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
A boy can cope with a lot of setbacks, but rejection by his friends is a crushing blow. Victorien’s friends called him “Big Chin” and stopped playing with him.
Victorien’s problem started when his cheek began to swell. A dentist identified an abnormality in his mouth and said he needed to go to the city to be examined. Since Victorien and his family live in an isolated area in northern Madagascar, this did not seem possible.
As the bump in his mouth grew and grew, Victorien lived with a terrible fear. “I thought I was going to die,” whispers the 11-year-old.
The benign tumour continued to rapidly multiply in size. After several months, his face was severely distorted, and they could wait no longer. The family rented out their rice field, the village pulled together its resources, and they gathered just enough money for Victorien and his mother to travel for the help he desperately needed.
Mother and son crowded into a boat with 60 others. They spent two days at sea and slept upright on their allocated bench.
Victorien was seasick and afraid in the rough weather.
His misshaped face attracted stares from the other passengers. Finally arriving in Toamasina, they were met by an uncle who took them to the Mercy Ships dental clinic. The swelling in Victorien’s mouth was quickly identified as a tumor requiring major surgery.
When his Mercy Ships surgery date arrived, volunteer surgeons spent several hours removing a tumour the size of two fists. As Victorien recovered from his extensive operation, he began to heal from the inside out. “Everyone in the ward is a friend,” he said.
As a transformed Victorien prepares to make the long journey home, he is already planning for the future. He is anxious to return to his friends and longs to play soccer and their games with toy cars.
He looks forward to returning to school. And, when he grows up, he wants to be a math teacher … or a soldier.
But most important of all, Victorian is no longer afraid of his future.
– Written by Sharon Walls
Marlene is from Plum Pointe, Newfoundland. She is an Anglican Priest who, among many things, loves design and decorating – her home, table, gifts, herself, etc.
Marlene creates incredible gift baskets and raffles them off and has raised thousands for Mercy Ships this way. In addition to gift baskets, Marlene also creates prayer boxes, small packages that are on display in many homes throughout Newfoundland. When Harvey discovered Mercy Ships she adapted the idea to create ‘prayer box gifts’ as a fundraiser. The money from every gift sold goes to Mercy Ships,
“My creations may well have stemmed from walks in the woods with my dog, where I always delighted in nature’s art. And now decorating brown paper wrapped gifts, which my friends love, but never, never open. (The gifts; floral note cards, scented soaps, etc., have often been spotted in a place of honour in the friend’s home, unopened, long after…seems they are just too pretty to open!)”
Marlene has experienced triumph and tragedy in her life; surviving cancer in 1991 and the loss of her daughter in an accident in 1994. Through her creative pursuits Marlene continues to find healing and along the way has helped many others find healing themselves.
After completing her M. Div. at Huron University College and a Thanatology course at King’s College in London, Marlene began a Grief Counseling Practice at her church. This was the beginning of the idea of prayer box gifts – as therapy.
“As I began my ‘creations from nature’ in the aftermath of the tragedy in my life, I encourage my clients to turn to their creative gift…everyone has one. It is a breath of fresh air to witness the first tiny spark of a return to interest in life. There is something wonderfully comforting in working with one’s hands to create something beautiful that soothes the soul….whatever that something might be”
When Marlene discovered Mercy Ships she adapted the idea to create ‘prayer box gifts’ as a fundraiser to support the work of the charity, which uses hospital ships to bring free transformative healthcare to the poorest of nations.
The prayer box gift is too pretty to be opened, but inside is a prayer for Mercy Ships. The money from every gift sold goes to support, in the words of Marlene
“Those who need more than our prayers, those who need us to be the hands and heart of Christ.
Hundreds of prayer box gifts have been sold on top of the impressive gift baskets raffled off. Marlene and her husband Harold, also use and distribute Mercy Ships air-miles cards, postcards, DVDs, coin boxes, return address labels (made by Harold) and literature.
Their hope is to one day volunteer on board the Africa Mercy as Chaplains but for now, believe they are more valuable raising money in Canada.
As Marlene is well-known in her community and news travels incredibly fast in Newfoundland, she has been invited to speak to Women’s groups a number of times, helping spread awareness for Mercy Ships.
“It has been an incredible journey and my husband and I took it together, we share our passion for Mercy Ships, which is never stagnant; we are creative souls, always searching for another avenue through which to shed more light on this most wonderful ministry.
We are so grateful for Marlene, Harold and their whole community in Newfoundland who continue to make a difference with Mercy Ships in Africa!
One by one our donors give what they can, and one by one lives are transformed.
If you would like to share your story or the story of someone you know, please contact us!
Do you remember what it’s like to be a child with a wish? Waking up on Christmas morning is a joyous occasion for many kids in Canada, but sadly there are many children around the world have never known the joy of a Christmas wish coming true.
In Madagascar, children like Cindy don’t have the luxury of wishing for toys – all Cindy wants is for her feet to be fixed, so she can walk properly and go to school. But Cindy’s father can’t afford the surgery she so desperately needs.
This year instead of giving Christmas gifts to friends and family, you can grant the wishes of children like Cindy by giving to the Mercy Ships Wish List!
By giving to the Wish List you can grant the wishes of patients like Cindy who are hoping to receive care on the Africa Mercy. A gift card will be sent to your loved one to note the extraordinary gift you have made in their honor, and your donation will be doubled to have twice the impact!
You can bring true joy by granting the wish of children in need this year. What better gift is there?
After careful consideration, the Executive Committee of the Mercy Ships International Board has approved the deployment of the Africa Mercy to the nation of Benin for the August 2016 – June 2017 field service.
The Africa Mercy was previously scheduled to dock in Benin in 2014, but had to redeploy due to the Ebola outbreak in the region of West Africa. Following the past two years of service in Madagascar, the decision to return to West Africa was taken with great care and deliberation even though Benin was not affected.
During the past several months a number of West African countries have been declared Ebola free. In the coming months, Mercy Ships will continue to carefully monitor these encouraging developments, study and make the necessary preparations for this field service.
Benin is considered one of the most stable and safest countries in the region, with a history of peaceful transitions between governments through democratic elections, and a progressive government striving to modernise the country and eradicate poverty.
Despite the stability of both the country and its economic growth, it is still considered one of the poorest nations in the world, ranking at 165 out of 187 countries according to the United Nations Human Development Index in 2013. Benin welcomes support to improve the country’s health system. (1)
Donovan Palmer, Group Managing Director for Mercy Ships, reports, “Since our last visit to Benin, the Mercy Ships programmatic model has expanded. Capacity-building projects are now possible on a scale which did not exist previously. Coupled with the opportunity to build on projects from the past, we believe Mercy Ships efforts have the potential to catalyze change in Benin in ways not possible before now.”
The Africa Mercy last visited Benin in 2009. Previous to that time, Mercy Ships have also docked in Cotonou in 2004, 2001, and first served in the nation in 1997.