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.