Mairamou should have been excited about her future … a sparkling, joy-filled future.
And she had been excited for a while. She and her husband had eagerly anticipated the birth of their first child. But after a long, painful labor, she lost the baby. The tragedy was intensified because the prolonged labor caused physical damage that left Mairamou with a condition known as an obstetric fistula, making her incontinent.
In regions of the world with developed healthcare, this condition could be immediately treated. But in nations like Cameroon, where there are only 77 physicians for every 1 million people (according to the World Health Organization), the untreated condition made Mairamou a social outcast.
Her grief was compounded when, just three months after the death of her baby, her husband suddenly passed away. She’d lost her baby, her husband, and her future … and, at the age of 20, her life seemed all but over.
Seven long years passed. Mairamou tried to keep a positive attitude by focusing on things that brought her joy, like her church community. Before her emotional and physical trauma, she had been a very social and active church member, singing in the worship team and participating in community events. But her condition affected her interactions with others.
“People don’t want me there,” she said sadly. “They would tell me to go home because of the smell.” Feeling increasingly lonely, Mairamou eventually decided her only option was to isolate herself. So, when she wasn’t selling koki (black-eyed peas) at the local market, she sat at home by herself. “I didn’t know where my life was headed,” she said. “I prayed every day to be healed from this disease.”
Mairamou’s prayers were answered in an unexpected way when she heard about Mercy Ships on the local radio. At first she was scared to even hope because she was afraid of being disappointed. But then her courageous spirit took over. “By the grace of God, this will work,” the now 27-year-old woman told herself as she made the long journey to the ship.
And her journey to healing was beautiful. She found new strength and dignity on the Africa Mercy after receiving a free, life-transforming surgery. Her recovery time was spent alongside many other women who had suffered with the same condition and experienced the same rejection. Together, they stood strong, singing as they walked through the hospital hallways for their daily muscle-strengthening exercises – waiting for the day they’d be declared “dry.”
“Being a woman and coming from a western culture, we don’t go through this,” said Tam Lowe (AUS), the Obstetric Fistula Clinic team leader. “It’s nice to be able to give these ladies back their lives, because they lost a little part of themselves when they went through what they went through. Now, they can go back home and say ‘Look at me. I’m back.’”
And what better way to celebrate a changed life than with a party … complete with music, dancing, and dressing up? After each woman’s healing process, Mercy Ships welcomes her back into society with a Dress Ceremony, where she’s recognized as a guest of honor and gifted with a new dress. Mairamou looked radiant, dressed in vibrant greens and yellows and beaming like a spring flower – a perfect symbol for her fresh start in life.
“I will always think of this place and be happy for as long as I live,” she smiled. “I received free clothing, free care, free food – everything was given in love. I feel so blessed.”
After seven years of suffering and grief, Mairamou is ready for her new beginning!
“There is a big difference in my heart. Before, I was worried and had bad thoughts. My situation even made me doubt God, and I didn’t feel free to go to worship. But now, I see God is here, and He heard my prayers. I’m a different person. I am free to go wherever I want. My doubts are gone!”
Written by Rose Talbot
Photography by Shawn Thompson
Edited by Karis Johnson and Nancy Predaina