Sharon Walls

love mercy, walk humbly. Mercy Ships CEO Tom Stogner shares his heart;

Standing against racism.

“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”. Micah 6:8

The past few weeks have reminded us of the issues of racism and we are saddened by the tragic and senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others around the world. Mercy Ships is an organization comprised of people from over 40 countries, and we value the rich cultures that make up our crew and staff who serve the most vulnerable people in Africa, caring for those we serve, strengthening healthcare systems, and building relationships together.

The core values of Mercy Ships are: Love God, Love and serve others, Be people of integrity and Be people of excellence in all we say and do. As an organization we individually and corporately ascribe to follow these core values.  However, we must proactively also affirm and join the world in saying that black lives matter. To do anything less would be an injustice to those we work alongside and to those we lovingly serve.

Silence is never the solution, and Mercy Ships refuses to neglect our responsibility. We choose to stand firm against racism. This is an injustice that impacts our culture each and every day, and our hearts are with those of you who have been deeply affected by these recent events. I am committed to do all that we can in Mercy Ships to eradicate racism.

As an organization, we follow the 2000-year-old model of Jesus, providing hope and healing to the world’ s forgotten poor.  Please join me in ensuring that we hold tightly to this calling each and every day, committing to treat each individual with the same love and compassion as Jesus did. All of us should wholeheartedly lean into the conversations and be committed to look outwardly and actively in our fight against racism, facilitating any change necessary. In all of this, we need to pray that this moment in history will be a significant moment of lasting transformation and change.

 

 

 

 

 

Sharon Walls

VIDEO: Everything changed the morning 3-year-old Aliou’s blanket caught fire, enveloping him in flames. Without access to immediate medical care and treatment, his burn scars contracted, severely restricting the movement in his right arm. Aliou’s grandmother brought him to Mercy Ships hoping there was help to be found for her grandson.

Sharon Walls

Cire watches her five-year-old son Babacar run around the neighbourhood. For the first time in his short life, he can be a carefree little boy, playing with the other kids. As he lifts his shirt, to show his friends his tummy, Cire smiles. She has waited to see her baby boy run free in public for his entire life. Now that she no longer has to hide him from the world, she is also enjoying every moment.

When Cire was pregnant with Babacar, an abnormality in his development occurred. Her son was born with a mass of tissue connected to his sternum and dangling from his chest. The new mother was first confused and then ashamed.

People claimed she had birthed a monster. They blamed her for her son’s deformity. And worst of all, they rejected her son.

Then, when Babacar’s father died, they were left to fend for themselves. Cire did everything possible to keep her son’s condition a secret. She told Babacar never to show his stomach to anyone and dressed him in loose-fitting clothes to disguise the appearance of the growth. She kept family members from hugging him. She even planned to keep him out of school for fear that people would find out.

Cire tried to find healing for her son, but she only reached dead ends. It was a complicated condition that would require a complex surgery — one that was not available where they lived.

“It was difficult for me to eat and sleep,” Cire said. “I was constantly worrying about my son.”

Then Cire found out about a hospital ship providing free life-changing surgeries that would be arriving in Dakar, Senegal.

“The arrival of Mercy Ships was a blessing,” Cire said.

Little did she know that this blessing would extend beyond the gift of free surgery and that the miracle of healing would begin on the ship, even before Babacar received his operation.

“I remember Babacar’s mom commenting on how we saw and loved her son,” said Brittany Garrelts, one of Babacar’s nurses. “That love and acceptance began to heal her before we ever operated on her son; it wasn’t the same as how most people treated him. You could see her smile bloom the more time she spent with us.”

Although Babacar’s stay with Mercy Ships was a short one, it was nothing short of life-transforming.

‘There is no more fear; no more shame; no more having to hide.He is free — and so am I!’, Cire says

Sharon Walls

VIDEO: This year has brought a lot of challenges to our world. We experienced the fragility of life and realised just how important it is to have community. Join us in celebrating this last field service and all we were able to accomplish, as well as looking ahead to the future!

Sharon Walls

Drums beating, children laughing, and people of all ages dressed in vibrant fabrics shuffling and dancing to the African beat. The wards on board the Mercy Ship in West Africa look and sound like no other surgical hospital we know.

Mercy Ships delivers free, world-class healthcare for those with little other access, with a strong emphasis on paediatric services. Capacity building and sustainable development in the developing world is a dual focus.

The Africa Mercy is about the size of an interisland ferry, with five operating theatres, five wards and all the axillary services required for the ship to provide a complete surgical journey including rehabilitation services, for people living in poverty in developing nations. The crew of 450 volunteers at a time from New Zealand and across the globe live on board in Africa, while donating their time in medical, maritime and operational positions to make the whole system function smoothly and professionally.

Anna recently volunteered for seven weeks as an operating theatre nurse onbaord the hospital ship in Senegal – her first tour-of-duty with Mercy Ships. During Anna’s service the cases performed were orthopaedic, maxillofacial and general surgeries.

“My first experience of doing paediatric surgery was onboard. I did a range of surgeries across the general, max fax and orthopaedic specialties. I looked after their health and safety whilst in theatre, helped them get safely from the ward, and out to PACU after surgery was performed.
Our patients were impacted by extreme poverty. People expected to lose family members, and there is a lower life expectancy. Some suffered from malnutrition throughout their childhood that lead to severe physical deformities.”

One of the patients Anna helped was a six-year-old girl who had severely bent legs. ‘Our theatre team of eight consisted of one anaesthetist, one anaesthetic technician, two surgeons and three nurses (a scrub and two circulating nurses) and a Senegalese translator used speak with the patient. After the little girl awoke from her two-hour life-transforming surgery, Anna was very moved that her first (translated) words were ‘thank you for all caring for me’. ‘It bought tears to my eyes,’ she shared.

‘There is a lot of hardship and need in Africa,’ reflects Anna. ‘It was rewarding to do what I could. If it wasn’t for the Mercy Ship, our patients would not be able to receive healthcare, so it is truly life-changing for them.’

Essential surgery is virtually inaccessible to the majority of people in the countries Mercy Ships visits. The barriers include proximity to services, extreme poverty and the low number of trained professionals practicing in developing nations.

The Mercy Ship to spend 10 months at a stretch in an African country, delivering surgical specialties alongside healthcare capacity building and mentoring, for people who would have no other access to the surgery they need.

We are grateful that during the Africa Mercy’s 8-month stay in the port of Dakar, Republic of Senegal, Mercy Ships provided over 1,400 life-changing surgeries onboard. Volunteer medical professionals treated over 5,500 dental patients at a land-based dental clinic as well as provided healthcare training to 1,270 local medical professionals through mentoring and courses in partnership with 17 hospitals throughout Senegal.

Sharon Walls

24 April 2020

Whether you partner with Mercy Ships through prayer, financial support, or as a volunteer, you are a vital part of our family. Your dedication and generosity have enabled Mercy Ships to provide free, life-changing surgeries to people in need for more than 40 years.

During this time of stress and uncertainty, we value our relationship with you more than ever, which is why we want to provide you with complete transparency surrounding our ongoing decisions during the evolving COVID-19 pandemic

 Where is the Africa Mercy now?

Currently, the Africa Mercy is docked in Tenerife, Spain. Here, following the mandatory quarantine required on entry, and in accordance with the advice set out by Spanish authorities, the ship will undergo the planned annual routine maintenance.  Once the global COVID-19 situation subsides, it is our hope to return to Africa as soon as possible to continue our mission of bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor.

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected volunteering with Mercy Ships?

Our ship’s crew hope to return to Africa as soon as it is feasible.  We are still taking online applications for crew to volunteer in the future with Mercy Ships so we can be ready to respond fully when the restrictions are lifted.   You can read more about how to volunteer here

How is Mercy Ships keeping in touch with partners in Africa and helping others at this time?

Through our Mercy Ships Africa Bureau and key contacts in Africa, we are exploring ways to best support our partner nations, crew, staff, volunteers, and day crew during these challenging times.

Currently, Mercy Ships is:

  • Transitioning key Medical Capacity Building programs to an online/remote delivery method to continue training medical professionals in Africa. These courses will focus on the care of critically ill patients, and teach skills that are integral to caring for both surgical patients and those infected with COVID-19.
  • Launching a preliminary six-week course for nurses and doctors managing the COVID-19 crisis. Participants in each facilitated learning group will improve their skills in identifying and managing critically ill patients (specifically for COVID-19 related illness) and applying personal mental health strategies to reduce risk of burnout during the crisis.
  • Providing continued support to the Gamal Dental School in Conakry, Guinea through remote online tools, and supporting renovation plans and facilities upgrades for the anaesthesia and dental classrooms.
  • Donating $150,000 to be used in the prevention and cure of COVID-19 cases in Senegal.
  • Additional equipment that was requested to help improve patient care was also donated to the Barthimée hospital in Senegal.
  • Donating $120,000 of medical supplies and PPE to partners in four African nations: Sierra Leone, Benin, Liberia, and Madagascar.
  • Donating medical supplies and masks to healthcare providers in both our Texas and Netherlands local support centres.

Will the Africa Mercy be used to bring relief during this crisis?

Although the Africa Mercy is a fully functional medical ship, it was designed as a surgical specialist unit and is not suited to provide the degree of care required for patients with highly contagious respiratory diseases such as COVID-19.

We depend on volunteers to operate the Africa Mercy. With current travel and other restrictions in place worldwide, it would be vastly challenging to arrange for our volunteers from 50 or more nations to travel to the ship.  Additionally, many of our medical volunteers have been asked to assist with the COVID-19 crisis in their home countries.

At this time, we remain supportive of our healthcare workers on the frontlines and patients suffering from this illness. Once this pandemic subsides, the suffering that patients in need of surgical intervention see every day will still be their reality.  They will be desperately waiting for our return, and we need your support now more than ever to continue bringing hope and healing.

Should I continue to support Mercy Ships?

Yes! As this crisis reaches wider and deeper than anyone could have predicted, it is even more important to support Mercy Ships.  What affects one of us, affects all of us.  Thank you for your ongoing commitment to help bring hope and healing to those with little or no access to vital healthcare. You can help us to strengthen healthcare system in Africa here

We pray for all those affected by COVID-19. We pray for wisdom for our world leaders to have the confidence and ability to deal with the situation as it continues to evolve.

 

March 30

The global COVID-19 situation has made it impossible for Mercy Ships to continue to carry out our surgical programs to the required standards while protecting against the possible spread of the virus. Therefore, in line with the measures taken by the President of Senegal and in consultation with the Ministry of Health, Mercy Ships has reviewed the activities associated with the Africa Mercy and made the decision to suspend the programmatic activities in Senegal.

Although the Africa Mercy is a medical ship, it is essentially a surgical specialist unit and is not suited to provide care for patients with highly contagious respiratory diseases. The current unprecedented situation has presented a unique operational challenge. With the global air transport shutdown, volunteer professionals were unable to come and serve on our vessel.  Additionally, many of our medical volunteers have been asked to assist with the COVID -19 crisis in their home countries.

We are now expediting the annual routine maintenance for the Africa Mercy with the aim to be back in Africa as soon as possible, and once the global COVID-19 situation allows, continuing our mission to bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor.

Our teams continue to evaluate the COVID-19 situation globally and research how we can best stand together with our partner nations, crew and staff in these challenging times. Actions taken include:

  • Working to transition key Medical Capacity Building programs to an on-line /remote delivery methodology in order to continue to train medical professionals in Africa. Specifically focused on content surrounding the care of critically ill patients.  These skills are integral to caring for both surgical patients and those with COVID -19 infections
  • Providing continued support to the Gamal Dental School capacity Building program by temporarily using remote on-line tools
  • Donation of USD $150,000.00 to the COVID-19 fund in Senegal to be used in the prevention and cure of COVID-19 cases
  • Repatriation of 180 or our crew, mostly medical professionals, back to their home countries
  • Donation of medical supplies from our logistic centre in the USA for use in local hospitals, fire departments, elderly homes, e.g.
  • Evaluation to donate medical and other supplies from our logistic centre in the Netherlands
  • Ongoing review of how best support global communities

For over 40 years, we focus on bringing hope and healing to those we serve. For the past 30 years, we have concentrated our efforts in Africa. During those three decades, we have worked to strengthen local healthcare systems.

We are encouraged by the good results we have realized through direct surgical care for patients and by training local healthcare professionals. Today these healthcare professional we trained in the past, are now frontline worker in the battle against COVID-19 in their respective countries.

As we face these challenging events, we would like to thank you for your ongoing prayers and support to our mission to bring hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor.

FAQ’s

Have any COVID-19 infections been detected on the Africa Mercy?

Up to this point none of our patients nor crew onboard the Africa Mercy have presented with the COVID-19 infection. Crew shore leave was suspended and additional measures of hygiene and social interaction has been implemented in order to prevent infection onboard.

Why can’t the Mercy Ships be deployed to help against Coronavirus Spread?

Although the Africa Mercy is a hospital ship, it is essentially a surgical specialist unit. The vessel is not suited to take care of patients with a highly contagious respiratory disease.

Mercy Ships relies on a volunteer staffing model using professional medical volunteers from around the world. The current unprecedented situation has presented a unique operational challenge as many of our medical volunteers have been asked to assist with the COVID -19 crisis in their home countries. In addition, the global air transport shutdown has resulted in our inability to continue to operate the hospital facility safely.  Mercy Ships is also evaluating how the organization, given certain operational limitations, can be utilized to assist in the global COVID-19 response.

 How are the patients onboard?  What was accomplished in Senegal before the crisis hit?

The last patients and their caregivers left the vessel on March 23. Despite the suspension of our activities, we are grateful that during the Africa Mercy’s 8-month stay (we had planned to be in Senegal for  10 months) in the port of Dakar, Republic of Senegal, Mercy Ships provided over 1,400 life-changing surgeries onboard (from the planned 1,200-1,700). Volunteer medical professionals treated over 5,500 dental patients (we had planned for 4,000) at a land-based dental clinic as well as provided healthcare training to 1,270 local medical professionals (initial plans were from 1,000 to 1,500) through mentoring and courses in partnership with 17 hospitals throughout Senegal.

How are the patients who cannot have surgery now? 

This challenging situation worldwide means that some of our patients are now unable to have the surgery they had hoped for in Senegal. As we define options for our future programmatic activities in Africa, we take into account a possible return to Senegal to finish our mission once the restrictions ease.

What about the volunteers onboard?

After Mercy Ships reviewed the activities associated with the Africa Mercy and made the decision to suspend the programmatic activities in Senegal, no new patients were admitted. Following the decision not to take on further patients, a number of short-term crew volunteers and Senegalese day crew supported by Mercy Ships to return home to their countries and incoming volunteer travel cancelled. The crew onboard of the vessel today will sail the vessel to its next destination. We are grateful for their efforts in recent months in these uncertain times.

Is the Africa Mercy leaving Senegal and where is it going next?

Yes, the Africa Mercy is leaving Senegal two months earlier than planned to begin the ship’s yearly maintenance according to maritime regulations. Our aim is to use this advanced maintenance to bring the Africa Mercy back to Africa so that we can continue our mission to bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor once the restrictions ease.
Mercy Ships is also evaluating how, given our operational limitations, the ship can be utilized to assist in the global COVID-19 response

What can I do to support Mercy Ships at this time?

During this challenging season, we ask you to please pray for our crew and volunteers and for our offices around the world, many of whom are joining the ranks of those working from home and in lockdown situations within their countries. We also pray for our donors and friends around the world, knowing that these are uncertain times around the world. Your support, which is even more crucial now to help Mercy Ships so that we can continue provision of surgical care as soon as the situation permits.

Can I still reach the Mercy Ships Office in New Zealand?

Yes, the Mercy Ships New Zealand office is still available during office hours a telephone answering service being monitored at 0800637297.  If you leave a message with your query and full details, one of the Mercy Ships staff will call or email you back as soon as necessary.  Or you can email msnz@mercyships.org

Can I still visit the Mercy Ships office?

During the current pandemic, we have allowed or asked our staff to work from home as much as possible.  As the situation is changing weekly around the world, we request that contact can be made by telephone or email.

As we face these challenging events, we would like to thank you for your ongoing prayers and support to Mercy Ships and our mission to bring Hope and Healing to the world’s forgotten poor.

 

For questions or further information, please contact:

New Zealand communications manager, Sharon.walls@mercyships.org

or

International media liaison, diane.rickard@mercyships.org

 

Sharon Walls

With everything that is going on in the world today, there has never been a better time to pause and thank all the amazing healthcare workers who are sacrificing their safety to help us.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the healthcare environment. It affects all of us. Our social lives, daily routines, family outings, work, the economy and especially those who have contracted the virus. In the midst of all of this stress and uncertainty, our healthcare workers are doing everything they can to take care of others.

We want to honour our incredible, selfless healthcare professionals, not just in New Zealand and Africa, but all around the world.

When the world feels uncertain, we look for the good. When we realise that healthcare systems are fragile, we look for security. When we feel that our health is at risk, we look for the helpers.

World Health Day is a day set aside by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to focus on the impact quality medical care has on the world around us. This year’s theme focuses on two healthcare professions essential to the work we do: nurses and midwives, who spend their lives providing vital health services. Whether we are in a state of emergency or not, these healthcare workers around the world respond to need with consistent love and service.

For over 40 years, Mercy Ships has acknowledged the fragility of healthcare systems around the world. Healthcare professionals onboard our hospital ships have served in more than 50 countries. And, on World Health Day, we want to take a moment to lift them up.

It’s encouraging that when there’s a need, this remarkable group of people are quick to respond. We often talk about how lives have been transformed onboard our ships. Those transformations are dependent on many processes, but the role our healthcare professionals serve is vital. Even though we know that together we care and that together we are Mercy Ships, we couldn’t do what we do without the helpers who are there to care for those who are most vulnerable.

“Mercy Ships creates the opportunity to use your specific skills to bring something important to a country that is not available there. This is done without taking an opportunity away from the local population,” Christina van der Zande, volunteer Palliative Care Nurse Team Leader, said. “We fulfil an immediate need by supplementing the care available in the country with our specialised surgical care, post-op care, and palliative care. And, at the same time, we want to work ourselves out of a job by training others through our various Medical Capacity Building programs.”

Our volunteers do so much to help support the healthcare systems of the countries we serve. And while providing life-changing surgeries to those in need is a vital part of the Mercy Ships mission, for patients like Koumba, it’s the difference between a life in continuous pain or a life pursuing her passion.

For over 16 years, Koumba has been serving in her village, bringing new life into the world as a midwife. But about five years ago, her future took an unexpected shift when she noticed a lump starting to develop on her neck. Even with her years of medical experience, Koumba couldn’t access the surgical care she needed. Without an operation, she was fearful of the growing goitre, which made it more difficult for her to do the work she loved.

Koumba was thrilled when she heard about the possibility of surgery onboard the Africa Mercy. She quickly travelled to the hospital ship in search of healing.

“My whole village is praying for me — they all want me to get help here so that I can keep helping them,” she said. “I want to be able to keep doing this work. There is nothing like it.”

While onboard the ship, Koumba received surgery to remove the painful goitre and was soon on the road to recovery.

“This surgery has brought me so much happiness,” she said. “I can move without pain now. When I go back to the village, I’ll be able to work more than before…I gave help, and I received help. This is happiness.”

There are hundreds of stories like Koumba’s whose lives were forever changed, but none of them would be possible without those who stand beside us — the dedicated volunteers who give of their time and their abilities and our partners, people who give of their resources generously. When we all come together, we are able to provide hope and healing to the forgotten poor.

“I’ve been working in Africa for more than 35 years, and you see people lose their life because they didn’t have access to a simple antibiotic or because they couldn’t afford surgery,” Rosa Whitaker, President of Mercy Ships, said. “So we’re here to help. We’re here to partner. We’re here to provide hope. We’re here to collaborate. We’re here to serve.”

In times of uncertainty, we look for the good. When healthcare systems are fragile, we look for security. When our health is at risk, we look for the helpers. While acknowledging these emotions, we also believe in HOPE. We’re not alone. Together we love, together we give, together we care, together we overcome. Thank you for your ongoing support, your prayers, and for your generous hearts. We look forward to reaching even more people in need and increasing medical capacity worldwide in the coming years. Together we are Mercy Ships!

 

Sharon Walls

Leaving a sustainable dental care footprint

A unique perspective on providing sustainable dental care in Guinea, West Africa

Since 1978 the international hospital ship charity Mercy Ships has ‘hope and healing’ to the world’s forgotten poor by offering specialised surgeries, medical and dental training. Using the transportable platform of the 16,000 tonne Africa Mercy, the faith-based NGO spends 10 months at a time providing essential surgical and healthcare services to developing nations. The port city of Conakry was the hub of the NGO’s work for a fourth time, from August 2019 to June 2020.

“Mercy Ship runs on the goodwill of volunteers who give their time and skills to serve,” explains Dr Loo. “People from many nations, different cultures and languages all work together. It is a diverse community made up of incredible individuals. Many of these inspiring volunteers have dedicated years of their life away from home, foregoing a stable income and society’s mainstream definition of success.

“There were a number of factors that made practising dentistry vastly different than back home in New Zealand. The level of poverty, lack of education/awareness, lack of access to healthcare and medicine are a lot more significant in this part of the world. As a result we saw patients come in with enormous facial swellings that would have never been allowed to progress that far in New Zealand or another developed country.

“Due to the lack of access to antibiotics, dental abscess from an infected tooth could very well be a death sentence; a sad truth which is unheard of back home.

“Many of the patients with large untreated yet benign facial tumours had conditions which to developed large size, causing stigmatisation among their own community. They were inflicted with shame and some were outcast as a result.  These patients received free surgery on board the ship.

“Guinea is predominantly Muslim, with French widely spoken alongside a myriad of local languages. So during my days working at the dental clinic I would greet patients coming in or treatment in their local language of Fula, Onjarama (how are you?). I’ll never forget the delight on their faces when they heard the greeting in their own language.”

During the tour of duty in Guinea, parallel to patient care the Mercy Ships dental programme focused on empowering and enabling the local dental colleagues, a key way forward for the nation’s dental care system.

A CASE STUDY IN DENTAL SUSTAINABILITY – Dental Partner Unit Mentoring Programme

In addition to the Mercy Ships dental clinic which typically sees around 50 patients a day, a large dental project took place in partnership with Gamal Abdel Nasser University of Conakry.

Mentoring was provided over 10 months for thirteen dentists, dental school staff and a total of seventy-one dental students (45 men and 26 women).  The project included extensive renovations of the entire first floor of the dental school and the donation of the necessary dental equipment for the school to fully integrate clinical training into their curriculum for students.  The renovations and equipping allow the school to have an 8-chair student dental clinic, a 3-chair faculty dental clinic, a dental simulation lab, administrative offices for the dental school, and a dental laboratory.  To ensure that the equipment receives proper maintenance and repairs, our Biomedical Facilitator conducted an eight-day training course specifically for the donated equipment.

The medical capacity building courses sought to improve the sterile processing practices used by technicians in Guinea’s hospitals and clinics.  Twenty-two participants attended the Sterile Processing Course in Conakry.  Following the course, fifteen were selected for additional training-of-trainers in order to be better equipped to train others.

A nutritional agriculture course was conducted with 32 participants (26 men and 6 women) from five non-government organizations from seven regions of Guinea, who received train-the-trainer instruction in nutritionally based, biologically and ecologically sustainable agriculture.  The course included both classroom and hands-on instruction; training in food transformation and measures to respond effectively to climate change impacts on agricultural practice and output. After the 22 weeks of training, the new trainers returned home to set up their own agriculture training project.

The impact made in Guinea during that 10-month period included the training of 1,099 local participants in healthcare courses, the provision of more than 41,000 free dental procedures,  and 2,442 free essential surgeries in orthopaedic, maxilla-facial, burns and plastics, obstetric fistula, paediatric general and ophthalmic specialities.

Dr Loo’s most meaningful Mercy Ships experiences included some non-dental interactions outside the clinic. “During the weekends I had the opportunity to help at an orphanage; Hope Village. We spent the day making crafts, singing, dancing and sharing a meal with the children. I had opportunity to learn from the lady in charge of the orphanage who shared her experiences going through the recent Ebola crisis. It was heartbreaking to hear her account of the tragedy, and the loss of so many people. Their joy was inspiring despite the little they had and all they had endured in recent years. I was deeply impacted by her strength in overwhelming circumstances and her transparency in sharing her journey.’

Published with thanks to NZ Dental Association news, Dec 2019 

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

Sharon Walls

Mansare grew up with bowed legs — an ailment often caused by an underlying disease like rickets, and is worsened by malnutrition. The four-year-old had only known life with the orthopaedic condition which made walking and running an exhausting challenge.

After years of watching the small boy struggle with his limited mobility, Mansare’s family were excited to hear the news that treatment for his condition was being offered – for free.  Simone brought her son to the Mercy Ships screening day where approximately 6,000 others had gathered in hopes of receiving the help they needed.

From outside the gate Simone saw a large crowd and didn’t know if they would be able to get through. However, Mansare — plucky despite his young age — slipped through the gate and into the compound. He waved at her from the other side. “If you can’t get through, I will go and stand in line,” he called.

Once she got inside, Simone found Mansare standing in line by himself, unafraid, waving her over to join his spot. “He has always been brave like this,” she said.

This bravery hallmarked his time with Mercy Ships. After he received surgery Mansare spent weeks recovering and relearning how to walk. But even sitting in casts for several weeks couldn’t keep a smile from his face. After starting the physiotherapy program, Mansare was up and running.

Dashing around the dock, his frayed sandals flapping as he ran – and his laughter brought a smile to his mother’s face. “Look at him. Look at him walk,” Simone declared. “He can really play now. Before, he would get tired and come back after ten minutes because the other kids would laugh at him. Now, I have to go find him at the end of the day and bring him back home because he’s so happy to be out playing.”

The sight of an energetic little boy running and playing may not be remarkable to many, but it’s one that Mansare’s family has always hoped for.

“He loves his new body so much,” his mother said. But Mansare’s change goes much deeper than appearances. Now, it’s a challenge to keep him still, and his confidence and joy spill out into everything he does. Mansare seems like a new boy, inside and out!

Surgery has changed our life. He’s happier; I’m happier. He loves himself more. He’s more confident now!

Sharon Walls

It’s easy to see Ibrahim’s joyful spirit. His adorable grin is absolutely infectious, but as soon as the one-year-old tries to stand up, his twisted feet become evident.

His mother, Salimatou, noticed that something was wrong with Ibrahim’s feet as soon as he was born. Both of his feet were bent inwards, a condition which only worsened as Ibrahim grew. Once he began crawling and eventually attempted to walk, Salimatou’s fears grew stronger. She soon realised that something was wrong with her child — something she had no way to fix.

Ibrahim is the youngest of five boys, all of whom keep Salimatou on her feet from dawn to dusk. In order to keep Ibrahim safe, Salimatou would often keep him in a sling on her back, but, she knew that this wouldn’t work as he grew older. With his ability to walk becoming increasingly limited, Ibrahim was facing a future full of difficulties and few options.

One day, Salimatou and her husband heard a radio announcement about a hospital ship that would be sailing into Guinea. After travelling to the Africa Mercy, Ibrahim and his family were hopeful that this would be their chance to find healing for his legs.

Ibrahim was welcomed into the Mercy Ships Ponseti clinic and was soon undergoing treatment to heal his clubfoot. He spent seven weeks in casts, which gently manipulated his feet into a normal position, before undergoing a simple surgery to snip a tendon in his ankles. Afterwards, he was recast and given several more weeks to heal.

Halfway through Ibrahim’s treatment, his mother said, “I can see the difference in his feet already. His feet are getting straighter each week — we can all see it! It makes us so happy.”

While his time in casts was over after leaving the ship, Ibrahim still has some work to do before he is fully healed. He will continue to wear a nighttime brace for years, to ensure his feet stay straight, much like wearing a retainer after having braces removed.

The simplicity of Ibrahim’s treatment is encouraging for other children suffering from clubfoot. The Ponseti treatment doesn’t require a state-of-the-art operating room or cutting edge surgical equipment, but instead relies on time, plaster, patience, and proper training.

Clubfoot program manager Aisling Russell from the UK has brought several local Guinean medical professionals alongside their team throughout the Ponseti process. By providing local hands-on training and letting them be a part of every step of the journey, the Mercy Ships Ponseti team hopes that these locals will be able to continue treating children with clubfoot in Guinea long after the ship sails away.

You don’t have to look far to see the effects that this training is having. Mercy Ships was based in Cameroon the previous year, where the Ponseti team ran similar mentorship programs with local professionals. This year, they brought back a familiar face to lead Ibrahim’s tenotomy procedure: Dr Faustin Atemkeng Tsatedem, a Cameroonian orthopaedic surgeon who received this training during the last field service. He visited Guinea several times to assist with surgeries like Ibrahim’s and to help train a new batch of medical professionals.

“The Ponseti Method of treating clubfoot is the gold standard treatment method used worldwide. Children who complete treatment are then free from deformity and a life of disability,” said Aisling. “In the context of Guinea, this is even more poignant as there is a misunderstanding about the cause of physical deformities that brings shame and limited opportunities for work and marriage. The transformation is obvious, but the lifelong impact is that these children then have a chance to live a life free of shame and the opportunity to work and input to their community.”

He’ll be able to walk like other boys when he grows up. It makes me so happy to see him like this.

Ibrahim is so young that he won’t remember life before his Ponseti treatment. He’ll grow up with feet that carry him where he wants to go, with the only remnant of a former life being the brace he wears at night for the next several years — but his mother will never forget.