Marlayna Van Hoepen recently returned home to Chilliwack, British Columbia, from the Africa Mercy where she spent three months volunteering as a cook on board during our 2014-2015 field service in Madagascar.
Marlayna cooked up a storm and provided crew with the fuel they needed to help patients and keep the ship running!
Marlayna now joins Chilliwack Mercy Ships alumni Nurse Nelleke Kerkchoff, Hairstylist Shanna Fortnum and Eye Care Assistant Kathryn Stock who have all dedicated months and years to bringing free healthcare to the world’s poor with Mercy Ships.
At the young age of 19, Marlayna has seen a part of the world most Canadians have not.
“My experience on the ship has changed my life, Africa will forever hold a place in my heart and I will be back” says Marlayna.
One such life-changing experience included Sambany’s story. Sambany travelled by foot for two days with the burden of a 16.46lb facial tumour to reach the Africa Mercy in hopes of receiving help, and help he did find, as surgeons were able to completely remove the tumour giving him back his life!
Sambany tells Mercy Ships crew, “I knew without surgery I would die. I knew I might die in surgery, but I already felt dead inside from the way I was treated. I chose to have the surgery.”
It took 17 blood donors made up of the ship’s crew to keep Sambany alive during the 12 hour operation, he lost all of his own blood and now runs on 100% donated blood. He has since recovered and returned home to his village where family and friends were in shock after seeing his face without the tumour he had carried for 19 years.
“Being on board and seeing Sambany’s journey and transformation was just amazing” says Van Hoepen.
During the 2014-2015 eight month field service in Madagascar, 1267 operating room surgeries were performed!
Mercy Ships would not be able to deliver healthcare services to patients like Sambany without the help of our Canadian volunteers like Marlayna!
In 217 days volunteer surgeons performed 104 cleft lip and palate repairs that granted those individuals freedom to live a normal life.
We are thankful for our donors and volunteers around the world that have made those surgeries possible!
Cleft Lips Deconstructed
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1 in 700 births suffer from a cleft lip –a split usually in the upper lip. In the developing world most cleft lips are closed within the first year.
In developing countries like Madagascar there are few surgeons that can seal cleft lips. Mercy Ships volunteer surgeons not only performed over 100 cleft lip repairs this field service, they also mentored local surgeons in the art of cleft lip.
Francina’s mother used to dread feeding times; her seven month old baby girl couldn’t feed naturally off her like most babies. Babies like Francina often die from malnutrition.
Francina’s mother made the 18 hour journey with her baby, hoping that Mercy Ships could help. When she arrived, Francina was underweight and not ready for surgery. Thanks to our infant feeding program we were able to help Francina reach a healthy weight and get her ready for surgery.
Today, Francina’s mother no longer worries about feeding time!
“Good food equals good health, and that’s what we are all about” – Ken Winbark, Mercy Ships Agriculture program Administrator
What is the Mercy Ships Food for Life Program?
Since 1997, the Mercy Ships Food for Life program improves general health through teaching sustainable agriculture, nutrition, and animal husbandry. Participants discover significantly improved methods of food production.
The program focuses on training nutritionally appropriate, ecologically sustainable, organic agriculture, while also enhancing household revenue. Thence it trains trainers to multiply the message outwards among Non Governmental Agencies (NGOs) and government agencies, villages, cooperatives and families. The right food is the best preventive ‘medicine’!
Locals learn how to rebuild, restore, and renew their lives, land, communities and nations through holistic, organic agriculture development. The latest Food for Life endeavour is Aquaponics which will add another avenue for increasing access and availability to fresh, nutritional foods.
Food for Life in Madagascar
Madagascar deals with many factors that cause major challenges for feeding populations, especially in rural areas. Unpredictable weather, a fragile ecosystem, deforestation and poor land management all contribute to increasing vulnerability and food insecurity throughout the country. Many of the disfigurements Mercy Ships surgeons operate on develop because of malnutrition.
Over the 2014-2015 field service Mercy Ships partnered with 6 NGOs in Madagascar: Centre Fafiala, Anae, Ong Mercy Ministries, Love and Care, Caritas, Philadelphia Orphanage.
Creating a lasting impact
This year our amazing volunteers and donors helped build an Aquaponics system near Tamatave to aid food insecurity in the region. Aquaponics is a complete food producing cycle that uses fish waste water to supply nutrients to vegetables that are grown in a gravel medium. The gravel and plant roots purify the water which returns to the fish tank as fresh oxygenated water, promoting fish growth and providing protein for human consumption, the biggest limiting factor in developing world diets.
The Aquaponics system uses 95 percent less water than traditional methods and cuts the germination time in half. This method produces 2-3 times the yield of traditional farming or standard greenhouse operations, and will help increase access and availability to fresh, nutritional foods.
Making a difference at the Philadelphia Orphanage
On April 12th 2015 Agriculture trainers, Eliphaz Essah and Josh Figini, began a training program at the Philadelphia Orphanage in the Beravy region of Toliara.
This included 12 participants from the orphanage and surrounding community. The projects at the orphanage included: composting, constructing beds for planting, expanding fruit and vegetable production, natural pest repellent training, and assisting in the implementation of a solar powered water pump and irrigation system.
One of the participants, a local pastor, described the knowledge he gained through the training as “riches for the community.” This project will greatly benefit the children at the orphanage!
Eliphaz says “The trainees never believed that this type of agriculture could ever happen there because of the fact that Toliara is a very desert area. The surprise and excitement that the trainees have shown over watching the crops germinate has been very encouraging to us.
The germination of the crops has been largely due to everyone working hard to make good compost. We give all the glory to God over the way the trainees’ hearts and minds have been transformed here.”
Mercy Ships Canada is celebrating World Blood Day and blood donors around the world! Onboard the world’s largest charity hospital ship, Africa Mercy, the volunteer crew make up the blood bank and play a huge role in saving lives and restoring hope.
The Africa Mercy is crewed by 450 international volunteers; professionals include surgeons, engineers, teachers, cooks and more – all volunteering their time, service, and blood to provide free medical care for the world’s poor!
This past year crew members were vital in saving the life of one particular patient, 60-year-old Sambany from rural Madagascar. Sambany travelled by foot for two days with the burden of a 16.46lb facial tumour to reach the Africa Mercy, in hopes of receiving free surgery.
Surgeons onboard hesitated to operate on Sambany, as the complications which could arise from removing a fifth of his weight were large, but they decided to go ahead with the surgery.
“I knew without surgery I would die. I knew I might die in surgery, but I already felt dead inside from the way I was treated. I chose to have the surgery” said Sambany.
It took 17 selfless donors to keep him alive during his 12 hour surgery, which removed his massive tumour. Kyle Siemens from Kelowna, British Columbia and Media Liason on board, was one of five Canadian donors called to give Sambany blood.
“The medical staff told us that it was really lucky there had been enough donors on the ship – Sambany had lost all of his own blood and was currently running on 100% donated. To know that I have directly helped save someone’s life is amazing” says Kyle.
Sambany has now recovered and returned home to his village where family and friends were in shock after seeing his face without the tumour he had carried for 19 years.
The Africa Mercy spends an average of 10 months in each host country performing surgeries and offering developmental programs and training to locals, completely free of charge. we would not be able to deliver healthcare services to patients like Sambany without the help of our wonderful volunteers!
Her cleft lip makes her feel ugly.
Her older brother, Theo, says she is always touching her nose. When asked why, Banay leans over and whispers into the translator’s ear, “I was ashamed.” It was her way of hiding her face.
Banay is extremely quiet and shy, mainly because she also has a cleft palate. This makes it difficult to eat because food often goes into her nose when she swallows. It can also cause hearing difficulties because the soft palate muscles are connected to the middle ear, increasing the chance of ear infections and potential hearing loss. It has severely limited her ability to produce clear speech. Theo says, “Sometimes we really do not understand what she wants, what she is saying.”
The inability to speak clearly robs Banay of many things that are part of a normal life – things like leaving the house without fear or connecting with people. Banay wants friends, but says that she doesn’t have any. It is hard to build friendships when people can’t understand you.
In Madagascar, the average starting age for school is between four and seven, depending on the region in which someone lives. Banay does not attend school, so she cannot read or write. As a result, her future opportunities are greatly limited.
Nurse Brenda Sossou, from Canada who coordinates the Mercy Ships speech therapy program, says, “With a lot of palate patients, it’s not that they haven’t tried to learn to speak or that they don’t have the intelligence to speak. It’s often that they can’t get their point across clearly enough to be understood. So sometimes, they don’t have the heart to try.”
A free surgery to repair Banay’s cleft lip and palate and subsequent speech therapy exercises have restored Banay’s life.
After only one week, she showed great improvement. Her speech therapy exercises included blowing bubbles to teach her how to control holding air in her mouth, a previously impossible feat which is essential to making sounds.
She also had to make funny faces to strengthen her muscles. Banay certainly knows how to enjoy herself. She was a funny-face-making genius, showcasing many creative arrangements of her facial features. The people who will eventually become her friends are lucky human beings.
As a result of all of this hard work in therapy, Banay is learning to put sounds into words and sentences. She was given an abundant supply of flash cards. Brenda says, “The hope is that if she continues these exercises we have given her, diligently and regularly, she will one day be able to have clear speech.”
Big brother Theo says, “We are very happy because now Banay looks like everyone else. We are also happy that her speech has improved. Thank you very much. We are really impressed at the materials used to fix the clefts. The kindness of the doctors and nurses who took care of Banay – we really appreciated it.”
The most wonderful part of this story is that Banay finally feels beautiful enough to face the world … a world that is now full of possibilities.
Brenda says, “I have a tendency to tell my patients that I look forward to hearing about them becoming the next president, or future doctor, surgeon or lawyer … so I can hear their speech.”
And we are sure that Banay will have a great deal to say!