Pounding yams … hand-washing clothes … head-carrying water or goods to sell … feeding a baby … all common tasks for women in many parts of West Africa. For some, it’s part of living; for others, it’s a matter of surviving. For a young girl like Rose, having hands that functioned properly would ease the simple tasks of getting dressed, eating and brushing her hair.
At 10 years old, those things were already challenge. What would happen when she needed her hands to do more? Her father Dele didn’t want to find out. He left his wife, newborn twins and two other daughters to take Rose on a six-hour bus ride to Mercy Ships so she could have surgery. It was there that the damage of the past would be undone.
It had happened nine years ago when Rose was just learning to walk. Dinner was over, and the cooking fire had died down, but red-hot coals hid secretly beneath the ashes. Rose stumbled and fell hands-first onto the embers. The burns were bad, especially on one hand; one of her tiny little fingers was half-gone. Dele and his wife rushed their daughter to the local hospital where doctors treated the burns using an ointment. Not long after, though, the wounds became infected. With no money left, traditional medicine was the only remaining option. Over time, scarring took over. Because there was no access to physical therapy or other forms of care, some of the tendons and ligaments fused the fingers and palm together into a frozen position, making one of Rose’s hands mostly unusable.
But, now, that’s in the past. A free surgery coupled with almost three months of physical therapy at Mercy Ships helped restore functionality to the hand, and Dele was overjoyed. He stayed by his daughter’s side the entire time, making sure she had everything she needed.
One day, while her hand was still bandaged, he took Rose to get her hair done. “My hair? I don’t care how it looks … but my daughter’s? I need to take care of her very well and want her to have the best. Glory be to God if she can one day do her own hair with her own two hands! » he says.
Dele managed to stay patiently focused on Rose’s recovery, though he knew that his wife, four kids and job needed him there, as well. “He was eager to get home,” says Chelsea Darlow, volunteer hand therapist. “And so he was great at encouraging Rose to do her exercises. He was always interested in watching how we did the exercises so he could do them with her as well. I could really see that he worked with her between rehab sessions, and that made a difference in the progress she made.” These encouraging progress reports also made their way to the ears of a very interested “Mrs. Dele” back at home.
« She’s aware of everything! » Dele says with humor as he describes his wife’s eagerness for their return. « Even yesterday she called and asked, ‘When will you be discharged?’ I told her, ‘Be patient! I don’t know yet!' » As far as his newborn twin boys are concerned, he laughs. « From what I’ve heard, the babies are growing up! Their mom is taking very good care of them. »
Finally, it was time for Rose’s last therapy session. She sat on Chelsea’s lap, not wanting to let go of her hand. “She was very excited at the start, hugging everyone, then sad about leaving, yet still looking forward to going home,” says Chelsea, impressed with how much the young girl accomplished but torn to see her go. “Once you’ve made really strong connections with people, it can be very difficult to say goodbye,” she adds.
Finally, just a six-hour bus ride and the two would be back at home, showing family what took so long. “She can do everything now!” says Dele, a very proud father, knowing Rose is fully capable of doing whatever she needs … including her own hair.
Story by Windsor Marchesi
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Miguel Ottaviano, Timmy Baskerville, and Kat Sotolongo