Our friendship with Vololonirina began in November 2014 when a free surgery onboard the Africa Mercy removed the facial tumor that had plagued her for thirty-two years. The growth had severely damaged her self-esteem. She says, “Every time I used the mirror … wow, I was very, very sad. I thought I was ugly.”
Now, when Vololonirina looks into the mirror, she finally sees beauty … and joy. And she doesn’t keep her joy to herself.
Many Mercy Ships crew members treasure pieces of paper adorned with sincerely crafted words of gratitude, encouragement and blessing. Some are decorated with hand-drawn symbols of celebration – colorful balloons, stars, and exploding fireworks. All are signed by a delicate hand, “Mrs. Vololonirina.”
Vololonirina is a writer and a poet. Like the fireworks she draws, her heart is exploding with gratitude. Although she says, “I have nothing to offer,” we disagree. This generous, determined woman has touched us with her gift of words. Her joy is a sweetly powerful reminder of why we do what we do. The very real transformation that occurs in our patients’ lives is worth far more than any challenge we face.
Over the three months she was with us, we accumulated a mini-library of her works. Very considerately, she often gave us two copies, one in Malagasy and one translated into English. Here’s an excerpt of her writing:
By the grace of God I’m what I am
That’s why I’m happy and my soul is blessed
I cannot keep my happiness in my heart
So I’m writing this poem to thank our Lord …
May your serious efforts be successful,
May God bless each of you.
May God bless your household and family.
May God bless your work and occupation.
May God bless and protect this Ark!
After Vololonirina returned home, her family threw a little party for us. Vololonirina was dressed like a queen in exquisite blue and white satin – and, of course, her personal fashion statement, a shawl. She also had pearl-like beads tastefully arranged in her hair.
Her relatives warmly welcomed us into their home. It was striking how different we all were – differences in age, country of origin, languages, and interests. But all of these differences were bridged by love. We had built a strong bond based on compassion, gratitude, and time invested in getting to know and appreciate each other.
Now, we were enjoying a common interest: chips, biscuits, drinks, and playing games with the adorable kids in Vololonirina’s family! The afternoon was a heartwarming reminder that Mercy Ships is about more than just physical healing – it’s also about emotional and spiritual healing.
Vololonirina told us, “Never before have I seen such good people as Mercy Ships people. The people here are very friendly. They did not know me, but they took me as a best friend, and I am very glad for that. They are very, very loving … very, very caring about me.”
Volonirina came to us wrapped in a gorgeous azure shawl. Now she can walk around her hometown, confident in her beauty, wrapped in the lavender shawl we gave her as a parting gift. When she fingers the soft fabric, she will remember her time onboard the Africa Mercy.