Mercy Ships Welcomes Anjara, First Cleft Lip Patient in Madagascar

Cleft Lip: Surgeries Begin Onboard the Africa Mercy in Madagascar

Anjara became the first patient to receive free life-transforming cleft lip surgery from Mercy Ships in Madagascar since the international charity returned to the island nation. Ten-month-old Anjara’s surgery marks a significant landmark for the organization which is operating two hospital ships at once in Africa for the first time.

Anjara, who has become extremely attached to Lalaina, her mother, was born with bilateral cleft lip. Since then, her mother, having already heard about Mercy Ships in 2015 had been praying for the ships’ return to Madagascar.

“I thank God that Mercy Ships is here, so they can help fix my baby’s cleft lip,” she said in gratitude.

Though a daily wager, Lalaina believes her daughter’s surgery is topmost priority and is completely dedicated to helping her walk this new journey of hope and healing.

“It’s a really exciting day because it’s the culmination of many years of work in preparation to return to Madagascar for our fifth-year service here in this nation,” the Africa Mercy’s managing director from the USA, Nathan Jansen, shared his excitement to welcome Anjara on board as first patient of the field service.

Canadian Volunteers at Work for This Island Nation

Darryl Anderson, executive director of Mercy Ships commented “I am extremely proud of the role that Canadian volunteers play as part of an international team from over 60 countries worldwide.” Anderson continued “The wide range of skills from our volunteers speaks to the generosity of spirit that characterizes Mercy Ships Canada volunteers.”

The Attwaters (Canadian family from Regina, SK) in front of the Africa Mercy in Madagascar.

Since arriving in the country in February, the Africa Mercy implemented an extensive strategy to ensure the broad reach of its services, covering diverse regions within Madagascar. With registrations spanning 12 regions across the country.

Chris Attwater (top left), Canadian volunteer who serves as Transport and Maintenance Manager has been leading the team that set up the dock with tents and everything needed to begin the field service here in Toamasina, Madagascar:

“It’s truly been a momentous time aboard the Africa Mercy as the first surgeries have begun. This achievement is a result of our team’s collective efforts and our partners’ support. It’s been a humbling experience to witness the Lord’s work through the hands of the hospital, Hope Center, and hospital chaplaincy crew as they directly interact with the Malagasy patients and caregivers, making a real difference in their lives.

A significant amount has been done in preparation for this field service. Many meetings occurred, and ideas were shared as the various stakeholders gathered to ensure we were ready for the first patients to arrive.

My Transportation and Maintenance team members are phenomenal – they have gone above and beyond as they humbly serve. God has been good to us regarding our teams’ staffing complement, and I could not be prouder to be part of this group of volunteer crew and Malagasy day crew members. The team is responsible for dock-side set-up and maintenance, vehicle allocation and repairs, and Hope Center maintenance. The guys assisted the Hospitatiner Corporation in setting up the new dockside HIB inflatable tents and metal shipping container workspaces. The tents house the pre-op, rehabilitation, eye clinic, and outpatient care teams. The containers accommodate the dental department, vehicle workshop, and departmental storage. After completing the major set-up components, we shifted focus to fine-tuning and maintenance. We’ve also made the dock space accessible for our crew’s fun and fitness by adding painted lines and nets for volleyball, pickleball, basketball, soccer, and an outdoor weightlifting gym.”

Joshua Chau
Joshua Chau in Liambolo during Anjara's home visit.

Photographer Joshua Chau, a Canadian volunteer who documented Anjara’s journey commented:

“As a person with limited medical background, being able to document Anjara’s journey through her surgery has been a phenomenal opportunity. It was incredibly moving to see a mother presented with a tangible, life-changing solution for her child and I am grateful to have played a small role in it”. 

Marie-Lou Filiatrault, from Montreal, is a clinical dietician volunteer. Her role is crucial in supporting and helping young patients like Anjara before and after surgery. She shared the experience of her first humanitarian mission with Mercy Ships in Madagascar:

”It was a long way from Montreal to Toamasina, but well worth the effort. As soon as I arrived on the boat, I was warmly welcomed and diligently oriented to life on board the Africa Mercy and to my department, clinical nutrition.

I have the opportunity to broaden my experience of health problems that are extremely rare in developed countries, such as goitre and limb reconstruction surgeries following extreme untreated burns.

Everyone greets and smiles at each other, it’s pleasant and comforting. The patients are so resilient, courageous and grateful for the care and service they receive on board.
In just a few days, I feel more confident and already well integrated into this close-knit community. Come and try it out, you have everything to gain.”

Cleft Lip Surgery: A New Chapter for Anjara and Her Family

Since Anjara’s birth, Lalaina has shouldered the guilt of desiring a second child and the blame for her daughter’s cleft lip. Though her family has continued to show her love and support, she is unable to fully come into the profound joyousness of motherhood. But at last, just two days after Mother’s Day celebration in Madagascar, Lalaina’s joy was restored.

Lalaina was filled with profound gratitude and relief when she heard about her daughter’s surgery date.

On Tuesday morning, May 28, Anjara went into surgery with Dr. Gary and the love of volunteer crew on board and all over the world. She also had her mother’s love and presence waiting for her outside of the operating room, and at home, her family waiting for her in prayer and hope.

“I thank God for sending Mercy Ships to be used as an instrument to do her surgery so that she will be like other kids. So, I hope that Mercy Ships’ work will continue not only for Anjara but also for other kids who are still out there,” said Anjara’s father, Mamy Jean Victor.


So many other children are waiting for a life-transforming surgery in Madagascar! Join us in our mission to strengthen bonds, build memories, and change lives.

Together, we can make a difference that lasts a lifetime. Thank you!


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