It was a stranger who eventually told Valerie about Mercy Ships. One day, the 14-year-old left the shop on an errand, only to be startled by a woman following her, trying to give her information. ‘I was scared,’ remembered Valerie, ‘but, looking back, I think that woman was an angel.’
Not long afterwards Valerie came onboard the Africa Mercy. She was one of 78 children and teenagers who would receive orthopaedic surgery during the ship’s 10-month field service in Benin. But for especially older paediatric patients, correcting bowed legs isn’t a quick process. Even after her successful surgery, Valerie’s legs needed lots of time and physical therapy in order for her to be strong enough to walk.
Fast forward a few months, and Valerie had almost finished with rehab. She wasn’t staying in the hospital on board anymore, but instead she was living in the nearby HOPE (the Mercy Ships Hospital OutPatient Extension) centre. It was a sunny afternoon, and she was lying down, looking at the sky. ‘I was very happy that day,’ she remembered. ‘I told myself, ‘Now that [Mercy Ships] have healed my legs, I no longer want to be a seamstress … I want to go back to school.’
Not long after that moment, Valerie’s legs had become strong enough to go home. She didn’t go back to her apprenticeship. Instead, she was going to return to school to learn a trade. ‘It will be great,’ she anticipated. ‘People will say, Is this the same girl? Her legs are straight!’
And they most certainly did!