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At 18 Khady is the youngest child in a big family, and she hopes to one day have a large family of her own.

“At least another six children,” she said, looking over at her firstborn daughter, Fatimata, with a smile.

Khady was very excited at the prospect of becoming a mum, and when her daughter was born it was love at first sight. Sadly, not everyone felt the same way about her little girl. People in the village they lived in would often laugh at baby Fatimata’s cleft lip, breaking her mother’s heart. This cruel mocking resulted in Khady spending more and more time at home, alone with her daughter.

Like any mother, Khady’s desire is for Fatimata to have the opportunities that she never could, such as attending school. But, the potential teasing and unkind, thoughtless words that young Fatimata would have to endure, made this dream seem impossible — until they found hope.

Khady first heard about Mercy Ships coming to Senegal on a local radio station. She trusted the message of hope and healing that she had heard on the news and visited the nearest city centre, where medical volunteers were making patient selections. After waiting in line, Fatimata met with nurses and was soon given a date to see a surgeon onboard the hospital ship the Africa Mercy.

A few weeks before the operation, the two travelled over 300 miles from Matam to Dakar to check into the Hospital Outpatient Extension, also known as the Mercy Ships HOPE Center, to prepare for surgery. When they arrived, the medical staff worried that Fatimata was too small for surgery, so she was put on a feeding program to ensure she gained sufficient weight to support her little body through the healing process. Once she achieved her target weight, Fatimata and her mother set off for the ship.

“When I arrived on the dock and saw Africa Mercy in front of me, my greatest hope was to see my daughter healed, and for the surgery to be successful,” Khady said.

The surgery was a success, and 24 hours later, Fatimata was up and about. Soon after, the little girl was able to return to the HOPE centre with the instruction to report back to the ship for a scheduled mid-week checkup.

The young girl spent several days healing from her surgery, but soon she was ready to return to her family. They began their journey home only 26 days after arriving at the HOPE Center. While Fatimata may not remember her time with Mercy Ships, Khady knows that the healing that took place during their short stay on the Africa Mercy will last a lifetime.

“I will always remember Mercy Ships and the people at the HOPE Center, especially those who became friends with Fatimata,” Khady said. “I’ll remember the environment and the compassion and love of those who took care of us.”