third day, the midwife tried to help, but all her knowledge and experience brought no relief. To find help, they would have to leave the village. At 7 a.m. on the fourth morning, Fanjakely, her husband, brother and mother-in-law set out in a pirogue (a small boat much like a canoe) for a four-hour ride on the river to another village.
Then they crammed into a packed taxi-brousse (Malagasy bus). Fanjakely passed out two hours before they finally reached the hospital at 7 p.m. There she finally delivered a baby boy named Antonio.
But she quickly discovered that her heartache was just beginning.
She described what happened the next day: “After I stood up to go to the toilet, the urine flowed out. It was flowing plenty … and it would not stop.” With absolutely no idea of what was happening, or why, she was terrified, confused, unhappy, and angry, “But I didn’t know who to be angry with,” she said.
Sadly, Fanjakely had just become another victim of inadequate healthcare systems in developing countries. Her problems could have been easily prevented by having a caesarean section. Every day, 10 women in Madagascar die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Many more survive but, like Fanjakely, suffer from a debilitating injury called obstetric fistula.
It is a condition caused by obstructed labor that creates an opening between the bladder and the birth canal, resulting in uncontrollable, continuous leakage of urine. It’s estimated that 2000 Malagasy women develop fistula each year.
The doctor explained that the fistula could be surgically repaired, but Fanjakely knew that she would never be able to afford it. She said, “I was so sad, because I thought I would never get health, because I have no money for surgery.”
Life became very difficult. In spite of her efforts to stay dry, the smell of the constant flow of urine caused people to reject her. Her young heart was broken.
Because of a free surgery onboard the Africa Mercy, Fanjakely’s sorrow has been turned into joy.
All dressed up, Fanjakely awaits the beginning of her Dress Ceremony. Her smile is so sweet. At the ceremony, Fanjakely said, “My name is Fanjakely. I was sick for one and a half years. I want to thank Mercy Ships for my healing, and I want to thank everybody who has been part of my healing – those who have encouraged us. May God bless everyone.”
“My name is Fanjakely. I was sick for one and a half years. I want to thank Mercy Ships for my healing, and I want to thank everybody who has been part of my healing – those who have encouraged us. May God bless everyone.”
In the midst of all the horror, Fanjakely was grateful for two miracles. Often women who suffer an obstetric fistula give birth to a stillborn child, and their husbands abandon them.
But Fanjakely was blessed with her beautiful, healthy baby boy. And her husband never stopped loving her. He was the epitome of unconditional love. He never stopped telling her that she was beautiful. He would encourage her by saying, “Maybe one day you will get surgery.”
Little did they know how prophetic his words were. A radio announced Fanjakely’s third miracle: a hospital ship that treated obstetric fistula for free was coming to Madagascar! With what little money they had, Fanjakely bought adult diapers and made the four-hour journey to Toamasina.
After one and a half years of suffering, a free surgery gave Fanjakely healing and joy.
Stephanie Fiduk, the Women’s Health team leader, said, “There is a BIG transformation in Fanjakely’s personality. At screening, she was quiet and scared to be on the ward. Now, she’s making friends.”
The girl who never smiled became known as “The Smiley Girl.”
Now, Fanjakely can continue her fairytale life. She said, “I want to build a home … and to be happy with my husband and son.” She’s looking forward to swimming in the beautiful Madagascar waters again and going back to one of her favorite places – church. With a sweet smile, she added, “I am really grateful. I am fortunate.”
Story by Eunice Hiew