Vanya walked across the dock toward the gangway, holding her mother’s hand tightly, her hair danced in the breeze. Nearby, a large ship sat quietly at the dock. The words AFRICA MERCY were strewn across it, and it watched her with a knowing smile.
She is quiet, sweet, and seemed to be unable to stop smiling. After she finished posing for pictures, one of the Mercy Ships photographers gushed, “She’s so smiley! She’s so cute!”
Vanya is like a gust of wind that leaves little leaves of happiness in her trail. Two of the day-crew declared, “She’s so happy!”
But life hadn’t been easy for this sweet little eleven-year-old girl because of the physical appearance of her legs. With sad eyes, she told her mother that her friends made fun of her. She could not run or participate in the activities enjoyed by other children.
When Vanya’s casts were removed after surgery, she had perfectly straight legs! The physical deformity was swept away, clearing the way for a bright new future.
Little two-year-old Marie Sylvie fell into the boiling oil. Her frantic, desperate cries alerted her parents, who rushed to her side.
Felicie, her mother, was in shock. Angelo, her father, felt heartsick. “I am sad when I look at my daughter because of all the scars,” he said. Marie Sylvie’s left back, side and arm were a painful-looking blend of discoloration. She could not lift her arm – heartbreaking for a lively little girl who loves to play games and hug her baby sister.
Felicie said, “All we could think about is how to find a solution to repair her.”
They tried. Oh, how they tried! For five years, this little family in Madagascar became all too familiar with desperation, disappointment, and hopelessness. The surgery to separate Marie Sylvie’s arm from her side would cost over $100 USD, an amount they simply did not have. “The problem was always the money. Always the money,” said Felicie.
The search for a more affordable solution consumed every ariary (the currency of Madagascar) that they had. Every time they heard about a doctor who could possibly do the surgery for a reduced fee, they made the long 16-hour roundtrip journey to the capital city of Antananarivo. On two occasions, they were given a date for surgery, but the doctor didn’t show up.
They also traveled to the southeastern part of Madagascar. But, after a day and a half of travel and two weeks of waiting, the story was the same as before – no doctor, no solution. Felicie says, “We were disappointed and angry! But we could not do anything, because we wanted to find a solution for our daughter.”
Mercy Ships follows the 2000-year old model of Jesus, who gave hope and healing freely. Little Marie Sylvie came to our hospital ship with nothing. And she received healing, no strings attached.
On her seventh birthday, Marie Sylvie raised her arm high to hit a pink balloon. Now she can play games and hug her baby sister. What a wonderful birthday gift – a gift provided by people around the world who volunteered, donated, and prayed!
Elvie is a little girl in our hospital ward who asked her mother, “Where is the sun?” The answer? “It’s on your mother’s face, little girl.”
Elvie’s mother, Noeline, received an appointment card from Mercy Ships. Her daughter, Elvie, would receive free healthcare – a minor operation, a series of casts, and braces to correct the little girl’s clubfoot.
It’s been a few months since the process started. Noeline’s response has given me a deeper appreciation of a mother’s love . . . and she reminds me of my mother.
Like my mother, Noelline takes delight in simply gazing at her daughter. “What makes me proud of her is her face and her smile. When I see her smile, it makes me so happy!” she says.
Like my mother, Noelline has big dreams for her daughter. She wants her to succeed in her studies, marry a good man, and be the best she can be.
Like my mother, Noelline knows her daughter. One day, I made some pyramids for Elvie out of SpongeBob cards. Her mother saw this and casually remarked, “She’s going to destroy it.” Within three seconds, her prophecy was fulfilled.
And, like my mother, Noeline’s heart aches when something bad happens to her little one. Mothers have a huge super-power – the ability to empathize with their children. And sometimes they feel the hurt even more than their children do.
When little Elvie was born with her left foot forlornly turned in, her mother’s heart learned what anguish was. Noeline says, “I was always sad after her birth. I was really sad every day, and I lost a lot of weight.”
And, like most moms, Noeline was determined to find a way to help her daughter. When the baby was six months old, a treatment was done, but it didn’t work. But Noeline refused to give up and whispered Elvie’s name to God every night.
About two years later, Noeline’s pastor told her about Mercy Ships. “A ship is coming! The people on this ship take care of people with feet problems. As soon as you hear more information on TV or radio, please go to the place that they say. They may help you,” he said.
Noeline quickly responded. “As soon as we had information, we went to the Hospital Manara-Penitra. I was so happy! I prayed to God and asked Him to be with us. I hoped that we would be cared for by Mercy Ships. We went to the screening center the very first day!”
You know the rest of the story. Elvie is the star, but it’s also the story of a mother’s deep love and unfailing hope.
If there was a Most Excited Mother Award, Noeline would definitely win. As she watches Elvie, free of her cast, toddling around the rehab tent and doing exercises on beautifully straight feet, Noeline enthusiastically shouts, “Tsara, tsara, tsara!” (Good, good, good!)
And now she has a new dream for her daughter – to become a doctor to give free healthcare to those who need it. Who knows? Maybe we’ll be hearing stories about Dr. Elvie, the amazing Mercy Ships orthopedic surgeon, in twenty years!
Story by Africa Mercy Writer, Eunice Hiew
At the age of four, she was struck by a deadly flesh-eating bacteria called noma. The relentless disease largely affects young children. In Clerette’s case, it began as a small abscess in her gum. Within days, a large chunk of her left face was gone.
Nearly 90 percent of all children afflicted with noma do not survive. Those that do – like Clerette – are left horribly disfigured. When people saw Clerette, they didn’t see a cute little girl with braids. They only saw the massive hole on the left side of her face.
The results were devastating. Her father abandoned her. Her mother remarried. Her stepfather left them because he could not tolerate the insults and abuses hurled their way. Clerette’s mother believed that her daughter was cursed, so she stopped caring for her. Clerette was wasting away into physical, spiritual and emotional nothingness.
And at the moment of seemingly impenetrable hopelessness, a man named Zara and his wife came into Clerette’s life. They didn’t see the unsightly hole. They didn’t see a cursed child. They saw beauty amidst the ashes.
Zara and his wife loved Clerette as if she were their own child. They prayed that God would send a cure for her. Zara feared he had missed the one opportunity to provide Clerette with healing. In 1996 the Mercy Ships vessel, Anastasis, was docked in Madagascar. By the time Zara convinced Clerette’s mother to allow Clerette to be seen by the doctors, it was too late – all the appointments were filled. He asked God to provide a miracle.
Almost on cue, Zara saw two Anastasis crew members walking the beach. Clinging to the last bit of hope, Zara convinced the crew members to allow him to bring Clerette to the dock. Then he convinced Dr. Gary Parker, maxillofacial surgeon, to add Clerette to the already full surgery schedule. Upon hearing that Clerette would have surgery, Zara burst into tears of joy. Years of contempt and ridicule were washed away by mercy and compassion.
Over 18 years later, that same little girl – now a young woman, whole and happy – would once again stand in front of Dr. Gary. He performed a revision to the reconstruction he had done in 1996. And Clerette was again reminded of what her “adoptive parents” had seen in her so many years earlier . . .
“You have reminded that I am beautiful. I feel beautiful again,” she said.
We thank Clerette for bravely sharing her story with us and are excited for her new beginning!
It’s easy to locate our eleven-year-old namako (the Malagasy word for friend). Just walk through the ward door and listen for the laughter. It’s a fact of life that Windy is rarely ever at his bed – he’s usually playing with someone else. And that “Someone Else” is usually another burn patient named Fandresena.
They are best friends, bound by natural compatibility and a common understanding of each other’s pain. They are a heart-warming reminder of how our patients receive the benefits of friendship and support, both from other patients and crew members.
As you walk up to him, the boy raises his arms for a huge hug … before wickedly smiling and promptly stealing one of the two stickers that you have on your face after your visit to the rehab tent. With great delight, he pops the sticker onto his own face. He then proceeds to jabber away at you in English. He’s been learning fast. In fact, on a couple of occasions, we’ve even used him as a mini-translator.
You would never guess that this boy with the sunny disposition has experienced something terrible. His face and arms tell a sad story. His skin is discoloured, uneven, raised, and grazed – beginning on his left cheek and snaking down his left arm. There is a patch on his head that should have hair, but doesn’t. He has limited movement in his arm and cannot straighten it. (more…)