When he only three years old, his legs began to bow outwards, and slowly the glances of his friends and neighbours filled with pity and scorn.  His mum felt enormous pressure to find a doctor to fix her son’s legs. “We didn’t have money for that,” Youma said. “So, I stayed home, waiting for something to come from God.”

As he grew older, Diacko stopped venturing far from his home out of fear of being mocked. Even his friends would tease him, taunting him and calling him, “Diacko, the bowlegged boy!”

Often in the evenings, his limbs would ache, and his mother would have to massage the painful muscles in his legs to ease the pain. The winter would affect him quite badly, and Youma would have to encourage him to get out of bed in the chilly mornings.

Due to the lack of medical care in their area, it seemed that Diacko would spend his life in continued pain. Until one day they found hope; Youma saw a television advertisement about free corrective surgery offered by Mercy Ships.  At first, I couldn’t understand what it was about,” Youma said. “But, when someone explained to me that a (hospital) ship was coming to Senegal and could provide surgery for my son, I decided to find out more.”

When they discovered that Mercy Ships could help Diacko, his family decided to do everything they could to get him to the ship. “If Diacko did not have this surgery, he would have become stuck,” Youma said. “And as he grew up, he would experience more and more pain.”

Mother and son travelled over 300 miles from their village to where Mercy Ships was located. Soon, Diacko was onboard the hospital ship and meeting other children who suffered from similar conditions for the first time. He learned he was not the only one with this condition!

After the reconstructive surgery which straightened his legs, Diako launched into physiotherapy with earnest determination to strengthen his legs and complete the healing process. Many weeks passed, and sometimes the journey was tough for this brave little boy. But he was surrounded by love and support from his mum and the community onboard the ship. It wasn’t easy, but he would push on through, and every day there would be some improvement in his strength and movement. Youma proudly watched her son’s progress.

Finally, it was time to return to his family, and what a spectacular homecoming it was. Diacko had become a minor celebrity in the village, and Youma believes that his story of hope and healing will be told for decades to come.

“We achieved this dream together,” Youma said. “I was dreaming that he would be healed!”


Find out how your skills and experience can help provide essential surgery for kids like Diacko

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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


Despite the odds of finding Alya five years later in post-Ebola Guinea, his Kiwi surgeon searches for the now 10-year-old. Dr Neil Thomson wants to see the long term impact of his surgery which removed the life-threatening yet benign tumour from the boy’s throat.

Soriba sits on a stool at the end of an empty hospital bed waiting for news of his son Alya, who has been in surgery for nearly three hours to remove a tumour from his small neck.

Across the hallway of the hospital ship, Alya’s Kiwi volunteer surgeon Dr Neil works finishes up the successful surgery. ‘Incredible!’ he declares. Alya’s tumour had grown around the eight-year-old’s windpipe. ‘He was a few months away from suffocating from this.’ In his short life, the tumour on Alya’s neck since birth grew from the size of a twenty cent piece to the size of a potato.

2012/13 images from Media Stockade

But after free surgery onboard the Mercy Ship only a crescent-shaped scar remained where the tumour used be slowly squeezing the breath from the little boy.

Alya’s father’s eyes flutter between the nurse and the translator relaying the message in his language, Susu. ‘Everything went well. He hasn’t woken up yet, but he will soon.’

The relieved father smiles and announces to the ward in Susu, ‘My mind is free, my heart is happy!’

Another patient chimes in from a bed nearby, ‘Let God bring these kinds of people every year in this country!’ ‘Amen!’ declares Soriba.

Hushed mumbles from the other patients and caregivers in the ward quickly turns to a celebration. ‘May God help them to bring healing for other illnesses we have here,’ wishes one woman. Soriba replies, ‘Amen. May there be healing for all!’

Four days later, a squirmy Alya sits on his knees at the end of his hospital bed, pulling on his father’s shirt. Ready to head home to his village, he is no longer the little boy who can’t catch his breath. He is no longer exhausted from his hindered breathing.

‘Without this opportunity, we didn’t have the means for surgery,’ Soriba confesses as he thinks about what the future could have been. Now I am happy!’

In 2018 the Mercy Ship returned to Guinea and Dr Neil Thomson made it a personal mission to search out Alya. When the team found Alya’s village, Dr Neil recognised Alya’s Dad in the crowd immediately. Following him home Dr Neil was reintroduced to the now 12-year-old, who had grown into a strong and healthy boy. ‘He’s completely restored,’ declared Dr Neil. ‘You can’t even see the incision line from his operation! He is an intelligent and sensitive boy who had looked death in the face. ’

Thanks to our sponsors and volunteers,  the free operation Alya received changed and transformed his life. Alya now has a future.

Read more about Dr Neil


Like boys the world over, Sema is fascinated by planes. As they flew over his home in Conakry, Guinea he would track their course – dreaming about working on one someday. But Sema couldn’t attend school because of his severely bowed legs, and his family couldn’t afford the expensive, limited specialist care in the city. As the eight-year-old stood his straightest, his knees remained 16cm apart.
Hope for the future spluttered to life when Sema’s family heard a Mercy Ship was coming to Guinea offering free surgery that could correct conditions just like his. It seems too good to be true, but finally Sema had hope that things could change for him; hope that he would no longer be rejected by other children because of his deformity.

Sema receive complex orthopaedic surgeries on both his legs, provided by the team of volunteer specialists onboard the Mercy Ship from New Zealand and around the wold. The road to recovery was a long one, but when his legs casts were finally removed, Sema could hardly believe his eyes – his legs were healed!
But now he had to relearn to walk.

Each day Sema heroically pushed through his physiotherapy tasks, cheered on by his nurse Robyn from Wellington, Emma from Hawkes Bay and the other Mercy Ships physios developed a rehabilitation plan for Sema to regain his balance and strength. His confidence grew each day as his steps became surer until he could walk and balance on his own.

At last Sema was ready for discharge – standing on his ‘new’ legs and 8 cm taller than when he first arrived on board! Now that’s something worth grinning about!

Please consider making a gift now to help us change the future for kids like Sema


Nabinti’s husband had died 10 years ago, and she was now the sole bread winner for her family. She would buy a large sack of rice, and then divide it into small packets to sell to her neighbours for a meal at a time. But as the 35 year-old ‘s tumour grew, sales dropped off. Nabinti eventually lost her entire livelihood because people became afraid of her. They were terrified that her tumour was contagious and they too would become affected if they bought her rice.
Her family was living on the bread-line; there seemed to be no hope for Nabinti to receive the medical help she needed in Guinea, West Africa. The required surgery was not only well beyond her financial reach, there was simply no one around who could perform the specialised and risky procedure.
The removal of Nabinti’s tumour by volunteer Kiwi surgeon Dr Neil Thomson saved her life. ‘She had a carotid tumour – it developed on the side of her neck, where the carotid artery branches into smaller blood vessels to carry blood to the brain. It growing through the nerves in Nabinti’s face,’ Dr Neil explains.

Dr Neil and the surgical team painstakingly removed the mass as well as the multitude of fingers reaching through her nerves. ‘It was complex and invasive,’ summarises Dr Neil.
The tumour’s disappearance from her face restored the confidence of Nabinti’s community. She could return to selling rice and could once again provide for her family. She was no longer shunned and ashamed. When her tumour was removed free of charge on the Mercy Ship, everything changed for Nabinti!

Read more about Dr Neil