André – a lost boyhood

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You can always hear André singing before you see him – but that wasn’t always the case.

Andre hadn;t thrown a ball since he was a boy
André was only six when he and his brother were playing at a friend’s house. André leaned against a shelf holding an oil-filled lamp causing flaming oil to spill down his neck and shoulder. His older brother saved him from worse injury by stripping off the burning nylon jacket Andre was wearing, but the little boy was left with deep and painful burns.

There was no medical help available in his Malagasy village, so his family did the best they could. The traditional healer said spitting into the open wound would make it heal. So that is what they did. Often. “It doesn’t work,” André declared adamantly, “It makes it bigger!”

André was disabled by the enormous scars from the severe burn and resulting infection. His lower jaw pulled towards his chest. His upper right arm, shoulder and neck were immobilised. People were not kind to the injured child. “They kept their distance,” he remembers. As he grew older he lived alone. “I could not face people. I was shy because of my neck and arm, and would not go to public places because people looked at me. I was hiding – alone and ashamed.”
One day André heard healing could be found on the Mercy Ship – but no one would help him get there. He did not know the way and no one would accompany him to the coast. He was distraught.

Then a total stranger offered to travel with him. Suddenly André’s hope became reality. This was just the first of many ‘strangers’ who cared for him. On the Mercy Ship this gentle, engaging man underwent complex surgery. He was nursed by other ‘strangers’. Then more people he did not know taught André to exercise and gain new movement in his arm and shoulder after his surgery. In turn André taught us about overcoming with a sweet spirit.

For the first time in more than 30 years, André can lift both his arms high. “I feel really good to be able to straighten my head,” he adds. “My eyes were painful before, because of the contracture. I can move my arm now. I haven’t been able to do this since I was six years old, since I was burned!”