It was a journey that would take 6 Mercy-Shippers braving around 33 miles and 5 days through rivers and rice fields, hiking up and down approximately 2,500 feet of altitude, driving through mud, canoeing, and much more – but the outcome was worth it. The ‘Fellowship of Sambany’ (as these crew members called themselves) accompanied Sambany, a man whose 7.46 kg tumour volunteer surgeons had removed months ago, and his grandson Flavy, safely home!
Sambany’s Wife Sees Him Without His Tumor For The First Time…
No one we met was as spunky as the woman with the colorful hat, cheeky grin and a thumbs-up always at the ready: Sambany’s wife, Barazafy. She said,
How differently Barazafy feels now. She shares how her heart raced upon seeing her husband for the first time in five months. And then she describes seeing him without his tumour for the first time, “I did not recognize Sambany! … I said, “Is it you?” I was really happy!”
Sambany’s Sister’s Reaction…
We met Sambany’s sister in a village on the way to his home village of Sahanomby. Her emphatic exclamations revealed an astounded woman,
She looked at her brother and said, “You got a second chance.”
Sambany and Barazafy’s first steps onto their home soil were directed straight to the center of their village. There, they prayed. When they had finished, they made their way to a little wooden hut under the amazed and intrigued stares of the other villagers. These people took turns pouring into the hut, where they listened attentively to the tale of a man who they had thought had been dead for months and gaped at the photographic evidence of his experience.
Radio, Dance, Celebration!
Sambany’s journey began with a radio (where he heard about Mercy Ships), and it will end with a radio. Throughout our trek, the mountains of Madagascar were filled with tunes blasting from his radio (including ‘Alouette’ and songs by One Direction). Flavy and Sambany occasionally let their inner flow out as spontaneous mini-dances (one of Sambany’s dances looked like tap-dancing). The night of Sambany’s return, his radio was the center of a dance party celebrating his healing. We asked Barazafy if she was going to dance with him. She said, “Yes! The whole village is going to dance with him!”
Saying Goodbye to Sambany...
The morning of Sambany’s first full day at home without his tumor, his village held a ceremony dedicated to thanking Mercy Ships for granting him another chance at life. Following a gift of three chickens and a bag of rice, Sahanomby’s spiritual leader gave a heartfelt, grateful speech.
His people assembled to wave us goodbye, and as we shook Sambany’s (and fist-bumped Barazafy’s) hands, we looked into their faces and saw joy. The joy of a man and his family free from a terrible burden; who are free to live.
Mercy Ships patients are not the only ones who experience transformed lives. Crew members create treasured memories of heart-lifting and heart-breaking moments. Ward Nurse Heather Morehouse shares a special story:
When you first arrived on the ward, I saw your face … how your lip was pulled up and made your face look like you had a permanent scowl … how your left eye was missing, and your face was distorted … how you played, but were very aggressive, as if you’d spent your whole life fighting …
I found out that, when you were a week old, your mother left you at home with your older siblings so she could go to work to support you. When she came home, she found that you had been attacked by some animal!
It left a hole in your face that got infected, probably with a flesh-destroying bacteria called noma. It ate away your nose and ruined your eye. A local doctor sewed your eye shut and advised your mom to pour hot water on your eye every day for the next five years. Your mom didn’t know what else to do.
You came to us needing a new nose … but you are leaving with a new heart.
Obstetric Fistula? Some might nod their head and pretend they know what these words mean, but many Canadians do not.
Vesico-vaginal Fistula (VVF) is traumatizing. It is a child birth related injury where a hole develops between the rectum and vagina or between the bladder and vagina. Women who survive days of labor and the death of their baby are left incontinent, which means they have no control over constantly leaking urine and feces. This condition affects millions of women around the world, primarily in poverty stricken countries where there is very limited access to healthcare and an emergency caesarean section
Free surgeries are provided for women on board the Africa Mercy and training is given to local & international health care professionals including surgeons, nurses and traditional birth attendants.
Monica Ciolfi from Qualicum Beach, British Columbia recently returned from the Africa Mercy where she spent three months working as a Nurse and caring for many fistula patients.
“If a woman in Canada can’t have a vaginal delivery she has a C-section and no one’s life is jeopardized. In certain cultures in Africa some women are left to deliver their babies in isolation as a rite of passage, or they are too far away from a hospital, or can’t afford medical care for their delivery” says Monica.
The Africa Mercy is currently docked in Tamatave, Madagascar where It is estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) that 2,000 Malagasy women develop fistula each year with around 50,000 Malagasy women in need of surgery.
“When I visited the local children’s ward there was a baby with her grandmother because her mother had died giving birth. There is no reason why a woman should die during childbirth. For all the doctors and nurses working in labour and delivery in Canada, the women of the world need you”
Monica cared for patients who each had an unbelievable story to tell.
Patients like Florine.
Florine is 39 and has lived with VVF for 25 years. She was married around 14 years old to a young man in her village, which is located in a remote part of Madagascar to the north of Tamatave. Shortly after her marriage Florine got pregnant, but when it came time to delivering her child there were complications.
There was no midwife present and after an undetermined amount of time, Florine lost the baby. Florine became sick after the birth and it took one full month for her to recover. It was during this time that she realized she was leaking urine. Florine brought three other babies to full term to have them die at child birth, two other pregnancies were miscarriages.
Unable to conceive children and incontinent, Florine was abandoned by her husband. She was alone in a small village in the extreme north of Madagascar. (more…)
She arrived at our gates barefoot. She didn’t have enough money to buy shoes. The dust covering her feet bore witness to how hard they had worked. They had seen the three a.m. stars in her home village, and they had walked ten long hours. She couldn’t afford a boat ride. After a few more hours by bus, her feet finally reached their destination . . . the steps of the Africa Mercy, a large hospital ship docked off the coast of Toamasina, Madagascar.
Her name is Salestine. The 49-year-old woman’s tiny frame, just over 66 pounds or 30 kilograms, was draped in clothes that were spotted and worn. A blood-red covering sheathed the bottom half of her face, hiding a secret – an ugly, flesh-coloured tumour, larger than an orange. It was slowly starving her to death. In fact, the Mercy Ships surgeon said, “If she had not come, she would have died within the year.”
Salestine’s tumour had slowly grown and grown, until it dominated her mouth . . . and began to extinguish her life. She was helpless – incredibly sick, plagued by pain, and confined to her house. She couldn’t afford shoes, let alone surgery.
She was so terribly alone. Both her husband and son had died from illness. Her other family members lived far away. Salestine says, “During this time, I could not do anything. I still had a desire to be alive, but I didn’t know what to do. I stayed lonely at home. Lonely.”
Thanks to her generous neighbours, who gave her food, she survived. For several months before she arrived at our hospital ship, she could only eat mashed bananas and drink water. She had to lift the tumour to place the food in her mouth.
It was hard to talk, hard to interact. And not everyone was kind. Some people told her, “You are going to die soon anyway. There is no need to look after you.” Salestine says, “I was angry, but I didn’t know what to do. I kept quiet because they are stronger than me, and I could not do anything.”
When she heard about a ship that specialized in removing certain kinds of tumours, it sounded too good to be true. But she had nothing to lose – she was going to die anyway. So she gathered her courage, covered her mouth, flung her door open, and walked thousands of steps toward Mercy Ships . . . toward hope.
And thus began the process of bringing Salestine out of hiding. A free 20-minute surgery removed the tumour that had plagued her for 10 years. It was gone forever.
Her heart also began to tentatively emerge from darkness. Connie Czepiel (USA), a Mercy Ships accounts receivable clerk, befriended Salestine. She describes her first view of Salestine: “She was not talking, not interacting … sometimes she’d have her back to people … looking at the wall. Her son had died. She was crying when Rosie prayed with her. That was the first time someone had prayed for her in a long time. She was in grief … depressed.”
So Connie, along with a mini-army of determined volunteers, loved on Salestine unconditionally, day and night. Connie says, “Many times we’d sit in silence. She’s a quiet person. I’m a quiet person. And that’s okay. We just wanted her to know [that we care].”
Slowly, Salestine’s protective shell began to crack, letting light in. She began to trust, to open up. Connie learned about the person underneath. She describes Salestine: “Determined … there was just a spark … a can-do type. We taught her to make a bracelet. She caught onto things quickly. If given different opportunities in life, she would have gone far.”
The real transformation came when Salestine decided to become a follower of Jesus. She’d thought that God could not love her until her disease was cured. But the crew let her know that God loved her with or without her disease. “From that day on, she seemed a lot happier … a lot more peace, a lot more joy, a lot less grief. She began interacting with people. She started smiling and laughing more … I can’t describe how wonderful it was to see such a transformation, both physically and spiritually,” Connie says.
On the day Salestine left our hospital, there were amazing differences in her appearance – the red covering was gone, and her eyes and her lips were smiling.
Salestine is somewhere in Madagascar now, alive and free. Free to face the world unafraid of what people think, free to make friends, free to work, free to make money and free to fulfil her desire of building a new house, free to eat. (She told us that she was looking forward to eating stewed chicken.) She is free to live.
Now Salestine has nothing to hide or to hide behind.
– By Eunice Hiew, writer on board the Africa Mercy
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.