Adama’s sight finally flickered out while she was still pregnant with her twins. Cataracts in both her eyes had stolen her sight. She despaired of ever seeing her babies – then hope arrived on her horizon. Watch as Adama sees here babies for the first time here
For the last 16 years, Koumba has been serving in her village, bringing new life into the world as a midwife.
The thirty-nine-year-old estimates that in the years she’s been working, she’s helped to birth over 100 babies — some of whom she’s watched grow up and leave the village in search of higher education and job opportunities.
Her journey began when Guinean doctors from bigger cities came to her village with the goal of passing on medical training to several locals. She, along with two other women, received free training in the art of midwifery — a gift that she says changed the direction of her life. She went on to run a clinic, the only one in her village, where she became the go-to woman for all childbirth-related issues.
Koumba takes great pride and fulfillment in her role, and in her ability to pass on her training to the next generation of midwives. With six children of her own, it’s easy to tell that Koumba’s love for others runs deep and that she wears her compassionate heart on her sleeve.
“I don’t really make any money, but I’m given a better gift. I help mothers give birth,” Koumba said. “When I see a mother holding her healthy baby, it’s a very big blessing for me.”
But about five years ago, Koumba’s future took an unexpected shift when she noticed a lump starting to develop on her neck. It continued to grow, eventually evolving into a large goitre and constricting her airways.
Even with her years of medical experience, Koumba couldn’t access the surgical care she needed. Without an operation, she was fearful that she might be forced to face an early death. Her growing goitre made it more difficult for Koumba to do the work she loved as she grew tired and breathless more easily.
She remained endlessly positive in the face of her fear, a feat that she mainly credits to her husband.
‘He would always tell me, ‘We’re going to be all right. God will help us. Don’t be afraid,’ she said.
When they heard that Mercy Ships was coming to Guinea, Koumba was confident that this was the answer to her family’s long-time prayer.
While waiting on the dock to board the Africa Mercy, Koumba was thrilled — but her joy revolved not around herself, but her fellow villagers back home.
‘My whole village is praying for me — they all want me to get help here so that I can keep helping them,’ she said. ‘I want to be able to keep doing this work. There is nothing like it.’
After receiving surgery to remove her goitre, Koumba was given a hand mirror and was able to see the reflection of a woman freed from fear.
‘When I see myself in the mirror, I see peace. I’m so beautiful,’ she said.
During her time in the wards, Koumba would get up from her bed and dance — laughing and celebrating. The dancing never really stopped and her joy continued to shine throughout her time on the ship, culminating in a thank you speech on her last day.
‘This surgery has brought me so much happiness,’ she said. ‘I can move without pain now. When I go back to the village, I’ll be able to work more than before… I gave help, and I received help. This is happiness.’
Her whole village is waiting for her return, and Koumba’s not going to disappoint them. She’d planned her homecoming even before walking up the gangway. Koumba plans on buying a new dress and surprising everyone.
Once the dust settles around her big return, Koumba is looking forward to returning to her calling. She wants to continue bringing new life into the world, and while she works, Koumba says she’ll never tire of telling her story.
Written by Rose Talbot
In so many ways, six-year-old Fatmata could be considered one of the luckiest kids in the world: she’s surrounded by love on all sides. Her parents are enamoured with their daughter; their eyes soften and alight when they talk about her.
‘She’s so smart,’ they boast in the endearing way that only family members can really pull off. ‘Do you hear the way she speaks French? And she’s learning Arabic, too!’
If Fatmata’s parents have nabbed the spot as her number one fans, her aunt Mariam is not far behind. Their dreams for Fatmata centre around her education — her father, Hassane, teaches language at the local university, while Mariam works as a schoolteacher in the city.
As such, they find it particularly heart-breaking that Fatmata isn’t able to go to school.
With bowed legs that grow more severely bent every year, walking the short distance to the local school has long been out of the question. As the only child with an orthopaedic condition in her area, Fatmata also struggled from bullying by the other kids her age.
Despite her condition, Fatmata’s family never lost hope that her future would amount to more. Working in the public school by day, Mariam would return every night and spend hours teaching Fatmata, making sure that she remained up to grade level in her studies. Her father continued sharing his love of languages even when people said it was a waste of time.
When Fatmata was six years old, her family heard about the orthopaedic surgery program taking place onboard the Mercy Ship. Her aunt brought her to the ship for several screenings and, eventually, up the hospital ship’s gangway for her operation. Mariam held her niece’s hand when she was in pain after her surgery and played music to comfort her. She was by Fatmata’s side rejoicing when she took her first steps in her casts.
When Fatmata was discharged from the Africa Mercy wards and returned for her weekly rehabilitation sessions, it was Hassane’s turn to champion her forward. He was there for every single appointment, where he’d say ‘She’s so smart. She is going to go so far. She could be a doctor; a lawyer; the president of this nation. She is full of curiosity — she wants to know everything there is to know,’ Hassane said, as Fatama danced out of the tent on her discharge day. ‘Fatmata has a great destiny ahead of her.’
Now able to return to school, it’s impossible to imagine Fatmata not going far — and while her straighter legs are a piece of that possibility, it’s the love and committment of her family that is giving her the ability to stand tall.
Written by Rose Talbot
It was New Year’s Eve, the last hints of sunset fading in the sky, as 22-year-old Ibrahima abruptly pulled his motorcycle off the side of the road. He was being flagged down by a woman who needed help moving the large can of fuel she was wrestling with. He started helping her pour it into smaller bottles, but as he lost grip of the can, it tipped sideways and began to spill. The fuel soaked through his shorts onto his legs and poured a thick dark trail — right toward the open cooking fire nearby.
Before Ibrahima could register what was happening, flames were blazing and his fuel-soaked clothes were on fire. One thought filled his mind: ‘I’m going to die.’
Strangers helped beat the fire from his body and carried him to a local clinic. He spent the next month lying curled up in bed, immobilized by the pain.
Over time, Ibrahima’s open wounds began to form into ridged scars — but without proper wound care, the resulting burn contractures left his legs locked, permanently bent at the knees.
No longer able to walk, Ibrahima went from a man approached by strangers for help, to someone who had to be carried everywhere he went. Even trips to the bathroom or to his bed involved being hefted on his older brother’s back and carefully seated down. The slowly dawning realization that his independence had been lost completely shook Ibrahima’s identity.
‘I was always lonely… I couldn’t be with people the way I was before,’ Ibrahima said. ‘It was hard seeing my friends able to go out and work. Sometimes, I felt helpless, like I might really be this way forever.’
A year and a half passed slowly. Ibrahima dreamed of being able to work again, but the expensive cost of medical care made surgery seem like a lofty pipe dream.
‘It made me very sad,’ he said. ‘My business had stopped, I couldn’t get money, so I just sat inside the house.’
With many younger siblings and a houseful of mouths to feed, the unexpected drop in income struck his family hard. However, hope arrived one day when a local doctor told him about a hospital ship in Guinea. Before long, Ibrahima arrived at the Africa Mercy with tentative hopes that change might be in sight.
It took the help of his brother, and several Mercy Ships staff, to bring Ibrahima up the gangway steps and onto the ship for his operation.
Just one month later, Ibrahima faced those gangway steps again — but the time onboard had changed everything. His legs in casts, and crutches underneath both arms, Ibrahima slowly started to walk down, a look of determination on his face. Nurses called encouragement down from the top. Every simple step was a mountain to overcome, and by the end of his descent, cheers erupted.
Ibrahima’s rehab process was gruelling and intense. For several months, he visited the ship several times a week for exercises that stretched his healing legs and improved his mobility. Here his resilience shone through — Ibrahima had his independence back in sight, and he wasn’t going to lose it again.
Eventually, Ibrahima was given the news he’d been working towards: You’re good to go! His hard work at rehab had paid off, and he was free to return home and start a new chapter.
Now with his independence back and a renewed ability to return to work and earn a living, Ibrahima feels like a new man in every way.
‘I feel taller,’ he said. ‘I was always sitting and seeing the world from a lower level. It felt like everyone was looking down on me. Now, I’m seeing everything from high up!’
Written by: Rose Talbot
Faoudou has spent most of his 24 years of life feeling a weight constricting his throat, making it hard to breathe. This suffocating burden was the result of a goitre that began to grow when Faoudou was just five years old.
Faoudou tried going to school for several years, before eventually dropping out at a young age because of bullying from his classmates.
His childhood held many difficult battles which were made easier by his mother. She stood faithfully by Faoudou’s side — hoping that he would one day receive the help he needed.
‘She has been very worried about me my whole life,’ Faoudou said. ‘She prays every day for me to get surgery.’
One day those prayers were answered. Faoudou met a woman in the market who told him of a floating hospital ship that would soon be arriving to offer life-changing surgeries to the people of Guinea. Faoudou was so hopeful that he temporarily moved to Conakry to wait for the ship’s arrival — and his chance for a changed future.
After being seen by the Mercy Ships screening team, Faoudou spent months undergoing testing and treatment to prepare him for surgery. Finally, the day came when he was told that he would receive an operation to remove his goitre!
After his free surgery, Faoudou planned to return to school – despite the challenge he would face in the classroom as an adult. While the journey may be difficult, Faoudou is eager to meet those challenges in order to achieve his dream of becoming a doctor.
‘I see a lot of sick people here in Guinea. There are not enough doctors to help everyone,’ Faoudou said. ‘I’ve always wished I could help. I want to learn how to care for people, especially those with goitres. I want to help people with my condition.’
While Faoudou is thrilled about his possible career, he’s even more excited with the knowledge that he will finally be the one taking care of his mother.
‘I want her to know I am really going to be okay,’ Faoudou said. ‘She’ll be very happy to see me come home after surgery. She will say ‘my son is back!’
With the weight of his condition gone, Faoudou is lighter inside and out. When he looks in the mirror now, he sees more than a serious pair of brown eyes staring back at him — more than the absence of a goitre that’s been part of him since his childhood. He sees the face of a man who’s now proud of his reflection, and says, ‘When I look in the mirror… I see myself as handsome.’
VIDEO: ‘What’s wrong with my mouth?’ Mafoudiya would ask her Mum. At two she was just beginning to understand the cruel words thrown at her. Mafoudiya had the world’s most common defect; a cleft lip. But in Guinea, West Africa there was no chance for help … until mercy came to town.
Samory never imagined that neglecting a toothache would result in a facial tumour that threatened his dreams and his life. Four years after his toothache began, the once healthy 25-year-old was a shell of who he once was. As his tumour grew and his self-esteem deflated.
Having grown up in a rural village in Guinea, Samory knew there was a slim chance he would be able to seek medical attention due to the cost, availability, and his own financial restrictions. His mother tried using traditional remedies to help the growing lump but to no avail. Samory’s tumour wasn’t slowing down, and each day it was more painful than the last.
‘The worst part was knowing that it was only going to get worse because there was nothing we could do,’ Samory said. ‘When I thought of my future, I was scared.’
But Samory didn’t always feel this way. Before he was forced to leave school due to the pain of his tumour, he looked forward to becoming a mathematics teacher one day; he was the only one in his family to attempt continuing his studies. But the people he thought were his friends cruelly declared that it was this ambition to better his life that in fact cursed his health.
‘People would mock my mother and tell her it was because she wanted more for me in life — that greed is why I was stuck with this tumour. I didn’t like to go out with her because of the negative attention it brought her,’ recalled Samory. ‘My mother loves many things and is a happy woman, but my condition brought her sadness.’
After the pain became too much to bear, Samory reluctantly made the journey to the capital city to seek help, even though he knew he could not afford it. But when he reached Conakry, he heard the good news he so desperately needed— a ship that would perform free surgeries had arrived in his home country! After being approved for surgery on the Africa Mercy to finally remove his painful tumour, Samory’s dreams for the future no longer seemed so distant.
Dressed to the nines, Samory arrived on the dock, thrilled to be taking his first steps toward a surgery that would replace his suffering with joy. ‘It’s amazing to me to think that years’ worth of pain will be taken away in just one day!’
Just one day later, Samory looked in the mirror and finally saw the smile he remembered before his tumour. He was free. Thanks to his courage, ambition, and the gift of safe, free surgery on the Africa Mercy, Samory’s dreams were rekindled! ‘I am looking forward to picking up my studies again so I can become a mathematics teacher, just like I wanted to be before the pain began. Life is good once again!’
Written by: Georgia Ainsworth
When Milo Falsing was a child in Denmark he would travel on an interisland ferry to visit his grandparents. After he learned the Dronning Ingrid was to be decommissioned he wrote a letter to the ferry company asking for one last trip. Recently Captain Milo took the helm of that very ship, renamed Africa Mercy, and here’s the amazing Mercy Ships journey of both man and vessel.
She was still in nursing school when the Mercy Ship bug first bit Lindsey. ‘I was instantly drawn to the vision and I just knew I had to serve on board one day,’ she reflects. Did you see Lindsey featured in TVNZ’s Sunday programme?
Read more about Lindsey’s story here
British Journal of Surgery (BJS) has published an important medical paper about the work of Mercy Ships. The paper is an evaluation of our implementation of the WHO’s Surgical Safety Checklist in Benin in 2016/17, co-authored by Mercy Ships expert Dr Michelle White of Great Ormond Street Hospital, and Dr Nina Capo-Chichi, a surgeon in Benin,
The Checklist is a simple tool that has been repeatedly shown to improve surgical outcomes and reduce mortality and morbidity.
‘One of the greatest challenges we face in tackling this problem is how to take proven interventions, and implement them successfully, at scale in low-income settings.’ Dr Michelle White.
In Benin, Mercy Ships volunteer experts visited 36 hospitals and delivered three days of multidisciplinary checklist training at each site, teaching medical staff how to use the Checklist. The aim was to see how great an effect Mercy Ships could have by running intensive courses in Checklist training across a whole country, rather than spending six to 12 months in a single hospital. Would the healthcare providers still be using the Checklist up to four months later?
‘We found that checklist use increased from 31% pre-training to 89% at four months and this was sustained at 86% 12-18 months later. Also after 12-18 months, there was high fidelity use and high penetration shown by an improvement in hospital safety culture.’ Dr Nina Capo-Chichi.
This evaluation, published in the BJS, forms part of the ongoing assessment of Mercy Ships field services in Benin. Assessing our work in this way enables us to improve the delivery of our projects and connect our work to tangible outcomes and impact subsequent field services; offer better healthcare strategy advice to host nations’ governments, and provide information to other non-governmental organisations working in low and middle-income countries.
The paper also stands with a growing body of work led by female medics and jointly with professionals in both Western and Sub-Saharan Africa – a hallmark of the innovative and collaborative approach Mercy Ships is proud to promote.
See a video summary and read the full paper ‘Implementation and evaluation of nationwide scale-up of the Surgical Safety Checklist’
‘Leaving a legacy of lasting change is crucial, so in addition to providing direct medical care on our hospital ship during a ten-month field service, Mercy Ships implements a programme focused on health system-strengthening and quality improvement across the whole country, with the goal of improving the medical care provided for generations to come,’ stated Dr Peter Linz, International Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Ships.