2016 September

Koffi has a loving nature and passion for God
Koffi has a loving nature and passion for God
Serving as a hospital chaplain was not on Koffi’s radar when he completed a Bachelor of Finance degree, but he had felt ‘called to ministry’ since he was a teenager.

It all began when Koffi was visiting another church in his home nation of Benin one Sunday, and he met a group of Mercy Ships crew members. He had never heard of this organization before, but he felt compelled to attend their day worker interviews the following day. The Advance Team were selecting Beninese to work as interpreters and translators for the Africa Mercy’s upcoming 2009 field service.

In each nation Mercy Ships serves, a large number of local dialect and trade-language speakers are needed to help our teams effectively communicate with our patients. The necessity of receiving accurate patient history, clear medical permission, and explaining surgical information simply, is only the tip of the iceberg.

Koffi’s first season of service as a conduit of communication for Mercy Ships was in the Hospital OutPatients Extension (HOPE) Centre in Benin. He loved the work so much he traveled to neighbouring Togo to continue his interpretation work in the following field service.

After returning to his job in Benin for a year, Koffi felt the irresistible pull back to Mercy Ships. His heart for God and his passion for people made way for further work as a translator in the ship’s on board hospital. Later he served as a trainer for the incoming French-speaking Guinean interpreters.

In 2013 Koffi signed on articles as a long-term volunteer crew member. This time his area of ministry was as a team leader in the ship’s dining room. As Koffi set his hand to the practical tasks before him, he also volunteered additional time in the ship’s wards; praying with and encouraging the patients and their caregivers.

Koffi’s passion for our patients saw him invited to serve as a full-time hospital chaplain the following year.

“I love what I’m doing,” he says. “My job is to care for the patients emotionally, spiritually and mentally. We encourage them through the Word of God, we sing, pray for and council them. The toughest part is when we have to give them bad news [about their condition] but because we have built a relationship with them, we can share, be there with them, pray. When I am around the patients I feel they are my brothers and sisters. I love them, and they call me ‘Alleluia’.”

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2016 September

At 7 mths Haingo was newborn size
At 7 mths Haingo was newborn size
Haingo was born in a tropical downpour. Even in the hut’s dim light it was clear Hiango’s tiny mouth was slashed by a bi-lateral cleft lip. Her mother Viviaby’s joy turned to sadness, and her father immediately rejected the newborn saying, “In our family we don’t have babies like this!”

No one in their Madagascan village had heard of this disfigurement. “Is it because of something that I did?” Viviaby wondered. “But I am a Christian, we have nothing taboo (cursed). If God gave her to me like she is, He knows how to take care of her.” But the visible deformity was the least of Haingo’s problems.

The situation became dire as days passed and Haingo was unable to breastfeed because of her cleft palate. The hole in the roof of her mouth prevented Haingo from sucking. She cried incessantly. Her father said, ‘It’s not going to survive so you’d better kill it!” Her mother declared, “Let her live!”
Viviaby kept Haingo alive with diluted canned milk – each can costing a day’s wages. Still Haingo failed to thrive. “I did not have money to buy something good for her, recalls Viviaby. “She was getting more and more skinny. I was afraid, I was always praying.” At seven months old Haingo weighed only 2.2kg.

On every side Viviaby encountered superstition and cruel comments – until one day women who recently received free surgeries on the Mercy Ship walked by their secluded village. They heard about Haingo. “There is free treatment. You should bring your baby there!” they shared.
So for two days petite courageous Vivaby carried her baby through rugged countryside to find transport to the Mercy Ships patient screening in her region.

The urgency of Haingo’s situation was accessed by screening coordinator Mirjam. “Haingo was seven months old, looked like she was only two months. I was surprised she was still alive. I realised we couldn’t do surgery straight away. She would have to be in our Infant Feeding Program to gain weight.” Haingo and her valiant mother accompanied the team returning to the Africa Mercy on a Mission Aviation Fellowship flight.

With loads of TLC Haingo gained enough weight to have surgery
With loads of TLC Haingo gained enough weight for surgery
Mother and daughter were rushed onboard the hospital ship, and paediatric nurses began around-the-clock emergency nutrition. Shelby was charge nurse when Haingo was admitted. “She was so small! If you didn’t know her age you would think she was newborn.”
Viviaby slept well for the first time since Haingo’s birth because “They were feeding her with an (oral feeding) syringe because she couldn’t suck a bottle,” she explains.

Haingo began to gain weight and become responsive. Viviaby talked with other mothers of cleft lip babies in the ward. She was comforted, and she no longer felt alone. After 10 days Haingo was stabilised and discharged to the Mercy Ships HOPE (Hospital Out Patients Extension) Centre. Haingo’s weight was tracked, her development and care discussed in the Infant Feeding Program (IFP). “I love seeing the transformation as the infants gain weight, get stronger and reach developmental milestones,” shares Mercy Ships dietitian, Jillian Davis (USA), ‘A most impacting aspect is the parents gaining hope.”
“Before, Haingo was crying a lot because she did not eat enough. But now she is happy! She has enough food!” exclaimed Viviaby.

As Haingo grew, she began to do all the heart-warming things that babies her age are purposed to. She tracks movement with eyes that were previously glazed, and waves ‘Veloma’ (goodbye) with the chubby arms that had been so frail. After five months Haingo reached 3.5 kg, and the vital ‘average weight for height’ benchmark. At last she was strong enough to undergo operations to repair her cleft lip and part of her palate.

As Haingo came out of the first surgeries, Viviaby gathered her baby in her arms. “She’s beautiful!” was all the overwhelmed mother could say.
When Viviaby and Haingo returned to their village, Haingo’s four-year-old brother was distraught. “You exchanged my sister!” he accused, “It’s not my sister!” The villagers too were amazed by the extraordinary change in Haingo’s appearance. Viviaby explained the remaining surgery would fix all of the baby’s problems.

At 13 months old Haingo received her finial free operation. Only now, with her palate closed, can she eat and drink normally, with the ability to speak clearly.

Viviaby reflects, “Nobody believed someone could help Haingo. Without Mercy Ships, Haingo would have died. But my baby is healed!”

Haingo’s life was transformed by mercy.

Haingo was transformed by mercy
Haingo was transformed by mercy

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2016 September

Fenosoa and Papa Denis have a very special relationship Fenosoa and Papa Denis have a very special relationship. Although Fenosoa’s family live in the same Madagascan village, he shares a hut with his grandfather. Why? “Because he loves me,” explains his grandfather, Papa Denis.

Fenosoa was born with a cyst on his side. For five years it grew along with the little boy, sometimes making him lose his balance.
Papa Denis heard a radio broadcast about Mercy Ships providing specific free surgeries in Madagascar. The family was elated. So the tenacious 86-year-old and his pint-sized grandson walked for five days to reach the nearest public transport. Over three more days, mini-buses brought them progressively closer to the Mercy Ship … and the surgery Fenosoa desperately needed.

The screening team said Mercy Ships could help Fenosoa – but the 2014-15 field service surgery schedule was full. The boy and his grandfather made the huge journey home with his precious appointment card and confidently returned for surgery during the folowing Madagascar field service. They had now walked for 15 days to get the help Fenosoa needed.

Grandfather and grandson chattered endlessly, and their deep love for each other was evident. The boy’s 750- gram thin-walled cyst was removed by Mercy Ships’ volunteer surgeons. Fenosoa was mystified. “I don’t know what happened. I was sleeping, and when I woke up, it was gone!”

Fenosoa is the youngest person from his isolated village to journey to the coast. It was going to be tough to explain a hospital ship to his playmates. He thought hard as he sat on his bed in the ward. “The ship is so big, it looks like a village!” he said.

With a two-tooth grin, Papa Denis said they would take it easy after the young boy’s recovery from surgery – they would take six days instead of five to walk home … and set a slower pace!

Relieved of his life-long burden, Fenosoa could not wait to get back to his village friends. Back to endless soccer matches and marbles – all of the rowdy games played by little boys around the world, regardless of the language they speak.

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2016 September

Somaya before her cleft lip and palate surgery
Somaya before her cleft lip and palate surgery
Somaya after her free surgery
Somaya after her free surgery

Neny’s life seemed to fall apart at every turn. When her daughter Somaya was born, Neny was deeply shocked to see her tiny baby’s mouth marred by a cleft lip and palate. She had never seen anything like it before. Somaya’s father was outraged. “This is not my baby! No one in my family has this,” he ranted, “It is not mine!” He abandoned them both and moved to another village.

When the tearful Neny came home from the hospital, neighbours told her to get rid of the baby. “Give her away to an orphanage. Send her away!” they said over and over. But Neny would not listen. “Somaya is a gift from God,” she replied.

Neny continued to pray for her baby. She remembers the day a few months later when she saw a program on TV about Mercy Ships. Surgeons were fixing people with the same problem as Somaya – with no charge to the patients. With no money to pay for a surgery, this was exactly what Neny needed to hear. It was announced screening for patients would take place soon in a town nearby. “This is an answer from God,” she thought.

Early on the screening day morning, Neny took Somaya to be accessed. This was the first time she had seen another person with a cleft lip. She was encouraged they were no longer alone. When Neny was given Somaya’s appointment card to be treated on the Mercy Ship, she was overjoyed.

Again Neny’s joy turned to despair. Two days before her appointment there was a fire in her house. No one was hurt, but everything Neny owned was lost. She explains. “Of course I was sad that our home got burned, but I was thinking more about the appointment card because it was about the future of my baby. Her lips should have been fixed, but the appointment card got burned.” This additional tragedy weighed heavily on her shoulders, and Neny felt like abandoning all hope.

Somaya was beginning to talk, but her malformed palate made forming words very difficult, and made eating and drinking a challenge. “She had a problem even drinking water, the same for eating. It was going down the wrong way. She was often sick. She was always coughing,” her mother recalls.

Neny’s hopes soared when a radio broadcast confirmed Mercy Ships was returning to Madagascar. Receiving a second card was easier than she imagined. Two-year- old Somaya was once again scheduled for surgery.

In the hospital ship’s ward, the Malagasy mothers of the cleft lip babies were a comfort and support to each other. “We had a good relationship because all those kids had the same problem,” Neny reflects. “We are asking each other, ‘How is your baby doing? And how about yours?’ ” There were no more harsh words, only words of mercy and hope. Finally someone understood.

“Now she is healthy!” declared the relieved Neny after Somaya’s cleft and lip restoration. “Now she can eat and drink normally. Before the surgery she was just able to say Mumma. Now it’s starting to be clear when she wants something, like water. She says, ‘Water Mamma!’ ”

Somaya’s new-found abilities are healing for Neny’s bruised heart too.

Neny was full of anticipation as they prepared to their return to their village. She could not wait to show her neighbours Somaya’s sweet new smile. “They will be amazed to see her back with these lips,” she says with a grin.

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