Gladys’ bold new steps

Gladys before her Ponseti treatment

Six years ago, Jaqueline fell in love with a man whose parents didn’t approve of her. “They wanted to choose a bride for him, someone from his own village,” she explains. “His parents told him if he married me, his life would not turn out well.” The two decided to marry anyway.

Not long after, Jacqueline became pregnant. When baby Gladys was born, what should have been a joyous occasion became a horrific shock as they discovered something was wrong. One of Gladys’s feet was facing the wrong direction, a condition known as clubfoot. At the sight of his newborn daughter’s deformity, Gladys’s father believed his parents’ curse was coming to pass. In a panic, he left Jacqueline and his one-month-old baby girl.

“I was the only one fighting for my child,” recalls Jacqueline. Though they were on their own, and Jacqueline was now a single mum, she filled the role of two parents and more. She poured herself into her daughter, making it a priority to find help for Gladys’s foot.

Jacqueline’s search started with a local medical facility, where they agreed to treat the condition for 50,000 CFA (around NZ$120). Jacqueline didn’t have the money, but family members offered to take up a collection. “The doctors put pieces of wood on either side of Gladys’s leg and foot and wrapped it with bandages.” But when the contraption was removed, nothing had changed. Jacqueline continued her mission, next checking in with a local hospital. Their prescribed treatment plan was to put an iron rod through Gladys’s foot and leg. But the hefty price tag of $200,000 CFA (NZ$480) made it an impossible option for a mother with modest means. And, as it turned out, there was a much less invasive option available – one that would require no payment.

“When I heard Mercy Ships was in Cotonou, I literally ran,” Jacqueline remembers. Their journey started with screening in September. There Jacqueline received the news that five-year-old Gladys was approved for free surgery. Her little foot and ankle were placed in a cast each week for two months to help adjust their position before a minor surgery would take place in December to release the problem-causing tendon.

After a few more weeks of casting and several months of rehabilitation, Gladys was making good progress. Then, the day finally came. She slipped her foot into a pink sneaker and tied the laces. For the first time, her foot lay flat and pointed forward – supporting her small frame and letting her take big, bold steps in the right direction.


“Since the surgery, Gladys’s father visited us once. When he saw her foot, he couldn’t believe his eyes. He was terribly ashamed of himself,” Jacqueline recounts. “But he’s not my concern. My concern is Gladys.”

Jacqueline’s fight for her daughter was worth it. The constant concern, the persistence search – it all paid off. What she’d hoped and prayed for has become a reality. “God is great. Seeing Gladys walk has brought me such joy,” she says

Story by Windsor Marchesi