Two Gifts from God
Ibrahima was special from the beginning. Fatoumata had already given birth to two healthy children in her home of Tamba, in Senegal. When she discovered she was pregnant with a third, she was staying with her husband’s mother in the village of Ziguinchor.
Fatoumata knew each child she had was a gift from God, and she was thrilled to be able to share this experience with her mother-in-law. She delayed her return home, telling her husband, “Let me spend these moments with her.”
She was happy during those months, looking forward to the new arrival. But when she gave birth to her third child, a son, something was different.
“My mother-in-law looked at him and said his lip was not normal,” Fatoumata recalled.
Ibrahima had been born with a cleft lip, a condition that would set him apart from his siblings and his entire community.
Still, Fatoumata and her husband believed Ibrahima was another gift from God.
"I Heard Everything"
Fatoumata knew the cleft lip would impact her son’s future, and she wanted to find money to pay for a surgery. But her husband said, “God gave you this baby like this.”
Fatoumata agreed that this was true. Still she said, “We can’t change what God did, but let’s try.”
Despite her husband’s hesitance, Fatoumata was determined.
“I said I wouldn’t leave him like that,” she said. “Otherwise, if the child grows up like this, his friends will laugh at him.”
When her husband saw that she would not give up, he said simply, “I will give you what I have.”
Thanks to a discount from the hospital, the parents were able to pull together enough money for a surgery for Ibrahima at 6 months old. However, it left him with a scar on his face and he would need a second surgery to improve it.
This surgery, they could not afford.
“Even after that surgery he got, his friends laughed at him,” Fatoumata said.
She remembers Ibrahima’s friends calling him “flattened nose.” Sometimes, Ibrahima responded the only way he knew how – with anger.
“He fought with them when he went to school,” she said. “He was fighting most of the time, but I told him to forgive them.
Almost 10 years later, Fatoumata gave birth to a girl, Teneng. She also was born with a cleft lip, but her condition was more severe. She had a cleft palate – a hole in the roof of her mouth. This more severe condition can cause difficulty in eating, speaking, and breathing – and can eventually impact the ears, teeth, and eyesight.
With the help of friends and neighbors, Fatoumata and her husband once again paid for surgery. While 6-month-old Teneng’s cleft lip was repaired, the surgeon could not fix the palate. That would require another surgery – one that, once again, the family could not pay for.
Over the next seven years, Teneng and Ibrahima grew up under the social stigma of their conditions. The teasing and laughter they endured was never once lost on their mother.
“I heard everything,” she said.
Then one day, Fatoumata’s friend told her about a hospital ship that was offering free surgeries in the Port of Dakar. The friend’s mother even offered a gift: She would pay for the bus fare to the port.
But after the disappointment of those initial surgeries, the children’s father refused to entertain the idea of trying again.
“He was afraid because this would be the second time, and he didn’t think it would work,” Fatoumata said.
Fatoumata’s friend, though, had already registered Teneng for surgery. So the Mercy Ships team called – and continued calling.
After the third phone call, Fatoumata’s husband relented. He and his wife would try one more time to find healing for their children. “Go and see,” he told Fatoumata.
A Gift Beyond Price
Fatoumata traveled to the port with 7-year-old Teneng. She also decided to bring 16-year-old Ibrahima, whose face was still scarred.
As a mother, Fatoumata would do whatever was in her power to find healing for her children. Without help, she knew they would continue to suffer shame, and negative health impacts, because of their condition.
But she also believed that these two children were gifts from God, just like her others – whether or not they could be healed.
“Since it is God who gave them to me, even if he had given me incurable children I would have continued to believe in God,” she said. “I will not throw them away.”
But Fatoumata knew she wasn’t the only one who’d been given gifts.
“God has given the scientists the power to heal,” she said.
When she arrived at the port, she made a joyful discovery. Both of her children could receive free surgery.
“I didn’t pay money,” she said. “What Mercy Ships did for me is beyond price.”
Fatoumata was on board the Africa Mercy® with Teneng and Ibrahima for a month and a half. During that time, she watched both of them change.
“She doesn’t have many friends and likes to stay away from people,” Fatoumata had said of Teneng. But her daughter began to open up, making friends with other children, and even with the foreign volunteers who cared for her.
And after an operation that improved the scarring on his face, it was like a light had turned on inside 16-year-old Ibrahima.
“He is so different now,” Fatoumata said. “So jovial. He is more outgoing.”
"It Is God Who Gives"
As the family headed home from the ship, Fatoumata was ready to move on and embrace her children’s new normal.
“I don’t want people to stare at them anymore,” she said. “I just want them to be treated like all the other children.”
She noticed a new joy in her son and daughter as they returned to daily life. Ibrahima was getting on well at school, and Teneng was always out playing with new friends.
“I pray for them, when they grow up,” she said. “That they understand that their father and I have done a lot for them.”
Teneng and Ibrahima have a whole community to thank for their healing. A mother who wouldn’t give up. A father who had the courage to look past his fears. Friends and neighbors who gave what they could.
And while Fatoumata is thankful for the gift of healing, she still believes one thing more than ever. Her children themselves have always been gifts from God – before and after surgery.
“If you have a child, you must accept that it is God who gives it to you,” she said.
Fatoumata was already grateful for the gifts of Teneng and Ibrahima. And now, she can be grateful for a brighter future for both.
“Now I have what I wanted,” she said.