Benin

How a young software developer and paediatric nurse duo found a place to volunteer together, and the remarkableand life-saving events that they became part of. Read Us Two magazine here

Jonny and Stephanie Clark volunteered for three months in Benin, West Africa

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LISTEN ONLINE to RNZ’s Nine to Noon interviews nurse Deb Adesanya about the special bond speaking the local dialect gave when interfacing with her patients, and other remarkable aspects of her five-month voluntary service on the Mercy Ship.

Listen online 

 

 

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Ward Nurse Deb Adesanya holds a baby after his surgery

The backstory: Caring for children recovering from major surgery was Deborah Adesanya’s assignment olunteering in the wards aboard the 16,000 tonne hospital ship, Africa Mercy. Some of her most poignant moments were with babies receiving surgery to correct birth defects like cleft lip and palate.  Most of her long-stay paediatric patients were recovering from surgery to straighten their badly bowed legs or plastic surgery for cooking-fire burns. Both operations restore limb movement that will give these children a fresh chance at a decent future.

One of the 26-year-old volunteer’s most memorable patients was a boy named Saidou.

Saidou was three years old when, while working in the fields with his father, a strong wind blew on their camp-fire and it burned out of control. He was badly burned causing severe damage to his arms, chest and neck.

In a developed nation Saidou would have been rushed to an intensive care unit but, like most people in Benin, his family had no access to either medical care or pain relief.  Against all odds and despite the lack of treatment, he stubbornly clung to life. The agonising burns gradually healed, and scarring contracted each joint it crossed.  He grew up with restricted upper body movement and for the following eight years Saidou’s jaw was pulled so tight, he could make only garbled sounds. The little boy was trapped in an immobilised body, unable to speak through the remaining tiny O-shaped mouth. Yet despite the trauma that constricted every part of his life, Saidou was indomitable. He defied pity – endlessly fascinated with the world around him and often creating his own world of make-believe. Somehow this remarkable child was both even-keeled and happy despite all.

After years of saving the family eventually scraped together enough money for treatment which failed. They were demoralised as Saidou’s condition worsened.

When they heard the news that Mercy Ships was coming to Benin to provide surgery and rehabilitation free of charge, Saidou and his parents gained new hope.

After assessment by the one of the ship’s surgeons, Saidou was admitted for complex burns contracture release and plastic reconstructive surgery. He was placed in Deborah’s ward for his long post-operative recovery.

Deb did far more than simply tend Saidou’s wounds to help him heal

The eleven-year-old’s upper body was swathed in casts and bandaged to restrict any upper body movement while his skin grafts healed. ‘I took care of him over a series of shifts,’ explains Deborah. ‘On the afternoon of my third shift looking after him, I felt like we had built a great rapport. He recognised me and we had developed little ways of communicating. He was one of the bravest patients I have ever encountered. He enduredmany IV insertions blood tests, and movement which would have been incredibly painful due to his surgery, yet he hardly ever cried. Some of the treatment he received was painful, yet he was so brave.’

As Deborah and the nursing team cared for Saidou during his long weeks of recovery, they made sure to take time to play games with him. They encouraged him and prayed for him and, with the help of the ward translators, told him about all the new things he would be able to do when he finally went home.

 

After weeks of physiotherapy, Saidou is now able to move his arms and begin to regain lost movement. He can move his head and neck from side to side. But the most poignant achievement of all was when Saidou began to speak in complete sentences for the first time—ever.

 

His parents were deeply moved to simply hear his voice. Saidou was finally able to express things he had been thinking throughout those long, silent years of his childhood. He had a lot to catch up on. He was so excited to call his mother – 10-hours-travel away – and actually talk to her. His dad was consistently kind and gentle, staying within arm’s reach for the 134 days his son received care from Mercy Ships. He took enormous delight in declaring that his son was now a chatterbox!

 

Deborah was both impressed and challenged by the patients she met on the surgery ship.  ‘My favourite part of this whole experience was the people: I loved the patients, their families, the day crew, and the locals I met!’ she declared ‘Often the patients looked at me with confusion because, being from Nigeria I can understand Yoruba, which some of the people in Benin also speak. It was awesome being able to converse in Yoruba. It really deepened our connection and the level of trust they had in me. Being a nurse of African origins on the ship I found a lot of the patients were drawn to me. In a way I felt like they were proud of me. It was as if some of the parents looked at me thinking if I can do it, so can their child.’

Deb Adesanya’s 20 weeks with Mercy Ships changed her life

 

                                                         Read Deb’s story from Nigeria to New Zealand, to Benin and back again, in the Woman’s Day magazine in stores August 12
Click here to help make a difference today

 

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These are the stories of a few of the 35 Kiwis who served on board in Benin, some volunteering for a second, third or even a fifth tour-of-duty

Tony Diprose, Anaesthetist

 

The Hastings anaesthetist tells The Herald what struck him on board the Mercy Ship was the wide range of people vital to providing life-transforming surgery for Africa’s poor. ‘I’d never have thought to say to a plumber, ‘Mate, you could make a real difference in healthcare in West Africa!’ Some of the crew will never set foot in an operating theatre, but there’s a real need on the ship currently for a mechanic, plumbers, maritime crew; they need a carpenter. These people are as much part of our patients’ treatment as any of the theatre staff.’ Read more

 

 

 

 

Steph & Jonny Clark
Ward Nurse, IT Specialist

 

 

Watch The Herald interview with this young couple who used their skill mix to pay it forward, serving Benin’s poor for three months, or read the IT Brief story about what the world of a geek is like on board the world’s largest civilian hospital ship

 

 

 

 

 

Deb Adesanya, Nurse

 

 

Her intended five-week volunteer tour-of-duty on board the Mercy Ship soon was extended to 20 weeks, and her heart was forever changed by the individuals she met. Deb explains, ‘My favourite part of this whole experience was the people; I loved the patients, their families, the day crew, and the locals I met!’ Read her story this month in Womans’ Day magazine, on shelves August 13, 2017! 

 

 

 

 

Nathan Collis. Electrician

 

Nathan Collis, ElectricianCollis was deeply impacted on a very personal level by the larger work of Mercy Ships in their mission to provide essential surgical services to Africa’s poorest people. ‘Getting to watch a cleft lip operation take place was definitely one of the most impacting moments for me. I was born with a cleft lip. Because I was fortunate enough to be born in New Zealand I don’t really have any memory of this, as it was fixed as soon as possible. This teenager had not been given that opportunity. He had gone through his life up being made fun of, and struggling to eat. An operation which takes a little over an hour changes someone’s life so radically.’ Read his story in August’s Electrolink magazine 

 

 

 

Larry Robbins, Deck Officer

 

 

The retired Navy Commander explains to North and South Magazine why he volunteers regularly on board the Mercy Ship. Larry describes his duties that are essential to the function of the hospital ship, and how much he loves the comradery on board. “I have enjoyed my time in this 400-strong community from 34 different nations, and found it most satisfying both for the work and the sense of purpose.”

 

 

 

 

Ellen Parker, Paediatric Nurse

 

 

Ellen Parker shares, ‘My imagination was captured by the idea of volunteering on a hospital ship when I heard about the first Mercy Ship in 1983.The challenge to use my training to help people in poverty simply stuck in my mind, and just never went away. Half a lifetime later, at the age of 66, my dreams became reality as I stepped onto the deck of another Mercy Ship a hemisphere away.’ Read more at OverSixty.com

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Just hours before his farewell speech from Parliament, former New Zealand Prime Minister John Key took the time to share what he thinks about Mercy Ships. “For almost 40 years volunteers have been helping the poorest people …”

John Key endorses Mercy Ships

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Interview by The Herald.

 

Steph and Jonathan hanging out with a tiny patient
Steph and Jonathan hanging out on the hospital ship deck with a tiny patient

 

Using their skills for good, IT specialist Jonathan and his wife, nurse Stephanie Clark embark on a journey to make a difference.Watch The Herald interview here

 

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“You have saved my life.” Mabouba’s voice breaks as she expresses her gratitude. After six years, her life-threatening tumour is finally gone. ““It was in 2010 that it started,” the 23-year-old recalls. At the time, Mabouba was finishing up her junior year of high school with plans to become a midwife. The tumour changed all that.

“I have no donation, no gift to give you. But God says when you care for your neighbour, heaven will be guaranteed for you. So I wish you heaven,” she declares.

The award-winning image ‘Searching for Hope’ was taken of Mabouba by Mercy Ships photographer Kat Sotolonga prior to surgery. Kat was awarded by The Lancet – renown UK general medical journal – in their annual medical-related photography competition. Congratulations Kathryn Sotolongo and Mabouba!

 

Searching for Hope, Kat Sotolonga
Searching for Hope, photographer Kat Sotolonga

 

Mabouba after surgery
Mabouba after surgery

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Jess Doney encountered more than she bargained forAfter five years as an intensive care nurse at Christchurch Hospital, Jess Doney is used to dealing with crises. Her acquired skills have been put to the test when she recently stepped into a new and extraordinary surgical environment.

The 26-year-old signed on articles for a two-month tour-our-duty in Benin, West Africa, providing care for patients who receive free essential surgery that is inaccessible in their own nation. Jess worked primarily in the ship’s ICU, and one of the five wards where she cared for patients of all ages recovering after the removal of huge, benign yet life-threatening, tumours.

But what Jess says she didn’t expect during her volunteer service was a shift in her own perspective, “Mainly in being thankful for the ‘little things’.

“I visited at the boys’ orphanage here in Cotonou regularly. One week the boys were asked what they were thankful for. Their responses were along the lines of,  ‘ I am thankful because I am alive’, and ‘Because I woke up today – lots of people didn’t!’” These comments from little boys have made her think differently about just being grateful for life, and the simple joys that each day brings.”

“Mercy Ships is unique in their work ethic, their willingness to help and serve the people of Benin,” Jess comments in reflection. “I would definitely volunteer again.”

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The Press brings in the New Year by interviewing Jess Doney on her return from the Mercy Ships wards. Read Nursing on a ship in Africa

Jess Doney (NZL) Ward Nurse, Adult ICU

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Dr Hadleigh Reid's second tour-of-duty
Dr Hadleigh Reid’s second tour-of-duty

It is becoming a habit for Dr Hadleigh Reid to spend his down-time overseas – providing free dental treatment for some of the world’s poorest people.

The Wanganui dentist is serving his second tour of duty in Africa with Mercy Ships. This month-long humanitarian adventure has taken Reid to post-Ebola Benin, where he is treating up to 18 patients living in poverty each day.  On appointment days, the dental team arrives to the on-shore clinic with hundreds in pain lined up and waiting for help that is otherwise simply inaccessible.

Reid finds the long hours and demanding work challenging but extremely rewarding. “I think the biggest factor we encounter is the lack of dental treatment available.  Small problems get bigger and bigger when left untreated.   We see some very extreme cases, so much more advanced than anything I would see at home.  I had a teenager in today who had infection draining from a tooth out of his neck and it had been like that for two years!  We had a couple of patients in yesterday with really advanced oral cancer involving their tongue, neck and throat.  Last week there was a patient who had dead and infected bone in his lower jaw that was so bad that his jaw joint had rotted away!”

Reid discovered some surprises upon his return to post-Ebola Africa.  “It was interesting talking someone on the ship the other day who said the overall mortality rate dropped significantly in West Africa during Ebola – because people were so much more careful about hygiene and transmitting infectious diseases!

“I think it is a great opportunity to be able to assist developing nations with their health care and training and supporting their health workers.  It gives you a different perspective on life and appreciation for all we take for granted.”

Each year the Mercy Ships crew provide more than 20,000 dental services, in addition to thousands of medical and surgical services, at no charge. They work alongside local government providers to improve local health care delivery systems in nations at the lowest end of the UN Haman Development Index.

More information;  visit www.mercyships.org.nz

ABOUT MERCY SHIPS:

Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class healthcare services, capacity building and sustainable development to those with little access in the developing world. Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $1 billion, with more than 2.56 million people directly benefiting. The Africa Mercy is crewed by 400 volunteers from up to 40 nations, an average of 1000 each year. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, healthcare trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. With offices in 16 nations including New Zealand, Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals and serve nations one at a time.

 

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