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Saliou was too young to realise that he was different. At 2 years old, the little boy had no idea that his cleft lip set him apart from the other children. Blissfully unaware, the condition had no damper on Saliou’s personality, which brought joy to everyone he met.

While some might view Saliou’s condition as a reason to feel shame, especially in West Africa, where the lack of medical access can cause a person to live with the defect for a lifetime, Saliou’s grandmother, Ndiane refused to let his condition hinder her love.

“He’s so handsome,” she said while holding his photo.

Despite her admiration for Saliou, Ndiane still hoped that he wouldn’t have to grow up with a cleft lip which, she worried would cause him to become an outcast when he was older.

“If he didn’t get surgery, he would be different from the other children,” she said.

Unfortunately, Saliou’s family didn’t have the means to find healing for him. With very minimal access to safe, affordable surgery, Ndiane resorted to the only thing she could do — she prayed for a miracle. She held on to the hope that one day, her sweet Saliou would be healed.

After two years of waiting on a miracle, Ndiane was thrilled to hear about a hospital ship that was docked in the capital city of Senegal. This devoted grandmother traveled 12 hours to bring Saliou to the Africa Mercy for a surgery that would change his life forever.

“When I heard about the ship’s arrival, I was relieved,” she said. “Then, I made the decision to stop everything and bring him because this will impact his future!”

Ndaine’s heart swelled with joy and gratitude after Saliou’s operation — her grandson was finally healed! Now the young boy’s future looks brighter than ever.

“I’m giving thanks to God and the people at Mercy Ships. I didn’t have anywhere to get surgery for Saliou, and they did that for me.”

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Tresor’s small hands clutched the newly removed eye patches as he scrunched his eyes closed. He refusing to open them even as a nurse’s gentle voice coaxed him from the darkness.

It took a few minutes — and his mother’s whispered encouragement — before the four-year-old dared to slowly blink his eyes open. Immediately, his eyes spread wide. Wonder replaced fear as he reached for the toy car in front of him — something he hadn’t been able to see clearly just a day before.“One, two, three, four, five,” Tresor grinned as he loudly counted his mother’s fingers. His mother, Larissa, held him close against her chest, letting out an audible sigh of relief.“Before the surgery, I was really scared because I wondered how his eyes would look — will they be normal? What will happen? Will he see again?” Larissa said. “But afterwards, he could see colours and toys and I knew everything would be okay.”Larissa first noticed that Tresor was having problems with his vision only a few months earlier. Her bright, rambunctious four-year-old began having difficulty reading and writing, and he tripped and fell more often when he was walking.

“He’s a feisty, pull no punches, get-out-of-my-face little boy — at least in part because that’s how he survived,” said Dr Glenn Strauss, the volunteer ophthalmic surgeon who operated on Tresor. “He had cataracts and very limited vision…Tresor was aggressive because that’s how he managed his environment. In the familiar, he did quite well. But what would happen at school when he couldn’t read or see the blackboard?”

For now, he could still clamber the cracked, rocky pathway to his house. He could still attend school and play with his best friend, Sammy. But it wouldn’t be long before his cataracts worsened and robbed him of these and any other opportunities ahead.

Watching her only child slowly lose his vision at such a young age was an agonizing experience for Larissa. She makes a living cooking and selling food at a local market — a job which requires long days on her feet. She always dreamed of more for her son, but his cataracts threatened to take these dreams away.

“When I heard the news, I was so depressed,” Larissa said sadly. “I felt like a part of me was dying because I know sight is one of the most important things in life. I couldn’t believe this would happen to my child.”

Unable to afford surgery to remove his cataracts, Larissa felt paralyzed.

“I couldn’t think, I wasn’t eating. Every mummy wants to see her child be successful,” she said. “I wondered, will he become a burden? Will he always need to be assisted? It wasn’t easy for me to think of him that way.”

After hearing about Mercy Ships from Tresor’s school teacher, Larissa brought her son to screening, and before long he was boarding the Africa Mercy for a paediatric eye surgery. Despite any initial fears, the quick, 20-minute procedure was a huge success, which was in part due to Tresor’s age and the early stage at which he was able to receive help.

“Cataracts stop the development of pathways to the brain. The effect in kids aged 3-5 means it may take weeks for pathways to light up again after cataracts are removed. In cases where it’s been years, those kids might get improvement in quality but not in quantity. There will be continued improvement as he uses his ‘new eyes’ over the next few weeks,” said Dr Strauss.

This reality highlights the monumental importance of paediatric eye surgeries. Countless cases of blindness could be remedied, eyesight restored, and futures changed if only more people had access to the kind of medical help they need.

Because of the medical intervention he received at Mercy Ships, Tresor was able to jump back to regular life quickly. In just a matter of weeks, he was back in school writing, reading, and playing without anything holding him back.

He can write perfectly now. It’s my joy because I want him to be successful and to be able to do better than I did. I want a better life for my child than I had,” Larissa said. “Now, I’m full of joy and comfort, and grateful that Mercy Ships came and gave healing to my child. I’m so happy.”

You can help change the future for children like Tresor today

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VIDEO: She only wanted to play like other kids but her knee bent backwards, so even just walking was painful. Marie Madeleine’s condition was too complicated for anyone in Senegal to offer the solution she dreamed of, but her grandmother hoped and prayed that an answer would be found.

Help bring hope and healing to other children waiting for essential surgery.

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Kathy and Sinclair Carter from Whangamata initially volunteered with Mercy Ships for three months. Semi-retired, they felt this was a perfect opportunity to do something more with their skills: Sinclair has a maritime engineering background and Kathy has worked in healthcare. When COVID-19 prevented overseas travel and new volunteers could not get to the Africa Mercy, the couple willingly extended their stay onboard – not once, not twice, but THREE times, to cover essential technical crew needs as COVID-19 made the passage of incoming volunteers very difficult.

Sinclair Carter, second engineer onboard the Africa Mercy, has worked on ships for most of his life, like his father and grandfather before him. He and his wife Kathy joined the ship in Dakar and sailed the ship to Tenerife when the global situation meant the field service was paused.

The Carters are part of the 130-strong crew preparing the ship for our return to field service in West Africa in 2021. “The community onboard is caring,” reflects Sinclair, “Very supportive of one another—it’s like a big extended family and we have made so many amazing memories here.”

Deck and engineering administrator Kathy Carter has worked as a nurse and more recently in the corporate environment in healthcare. When she and Sinclair joined the Africa Mercy in Senegal, they both wanted to use their skills to help those less fortunate. “The experience has been both humbling (watching the bravery and dignity of the patients) as well as life-changing, as we live within this amazing community,”she shares.

Thank you for your service Kathy and Sinclair—we would not be able to do what we do, without people like you!

There are a range of volunteer opportunities available in 2021 when Mercy Ships returns to Senegal. Why not find YOUR place onboard?

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

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: A Volunteer Story

Local Eye doctor Gestrude receiving yag laser training by Dr Glenn Strauss

Imagine a child whose life has been spent in shadows and darkness because of a simple cataract. For most people in developed nations, a quick trip to the eye specialist would resolve this issue, but for those who have little to no access to quality healthcare, their world continues to dim.

For over 40 years, Mercy Ships has been dedicated to providing hope and healing to those in need. Still, our mission would be impossible without the dedicated volunteers who join us on our hospital ship to provide surgical and medical care. Today, we want to honor one such volunteer — Dr Glenn Strauss.

Dr Strauss joined the Mercy Ships volunteer family back in 1997 as an ophthalmologist with the Caribbean Mercy. Over the years, he and his wife Kim continued to support and volunteer their skills for short-term missions, helping many find healing where there once was none.

After years of serving, Dr Strauss and his wife decided to close their practice at home and commit their lives to serve with Mercy Ships full time.

“We felt like we were in a position where we had a lot of years that we could really be offering our best,” Dr Strauss said. “Sort of the ‘first fruits’ idea, where we want to offer our best to the Lord. So we joined full time.”

Dr Strauss and his wife became involved full time in 2005, where they developed Mercy Vision — a training program incorporating spiritual and medical skills training for surgeons and paramedical workers of Central America and sub-Saharan Africa.

While serving with Mercy Ships, Dr Strauss had the opportunity to perform the very first surgery onboard our current ship, the Africa Mercy, but he never forgot his first passion — teaching others. For years, Dr Strauss had the opportunity to train professionals in countries where medical training was nearly impossible to find. Over time, those students began to teach others, resulting in even more healing.

“I had ‘grandchildren’, essentially since the surgeons that I had trained, were now training surgeons in Africa,” Dr Strauss said. “They were being very effective. And so there was a desire to see if we could maybe scale that or incorporate that into some of the other mentoring work that was being done with Mercy Ships.”

Eventually, his passion for educating and training took him away from the surgical table and into the classroom. Dr Strauss’s last surgery was the final one for the 2019/2020 field service, which was cut short due to COVID-19. Now, Dr Strauss has the opportunity as the Programs Medical Capacity Building Director to share his experience in theatre with even more medical professionals.

“What is so interesting to me is that I’ve been part of the story of the Africa Mercy for all these years, and have been able to build a training program in ophthalmology that I believe has been effective both spiritually and professionally with the surgeons that I’ve been working with,” he shared. “Now I have the opportunity to expand that into other areas within Mercy Ships with the new training programs we are developing for our future projects. I think it’s exciting to see that there’s a new area we’re able to tap into. To go far beyond what we’ve been able to do so far.”

We are so thankful for those like Dr Strauss, whose dedication to the mission of hope and healing will see generations changed.

There are so many ways to support the missions close to your heart this #WorldHumanitarianDay — whether through volunteer work, support, or advocacy, you can change your world by taking action. Join us in our mission of bringing hope and healing to those in need by visiting www.mercyships.org.nz/volunteer

Related Posts

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VIDEO: Kees, a volunteer mechanical fitter, tells it like it is from the Africa Mercy shipyard maintenance phase, in the midst of quarantine

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When Benessa* was born, her mother had a simple wish for her daughter’s life. “I want her to be like a diamond — to shine bright,” she said.

Unfortunately for most of Benessa’s life, the light inside her was overshadowed by the neurofibroma growing on her face.

When she was just a baby, her parents noticed a small lump and dark hairs growing above her left eye. By the time she was five years old, Benessa’s neurofibroma was drooping over her forehead like a sac and beginning to dislocate her eye. Over time, more lumps started to develop on her skull and upper lip, causing severe swelling.

Even at her young age, other kids noticed Benessa’s differences, which led to bullying and name-calling. They would call her ‘sick’ and avoid playing with her because they were afraid. As a result, Benessa was spending her childhood on the sidelines. She refused to go to school, even though her parents desperately wanted her to have an education. ‘She was so scared… she said everybody would laugh at her,’ said Benessa’s mother.

With a heavy shroud of insecurity and fear surrounding Benessa, it was hard to see the sweet, playful girl inside, waiting to be let out.

The family was poor and struggled to provide enough food for their two children, so an expensive, complicated surgery was out of the question. Her parents prayed every day for healing for their daughter.

When they heard about Mercy Ships, Benessa’s mother was overjoyed. It was the first time that she’d dared to believe her daughter might receive surgery.
The family travelled for hours to get to the Africa Mercy, but the end goal was worth every arduous mile.

Soon, a volunteer plastic surgeon specialising in neurofibromas removed the tumour Benessa had carried for years. In the weeks following her operation, Benessa spent time onboard being showered in love and friendship by the crew, nurses and other patients. Freed from worry, the sweet five-year-old slowly emerged from her shell, and her inner diamond began to shine through.

Thanks to her growing confidence, Benessa is no longer afraid to start school and her Mum is filled with joy.

‘When we came to the ship for the first time, I was just thanking God over and over,’ said Benessa’s mother. ‘There is no gift greater than good health.’                     *Benessa was also known onboard by her nickname M-muh


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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.”

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Kiwi operating theatre nurses discuss their professional experiences onboard the Mercy Ship in Senegal, West Africa.

Read The Dissector, NZNO June 2020

The Dissector is the official journal of the Perioperative Nurses College of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, produced quarterly (March, June, September & December) by Advantage Publishing Limited.

Posted with permission

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Zackaria’s story

After Zackaria was born, his mother Binta began seeing signs that he was suffering from cataracts — a condition that her eldest child Elimane had also experienced.

“I knew about Zackaria’s eyes when he was still very young, as I had the same experience with my firstborn,” Binta said. “Elimane had an operation, but his surgery was not successful. I wept when I saw that my new baby was looking and moving in the same way.”

Although Binta knew she had no control over her children’s poor eyesight, the fact that both her boys had been born with cataracts caused her overwhelming stress, which developed into illness. With Binta overcome with grief, her mother offered to step in to take the two boys to live with her.

As Zackaria grew up, he was aware that he could not see like other children, but still wanted to live a full life. He wanted to play with other kids and was even ambitious enough to try and kick a football. His teacher encouraged his playful personality so Zackaria would not dwell on his disability. The young boy would sometimes come home sporting scratches and bruises from his ventures, but even those could not dampen his inquisitive nature and zest for life.

One day, while Binta was visiting her children, the family heard of the Africa Mercy’s pending arrival on a local television channel. Elimane asked his mother if he and Zackaria could go to the hospital in hopes of finding healing.

“There are some people coming for free surgeries for the eyes,” he said.

Binta quickly took her boys to where the patients were being selected and introduced the two to the volunteers screening potential patients. Unfortunately, after an in-depth screening, it was discovered that Elimane could not be operated on — he had been blind for too long, and the chances of a second surgery being successful were very slim.

However, young Zackaria’s case was more hopeful! He was given a date on which he would be admitted to the hospital ship, and Binta was elated.

“The family prayed for the ship to be blessed and that the operation would be successful,” she said.

Zackaria was incredibly excited about having, as he terms it, the “things in his eyes” removed. He was in a great hurry to see and began counting down the days to his surgery. Every day he would come and ask his mother, how many more days it was.

When they were admitted to the hospital onboard the Africa Mercy, Binta knew that his surgery was becoming a reality. While she was afraid, she also grew more confident, saying, “It was hard, but I put things in God’s hands.”

In a blink of an eye, his operation was over. Zackaria was discharged the day after surgery and asked to come back a week later for a checkup and some eye tests. Six weeks post-op and Zackaria was back for a final checkup and to join the “Celebration of Sight” ceremony held on the dock. He was given some glasses to help him focus, and was soon joining in the celebrations!

“Now Zackaria can see better, he hardly stays still and is constantly moving about,” Binta said. “I am so happy. I never thought that Zackaria would have this opportunity for surgery. Even I was suffering from something that Mercy Ships has healed!”

Binta says that one day she hopes her son decides to pursue a career as a surgeon saying, “He could help people as people have helped him.”

As for Zackaria, his main ambition right now is to play outside and to build things. He’ll be able to attend school soon, and then a whole new chapter of his life will begin — one that is brighter than ever!