The Courage to Trust
Diacko stepped forward tentatively, bracing himself on two crutches. He’d lived with bowed legs for more than half his life and was accustomed to the taunts of other children ringing in his ears.
Even when he and his mother found out about the possibility of free surgery, they heard discouraging words from neighbors, afraid on their behalf: “It’s not safe.” “You don’t know what will happen.”
But Diacko and his mother did not listen.
Diacko’s legs started bowing when he was 3 years old, a condition that affects many children suffering from malnutrition.
“When people see him, they call him ‘Diacko bowlegs,’ and he comes home crying,” said Diacko’s mother, Youma.
Diacko didn’t always respond with tears, though.
“Sometimes he is strong and keeps going,” she said.
Youma knew that Diacko’s legs would get worse as he grew. She was afraid that without surgery, he would stay in one place. Stuck.
“As he grew up, he would experience more and more pain,” she said.
But her local hospital in the Matam region of Senegal was small. Youma would need to bring her son to a bigger facility to find treatment.
“I didn’t have money for that,” she said. “So I just stayed home waiting for something to come from God. For God to come and help me.”
Then one day, through a neighbor, a message of hope came. Youma found out that Mercy Ships was coming to Senegal, offering free surgeries.
Some in her community were afraid on her behalf. This gift from strangers seemed too good to be true. They believed it might be a trick – that Youma and Diacko could even be kidnapped.
But Youma would not entertain doubt. Instead, she trusted that this was, indeed, what it appeared to be: A gift.
In late 2019, Youma and Diacko made the 300-mile journey to the Port of Dakar to board the Africa Mercy®.
When they arrived, they found themselves among other children with similar conditions. For the first time in his young life, Diacko was not alone.
Diacko received the free surgery he’d been promised, just as Youma had hoped. His legs were placed in hard casts as they healed.
When the process began to remove the casts, Diacko sat in his hospital bed, surrounded by his mother and the hospital volunteers he’d come to know.
“He said that he’s too happy,” said one of Diacko’s caretakers. “Very happy.”
Diacko watched with fascination as the cast came off. When he saw his legs stretched out before him, straight instead of bowed, he began to laugh.
To the applause and encouragement of his mother and the Africa Mercy hospital staff, Diacko took his first steps on straightened legs.
But his healing journey was just beginning. Now that his legs had been straightened, it was up to Diacko to strengthen them.
On His Own Two Feet
After a surgery as intensive as Diacko’s, the rehabilitation process is long and arduous.
This little boy was determined. He showed up every day to the rehab tent, ready to push himself. His mom watched him work with the volunteers, grateful for the support.
“I feel really blessed to come to the ship rehab tent,” she said. “What they do here, we cannot do it, even if we try. The children will get upset if we push them, and then we may stop.”
Every day of rehab, Youma said, she saw improvement in Diacko’s movement.
In late February 2020, mother and son were finally cleared to go home.
Despite their fear and skepticism, the entire community back in Matam was eagerly waiting for them to come home. Neighbors had called throughout the months while Youma and Diacko were on the ship, and Youma always kept details spare. She’d simply respond: “Sometimes I forget I am not in my house, as I am so well treated.”
Youma had intentionally kept the success of the surgery a secret, planning to make their homecoming a joyful surprise.
Indeed, when Diacko arrived home, he was a bit of a celebrity. His story of healing quickly became a testimony to hope, courage, and the grace of God.
“I can’t say anything else without saying thank you,” Youma said.
Diacko is now headed to school. When he grows up, he’d like to travel. He and his mother know that the possibilities before him have opened up exponentially, thanks to his surgery.
From now on, Diacko’s future will be marked by his mother’s courage – and her choice to trust in a gift from a stranger.
“We achieved this dream together,” said Youma. “I was dreaming that he would be healed, and he trusted me.”