Aissatou Finds Healing

Looking for Her Healing

Aissatou’s parents would have given everything they had to find healing for their daughter. Ousmane is a farmer in northwestern Senegal. Every year at the end of the season, he took the proceeds from his harvest and went looking for someone to repair his infant daughter’s cleft lip. And every year, he was disappointed.

“I love my daughter so much, I would never stop looking for her healing,” he said.

For a young girl like Aissatou, a cleft lip is not just an inconvenience. The stigma around the condition trapped her in her home, isolated and withdrawn. In adulthood, it may have prevented her from getting married or working.

Ousmane knew without healing, his daughter’s future was uncertain at best. But no matter what he had to give, it wasn’t enough.

Aissatou Finds Healing

A Gift of Healing

In 2019, when Aissatou was just a toddler, Ousmane heard that a Mercy Ships hospital vessel was coming to the port of Dakar to provide free surgeries and medical training. There was a possibility this could be the answer he’d been seeking.

He made the journey to the port with Aissatou, and they were thrilled to receive a surgery appointment. But the joy was short-lived. Soon the family learned that her operation was delayed due to COVID-19.

Still, Ousmane did not give up.

“In my heart I knew that these people would help my daughter,” he said. “I just kept praying and hoping that the ship would return.”

In the meantime, life went on in the village of Louga, in northern Senegal. Ousmane continued farming. He and his wife Khadija did their best to protect Aissatou from unkind stares, even making the decision to keep her out of school.

Aissatou was 4 years old and full of energy when she finally boarded the Africa Mercy® in 2022. She was already growing into a friendly and fiery girl, curious and full of life. When she wasn’t dancing or challenging the volunteers on board to a race, she pointed to all the other ships around her. But when she played, it was alone, with her toys – not with the other children.

Ousmane came with Aissatou as a caregiver, while her mother Khadija waited anxiously at home.

“I couldn’t eat or drink,” Khadija said. “I wondered if she was going to receive treatment or not.”

The family was grateful for the opportunity – but they’d been disappointed before.

“During the surgery I was afraid,” Ousmane said, recalling the difficult hours of waiting. “I don’t know anything about surgery, and I had no idea what was happening. It took a long time before she came back, but when she came back, I was so happy!”

Once the bandages were off, Ousmane and his daughter could both see the transformation. Where before Aissatou’s cleft had been, there was smooth skin. Aissatou stared at herself in the mirror, looking fascinated. And while she watched the mirror, her father only had eyes for her.

He had finally received the treasure he desired above all else: Healing for his daughter.

And he wasn’t the only one who experienced a newfound joy. Joy was written across Aissatou’s face.

“The first thing I see changing on her is the smile,” said Boubacar Diallo, a Senegalese translator who worked on the ship and grew close with Aissatou’s family during their stay. “After the surgery she was smiling all the time.”

Aissatou had spent the four years of her young life in hiding, as her parents tried to protect her. When her mother took her out in public, she covered Aissatou’s head. When she went to the market, Aissatou stayed behind. When there were visitors, Aissatou was kept in her room.

“After surgery she was free,” Boubacar said. “Playing and running everywhere, playing with other kids. … She was dancing a lot.”

An Exchange of Gratitude

Soon after Aissatou returned home, her family welcomed visitors from Mercy Ships.

Boubacar and a small team of colleagues traveled to her village to follow up on her recovery, bearing offerings like rice, bread, fabric, and clothing – but they weren’t prepared for the gifts they would receive.

When the entire community gathered for a celebration, one of the village elders shared: “We had lost all hope. We thought she was going to die like this. Nobody believed that she would be healed, because all the other hospitals had nothing other than empty promises.”

Boubacar stood next to Aissatou as a circle of children formed around her, enclosing her in love and acceptance.

“They called the other kids to come and celebrate Aissatou’s healing day,” Boubacar remembered. “The other kids in the circle, they were singing for her. It was beautiful.”

Ousmane had tried to give everything he had to find healing for his daughter. But in the end, it came to him as a gift. His gratitude was overflowing, as he blessed his visitors with milk from his goats and onions from his farm.

But for Boubacar, watching Aissatou’s community welcome her back was the greatest joy of all. The visit, and the grace he encountered, would stay with him.

“The way they welcomed us, the way they were so happy to see us and give us everything they can,” he said. “It was so wonderful.”

He wasn’t the only one who was filled with gratitude.

“When they finally returned home, I was so happy,” said Aissatou’s mother, Khadija. “I cannot thank you enough.”

A Future of Hope

Ousmane had worried for his daughter’s future. He knew all the ways her condition could hinder her. Finally, that worry was at an end.

“Her life will change so much now,” said her father. “She will be able to speak properly and go to school.”

When Aissatou returned home, some of those changes were evident immediately. She was embraced by her village. She started playing with the other children. She helped her father on the farm.

But before too many big changes could take hold, Aissatou’s mother had one last gift to give. In full view of the village, and without a hint of fear, she took her daughter to the market. This time, she did not hide Aissatou’s face.

Aissatou Finds Healing

Maxillofacial Surgery