Sambany – A Dead Man Lives!

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 When Sambany came to us, he said he felt “dead inside.”

 

The man trembled up our gangway and did something extraordinary . . . he changed our lives while we were changing his life.

Over the next few weeks, his name was spoken across the Africa Mercy’s eight decks, thousands of tears and prayers ascended to God, and social media exploded with his story. What was so special about Sambany?

Around 36 years ago, a tumor began to consume Sambany’s life. It became a monstrous burden, weighing 16.45 lbs. (7.46 kg) – equivalent to two extra heads. After nearly three decades as a maxillofacial surgeon, Dr. Gary Parker, Chief Medical Officer, says, “It’s one of the biggest tumors of this type that I’ve seen.”

The tumor caused unrelenting discomfort. Sometimes it felt “hot like fire.” Sambany said, “I cannot sleep at night, and even during the day. It heated me up. When walking, it’s too heavy. I have to hold it.”

The tumor was also an emotional burden. Family and friends rejected him, mocked him, laughed at him, shunned him. Some thought his condition was contagious.  Harsh words were flung at him: “Why are you still alive? No one can help!”

Hopelessness defined his life. The search for help required traveling hundreds of miles and included ten hospitals (only three of which had surgeons) and a witch doctor … with no success. Sambany’s poverty blocked any other option. His despair reached new depths. He says, “I was waiting to die. I could not do anything. Every day, I was just waiting to die.”

So, Sambany’s world shrank to the size of his house, his only place of safety and peace.

Eventually, he became so weak that his life became a monotonous cycle of waking, sleeping, eating. He felt useless, and it was hard to watch his family laboring in the rice fields while he wasted away. They were poor, and money spent on trying to help him was money unavailable for food.

Sambany’s main companion was the radio. One day he heard an announcement that resurrected hope: a hospital ship that could treat tumors for free was coming to Madagascar. In spite of his weakness, Sambany told his family, “Die or survive, I want to go!”

It was a journey that only a desperate man would attempt. The closest road was several days away; the ship was hundreds of miles away. Sambany struggled to walk around his house. How could he survive such a journey? But his family recognized his desperation and determination. They sold a rice field to pay for the journey. Five people took turns carrying him on their backs for two days. Then Sambany endured a painful six-hour taxi ride … but he made it.

Due to multiple health concerns, Sambany’s surgery would be extremely high-risk. For almost two weeks, he rested as the medical team determined the best course of action.

Meanwhile, his story spread throughout the ship. It made its way into our community meeting, when all were asked to pray. It appeared as signs on doors, asking us to pray and to give blood. It lent its voice to concerned requests for updates. It travelled into people’s dreams, dampened many a tissue with tears, and prompted some to go hungry as they fasted for this stranger from a country far from their own. Sambany penetrated our lives.

Then, with one word, Sambany’s entire life was changed. After a lifetime of hearing, “No, no, no,” he was delighted when the medical team said yes to performing the difficult surgery. Sambany was well aware of the risks. “I know without surgery I will die. I know I might die in surgery, but I already feel dead inside from the way I’m treated. I choose to have surgery.”

The surgery took a whole day, and over twice of his body’s volume of blood was lost and replaced. Our crew, our living blood bank, literally poured life into Sambany. The blood of seventeen people from six nations now runs through his veins.

Dr Gary described the surgery: “Oftentimes, in operations, you have high-stress moments where you’re in the middle of something – where, in that moment, if something goes wrong, you could lose the patient from a severe hemorrhage or something. With Sambany, it was pretty much high pressure the whole twelve hours of the surgery.”

The end result?  Sambany was finally free from the burden that had weighed him down for nearly two-thirds of his life! And the ship exploded with people praising God. We had helped transform Sambany, and he had transformed us.

A group of us watched breathlessly as Sambany looked at himself in a hand-held mirror … seeing himself for the first time without his tumor. With his head wrapped carefully in bandages, he looked into the mirror and said, “I like it. I am happy.” Later, he added, “I am free from my disease. I’ve got a new face. I am saved!”

Story written by Eunice Hiew

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Sambany came to us carrying a heavy burden – a tumor the size of two heads.

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 When we met Sambany, we took him by the hand and led him onboard for a CT scan. He had waited 36 years to find someone who could help.

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Due to multiple health concerns, Sambany’s surgery would be extremely high risk. Our team was meticulous in choosing the best course of action.

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Numerous tests were performed, including a CT scan, in order to determine whether the surgery could be done.

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Sambany awaits The Decision. “I know without surgery I will die. I know I might die in surgery, but I already feel dead inside from the way I’m treated. I choose to have surgery.”

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The crew is a “living blood bank.” 17 volunteers from 6 nations donated blood. During Sambany’s surgery, over twice his body’s volume of blood was lost and replaced.

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Dr. Gary Parker said, “With Sambany, it was pretty much high pressure the whole twelve hours of the surgery.”

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Sambany takes his first look at his tumor-free image in the mirror. “I like it. I am happy.”

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After a while, Sambany’s hand became too tired to hold the mirror up by himself. So volunteer nurse Marta Chase (USA) held the mirror and his hand.

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From the moment Sambany stepped into our lives, the crew showered him with love and acceptance.

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Flavy, Sambany’s grandson, stayed faithfully by his grandfather’s side.

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Sambany comes back to our outpatient clinic regularly for check-ups.

To watch a short video about Sambany, click here.

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Madagascar!

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Here I am in September with my bags packed and ready to fly to Madagascar ahead of the ship.

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Hiking on a trail in the rain forest of Madagascar

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Stopping for a cool dip in a swimming hole

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Thanksgiving Day 2014 – Madagascar is the country of hats

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This is the first time the Africa Mercy has hosted a special Thanksgiving celebration for the crew – it was a special day to share all we’re thankful for

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Who better to carve the turkey than our Chief Surgeon, Dr. Gary Parker?

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Mother and daughter

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Zodi all smiles

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Everyone received a hat as a gift from the Managing Director’s wife

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Elsa had to dress like her favorite Christmas food for school

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Elsa went to school like this

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Zodi learning how to play like Malagasy children

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Little Andy

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This is Mr. Clovis – he is one of the last Antemoro paper-makers left in Tamatave

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Mr. Clovis showed me step by step how to make this paper from the ahova tree – found only in Madagascar

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The Sahy Betsimisaraka Dance Group that I have the pleasure of working with

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This is our main form of transportation in Madagascar – it’s called a tuk-tuk

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Elsa’s 10th birthday – mustache theme

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Mustache ice cream cake – Lisa’s creation

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Enjoying a coconut snack on the street

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Junior high and high school classes

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Learning how to sand board in Cape Town, South Africa

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18 years ago when I was in Madagascar with the Anastasis, this was the main form of transportation (the pousse-pousse). We still see them in town but they’re mainly used for carrying cargo now.

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Those are pretty skinny cows

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Our first ride in a tuk tuk – It’s a bit of a tight fit but we can travel anywhere around the city for $1.25

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Attending a Malagasy Presidential function

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Visit of the President upon our arrival

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An honorable escort into the port

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We took a stop in Cape Town, South Africa to refuel before heading to Madagascar

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Visiting an Ethiopian restaurant in Cape Town

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Typical Ethiopian – we love it!

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Zodi with her good friend Josie from Ghana

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The beautiful Lisa Schwind!

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13th year wedding Anniversary gift given to Lisa and I from my Malagasy host family – handmade tablecloth

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My Malagasy host family

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Auntie Laura and Tafitah

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Malagasy friends of mine – a lovely family who I met at a local Bible study

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A typical Malagasy home in Tamatave

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I enjoy walking through through the town meeting and talking with people. This is one family I met.

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Another person I met on one of my walks

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Madagascar’s favorite past-time – Soccer (They call it football)

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A typical one room home

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This woman owns this pousse-pousse and rents it out to a driver every day. She makes $4 per day doing this.

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A middle class home

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Malagasy friends

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I took the Razatovo family to a local amusement park one weekend

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Auntie Laura and Tafitah’s first time ever eating cotton candy

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The ferris wheel moves by hand – two guys climb a ladder to the top and hang on it until it spins and then repeat this process over and over until it spins a few times on its own.

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Taking the Razatovo’s to an animal park

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A lemur jumped on my back

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Ando and Mamy

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Andy and Amy

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The Razatovo’s – my host family

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This is the office I used when I needed to work on the computer in Mada

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This is the office building where I recorded on the computer everything I was learning on my pioneer trip to Mada

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Another lovely family I met during my neighborhood visits. I had an opportunity to share an STS Bible story with this family during one of my visits.

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Madagascar has some of the most flavorable cocoa beans in the world. Incredible chocolate!

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Another family in Tamatave I know

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Streetside snacks

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Auntie Laura teaching me how to cook a chicken

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Ando was surprised, happy and honored to have received my gift. This is the most honorable way to show high respect for a host in Madagascar.

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Buying a live rooster at the market

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Finding the biggest rooster

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The first Presbyterian church in Madagascar – one of the largest churches in the city

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Inside the of the Presbyterian church – this is the church I occasionally visit on Sundays – a three-hour service all in the Malagasy language

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pousse-pousse

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pousse-velo

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Salmon snacks sold on the street

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The roads are clear and smooth from Tamatave to the capital city – an 8-hr journey

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Taxi’s in the capital of Tana

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I took this form of transportation from Tana to Tamatave – 8 hrs

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Snacks on the side of the road

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Most items sold on the street have set prices

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A common Madagascar snack made of peanuts, flour and sugar – an acquired taste

IMG_4482A house in the capital of Tana

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10 months in Congo

The Africa Mercy arrived in Pointe-Noire on August 9, 2013. During the next ten months of field service, Mercy Ships offered direct medical services and capacity building assistance including education, renovations, equipment and donations benefiting thousands of individuals and the entire nation of the Republic of Congo. Come with us on a pictorial journey over the past 10 months of our field service.

Newborn Resuscitation Courses This course was in response to the request from the only neonatal unit in Pointe-Noire at A. Sice General Hospital. Through various ones collaborating together, 47 participants received the training during two courses. An additional course was condensed into one day in April for 6 nurses from Loandjili General Hospital, also in Pointe-Noire. Dr. Malonga was very pleased with the instruction, stating that “the idea of having a structured plan for resuscitation was all such a brand-new concept to the hospital.”

Newborn Resuscitation Courses
This course was in response to the request from the only neonatal unit in Pointe-Noire at A. Sice General Hospital. Through various ones collaborating together, 47 participants received the training during two courses. An additional course was condensed into one day in April for 6 nurses from Loandjili General Hospital, also in Pointe-Noire. Dr. Malonga was very pleased with the instruction, stating that “the idea of having a structured plan for resuscitation was all such a brand-new concept to the hospital.”

OR Nurse Mentoring Provided mentoring to 6 operating room nurses for the entire field service. They rotated through the various surgical specialties on the Africa Mercy. Quote from one participant: “What I like about my week is: now I can see that am very useful in the OR, because I am doing everything that a circulating nurse has to do in the OR and am very happy about that.”

OR Nurse Mentoring
Provided mentoring to 6 operating room nurses for the entire field service. They rotated through the various surgical specialties on the Africa Mercy. Quote from one participant: “What I like about my week is: now I can see that am very useful in the OR, because I am doing everything that a circulating nurse has to do in the OR and am very happy about that.”

WHO Safe Surgery Checklist / Lifebox Courses This course took place in the third city of the Republic of Congo, Dolisie. 26 participants (doctor, OR nurses, nurse anaesthestists, and sterile processing technicians) attended the training on WHO Safe Surgery checklist. Four Lifebox pulse oximeters were provided to the general hospital. The facilitators moved to Brazzaville and provided training to 2 doctors and 12 nurse anaesthetists on the WHO Safe Surgery Checklist and Lifebox – providing 21 pulse oximeters.

WHO Safe Surgery Checklist / Lifebox Courses
This course took place in the third city of the Republic of Congo, Dolisie. 26 participants (doctor, OR nurses, nurse anaesthestists, and sterile processing technicians) attended the training on WHO Safe Surgery checklist. Four Lifebox pulse oximeters were provided to the general hospital. The facilitators moved to Brazzaville and provided training to 2 doctors and 12 nurse anaesthetists on the WHO Safe Surgery Checklist and Lifebox – providing 21 pulse oximeters.

Leadership Courses In partnership with Samaritan Strategy of Ghana, the team held three leadership courses in the Republic of Congo. There were 419 community leaders in Pointe-Noire, 416 community leaders in Dolisie and 32 medical leaders from Pointe-Noire. Medical leaders included the directors of the major hospitals in the city. Additional training of trainers’ instruction provided to 66 from the community leaders in Dolisie.

Leadership Courses
In partnership with Samaritan Strategy of Ghana, the team held three leadership courses in the Republic of Congo. There were 419 community leaders in Pointe-Noire, 416 community leaders in Dolisie and 32 medical leaders from Pointe-Noire. Medical leaders included the directors of the major hospitals in the city. Additional training of trainers’ instruction provided to 66 from the community leaders in Dolisie.

Mercy Ministries Mercy Ships crew often pursued additional ministry opportunities during their off-duty hours; primarily evenings and weekends. During the Republic of Congo field service, crew members routinely visited: Men & Women’s Prison, Espace, Amour de Dieu, Ngoyo Plaine, and Boy’s Orphanages, Sewing Sisters, Handicapped Tailors, Senior Community Center, School for the Deaf, Baby Crèche and the HOPE Center. All were done in partnership with local organizations in the greater Pointe-Noire area. In addition, and in partnership with Navigators, the Jesus Film with discipleship videos were viewed by thousands of Congolese in French – over 650 expressed commitments and/or requested prayer.

Mercy Ministries
Mercy Ships crew often pursued additional ministry opportunities during their off-duty hours; primarily evenings and weekends. During the Republic of Congo field service, crew members routinely visited: Men & Women’s Prison, Espace, Amour de Dieu, Ngoyo Plaine, and Boy’s Orphanages, Sewing Sisters, Handicapped Tailors, Senior Community Center, School for the Deaf, Baby Crèche and the HOPE Center. All were done in partnership with local organizations in the greater Pointe-Noire area. In addition, and in partnership with Navigators, the Jesus Film with discipleship videos were viewed by thousands of Congolese in French – over 650 expressed commitments and/or requested prayer.

Hospital Chaplaincy Hospital Chaplaincy Team provided prayer, counsel, and comfort to hundreds of patients, those in the wards on the ship and at the HOPE Center. Sunday morning services were available to ward patients and caregivers which provided spiritual and emotional support. The Team provided one-on-one counseling (1,668 sessions), group activities, HIV counseling (251 sessions), and fulfillment for 486 requests for Bibles. Nine Hospital Chaplaincy day crew received instruction using counseling books, DVDs and ‘Simply the Story’ workbooks.

Hospital Chaplaincy
Hospital Chaplaincy Team provided prayer, counsel, and comfort to hundreds of patients, those in the wards on the ship and at the HOPE Center. Sunday morning services were available to ward patients and caregivers which provided spiritual and emotional support. The Team provided one-on-one counseling (1,668 sessions), group activities, HIV counseling (251 sessions), and fulfillment for 486 requests for Bibles. Nine Hospital Chaplaincy day crew received instruction using counseling books, DVDs and ‘Simply the Story’ workbooks.

General Surgeries The hospital teams provided 477 surgeries for 454 patients (320 adults and 134 children). Hernia repairs and thyroidectomies made up the majority of the general surgeries.

General Surgeries
The hospital teams provided 477 surgeries for 454 patients (320 adults and 134 children). Hernia repairs and thyroidectomies made up the majority of the general surgeries.

HOPE (Hospital Out Patient Extension) Center Renovations 144 Beds for Patients and for Caregivers A building owned by Caritas and Lion’s Club under construction to be a school building was completed by Mercy Ships to provide safe and secure accommodations for patients for their recovery. At the HOPE Center, 24 community health education sessions were provided by trained day crew for patients and caregivers on subjects such as safe drinking water, infection control, hand-washing, dehydration, treatment of diarrhea, malaria prevention-treatment/fever, nutrition, healthy living, first aid, wound care, worms, scabies, pregnancy health, and HIV/AIDS.

HOPE (Hospital Out Patient Extension) Center Renovations
144 Beds for Patients and for Caregivers
A building owned by Caritas and Lion’s Club under construction to be a school building was completed by Mercy Ships to provide safe and secure accommodations for patients for their recovery. At the HOPE Center, 24 community health education sessions were provided by trained day crew for patients and caregivers on subjects such as safe drinking water, infection control, hand-washing, dehydration, treatment of diarrhea, malaria prevention-treatment/fever, nutrition, healthy living, first aid, wound care, worms, scabies, pregnancy health, and HIV/AIDS.

Technical Eye Clinic Renovation Prior to Mercy Ships renovations, this building was used by their maintenance teams. This facility provided a proper place for the Eye Team for secondary screenings and post-operative care. The facility will be used for the Biomedical Education course to be held later this year.

Technical Eye Clinic Renovation
Prior to Mercy Ships renovations, this building was used by their maintenance teams. This facility provided a proper place for the Eye Team for secondary screenings and
post-operative care. The facility will be used for the Biomedical Education course to be held later this year.

Dental Clinic Renovations Renovations were made to an existing building in order for the Dental Team to use the site for their clinic and for climate control rooms for HOPE Center patients. The facility is on the Caritas / Lion’s Club property and they plan to open it as a medical clinic.

Dental Clinic Renovations
Renovations were made to an existing building in order for the Dental Team to use the site for their clinic and for climate control rooms for HOPE Center patients. The facility is on the Caritas / Lion’s Club property and they plan to open it as a medical clinic.

Agriculture Site Renovations Renovations were made to an existing training center in Dolisie for use by the Nutritional Agriculture Team for the 19 week course. The center was built by the government as a training center but was never opened. Now it is prepared and ready for their future use.

Agriculture Site Renovations
Renovations were made to an existing training center in Dolisie for use by the Nutritional Agriculture Team for the 19 week course. The center was built by the government as a training center but was never opened. Now it is prepared and ready for their future use.

 

Sterile Processing Education Mentoring and courses took place during two periods of time. They included 37 nurse/sterilizer, operating room sterilizer and sterile technicians. A quote from one participant: "We were ignorant before we came to the training; there were many things we didn't know because we didn't have a book or training. We have to make changes so that we can do our job properly. This new information; It's like giving someone who didn't eat for a month some bread and water. Nourishment for growth."
Sterile Processing Education
Mentoring and courses took place during two periods of time. They included 37 nurse/sterilizer, operating room sterilizer and sterile technicians. A quote from one participant: “We were ignorant before we came to the training; there were many things we didn’t know because we didn’t have a book or training. We have to make changes so that we can do our job properly. This new information; It’s like giving someone who didn’t eat for a month some bread and water. Nourishment for growth.”

Basic Surgical Skills Courses 13 participants attended the Basic Surgical Skill Courses facilitated by Medical and Surgical Services Institute (MSSI) of Ghana in November 2013. Two 2 day courses were conducted on the ship. This was the first time Mercy Ships hosted this type of healthcare education course.

Basic Surgical Skills Courses
13 participants attended the Basic Surgical Skill Courses facilitated by Medical and Surgical Services Institute (MSSI) of Ghana in November 2013. Two 2 day courses were conducted on the ship. This was the first time Mercy Ships hosted this type of healthcare education course.
Anaesthesia Education Mentoring Three nurse anesthetists were mentored in the operating rooms of the Africa Mercy over this field service. This was provided primarily by our Anaesthesia Supervisor. The mentoring was tailored to the individual need of the participant. A combination of theoretical tutorials and practical skills were taught.

Anaesthesia Education Mentoring
Three nurse anesthetists were mentored in the operating rooms of the Africa Mercy over this field service. This was provided primarily by our Anaesthesia Supervisor. The mentoring was tailored to the individual need of the participant. A combination of theoretical tutorials and practical skills were taught.

Nutritional Agriculture Course ‘Food for Life’ The focus was training of trainers with these selected participants. After the 19 weeks of training, follow-up visits were made to most of the groups and their participant. The recently graduated trainers are teaching community farmers and school students from all over the Republic of Congo what they have learned.

Nutritional Agriculture Course ‘Food for Life’
The focus was training of trainers with these selected participants. After the 19 weeks of training, follow-up visits were made to most of the groups and their participant. The recently graduated trainers are teaching community farmers and school students from all over the Republic of Congo what they have learned.

Reconstructive Plastic Surgeries During 16 weeks of surgery, 179 patients (86 adults and 93 children) received 207 specialized plastics reconstructive surgeries (to correct deformities from severe burns, congenital abnormalities and soft tissue tumors). 2,167 physical therapy sessions and 1,318 hand therapy sessions.

Reconstructive Plastic Surgeries
During 16 weeks of surgery, 179 patients (86 adults and 93 children) received 207 specialized plastics reconstructive surgeries (to correct deformities from severe burns, congenital abnormalities and soft tissue tumors). 2,167 physical therapy sessions and 1,318 hand therapy sessions.

101 local day crew received instruction in diarrhea and deydration, safe drinking water/ contamination, malaria/fever, nutrition, worms, scabies, HIV/AIDS and immunizations. 101 day crew were trained on sharing oral Bible stories using “Simply the Story”. Eleven day crew mentored to perform visual acuities and assist with pre-operative measurements. 17 nurses from the Association of Home Health Aids for the Aged People of Congo attended our course on palliative care. 25 midwives attended this course at the same time as the Anaesthesia Course in Brazzaville in May 2013. They received 20 hours of training. 47 participants from A. Sice General Hospital and 35 from Tie Tie Base Hospital received mentoring in infection control, sterile processing, disease identification/prevention, and vector control. This project was in partnership with Rotary International.

101 local day crew received instruction in diarrhea and deydration, safe drinking water/ contamination, malaria/fever, nutrition, worms, scabies, HIV/AIDS and immunizations. 101 day crew were trained on sharing oral Bible stories using “Simply the Story”.   Eleven day crew mentored to perform visual acuities and assist with pre-operative measurements. 17 nurses from the Association of Home Health Aids for the Aged People of Congo attended our course on palliative care. 25 midwives attended this course at the same time as the Anaesthesia Course in Brazzaville in May 2013. They received 20 hours of training. 47 participants from A. Sice General Hospital and 35 from Tie Tie Base Hospital received mentoring in infection control, sterile processing, disease identification/prevention, and vector control. This project was in partnership with Rotary International.

Maxillo-Facial Surgeries Patient Selection/Screening teams spoke to thousands of potential patients in the greater Pointe-Noire area, Brazzaville and during four interior screenings. Over the ten months, volunteer surgeons performed 604 maxillofacial surgeries including 170 cleft lip and/or palate repairs for children and adults.
Maxillo-Facial Surgeries
Patient Selection/Screening teams spoke to thousands of potential patients in the greater Pointe-Noire area, Brazzaville and during four interior screenings. Over the ten months, volunteer surgeons performed 604 maxillofacial surgeries including 170 cleft lip and/or palate repairs for children and adults.
Ophthalmic Cataract Vocation Training Took place in April 2014 at the Government’s request in the capital city Brazzaville. Four surgeons and four eye nurses were mentored by the visiting Rotary facilitators from India.

Ophthalmic Cataract Vocation Training
Took place in April 2014 at the Government’s request in the capital city Brazzaville. Four surgeons and four eye nurses were mentored by the visiting Rotary facilitators from India.

Mercy Vision Surgical Project 1,085 eye surgeries (cataracts, pterygium, and other) were performed for adults and teenagers. 11,428 eye evaluations and treatments performed at various sites in and around Pointe-Noire. In addition, 1,611 UV blocking sunglasses, 1,780 reading glasses and 75 prescription glasses distributed.

Mercy Vision Surgical Project
1,085 eye surgeries (cataracts, pterygium, and other) were performed for adults and teenagers. 11,428 eye evaluations and treatments performed at various sites in and around Pointe-Noire. In addition, 1,611 UV blocking sunglasses, 1,780 reading glasses and 75 prescription glasses distributed.

Dental Procedures A total of 7,410 patient encounters included over 19,000 procedures plus 948 patients received dental prophylaxis. Dentures provided after extraction for 174 patients to improve their smile. While waiting for dental services, all patients received basic oral health education. The Dental Team visited local schools and provided 1,010 students with basic oral health education. In addition, eight school teachers were mentored to teach the subject to their classes. Nine Congolese day crew mentored in assisting, sterilizing, and teaching oral hygiene. The Dental Team also provided services to prisoners at the Men & Women Prison in Pointe-Noire.

Dental Procedures
A total of 7,410 patient encounters included over 19,000 procedures plus 948 patients received dental prophylaxis. Dentures provided after extraction for 174 patients to improve their smile. While waiting for dental services, all patients received basic oral health education. The Dental Team visited local schools and provided 1,010 students with basic oral health education. In addition, eight school teachers were mentored to teach the subject to their classes. Nine Congolese day crew mentored in assisting, sterilizing, and teaching oral hygiene. The Dental Team also provided services to prisoners at the Men & Women Prison in Pointe-Noire.

Obstetric Fistula During 7 weeks, life changing surgeries were provided to 46 Congolese women suffering with complicated obstetric fistulas including vesico-vaginal fistulas (VVF). Also during this time, mentoring was provided to one surgeon and two ward nurses. Please see below. An additional 16 gynecologic surgeries were provided to 14 Congolese women.

Obstetric Fistula
During 7 weeks, life changing surgeries were provided to 46 Congolese women suffering with complicated obstetric fistulas including vesico-vaginal fistulas (VVF). Also during this time, mentoring was provided to one surgeon and two ward nurses. Please see below. An additional 16 gynecologic surgeries were provided to 14 Congolese women.

Orthopaedics Surgeries During 7 weeks, life changing surgeries were provided to 78 primarily pediatric patients from the Republic of Congo. Surgical treatments for the following conditions: Windswept Deformities, ‘Knocked-Knees’, Bowed Legs, etc. All received appropriate physical therapy (1,869 sessions).

Orthopaedics Surgeries
During 7 weeks, life changing surgeries were provided to 78 primarily pediatric patients from the Republic of Congo. Surgical treatments for the following conditions: Windswept Deformities, ‘Knocked-Knees’, Bowed Legs, etc. All received appropriate physical therapy (1,869 sessions).

Ward Nurse Education Mentoring Local ward nurses were mentored in their respective surgical specialties: 6 in maxillofacial ward care 2 in orthopaedic ward care 2 in general ward care 2 in obstetric fistula ward care 1 in rehabilitation Most were on the ship for a period of 6 weeks, 3 days a week. Great feedback was gained from the participants during a collaboration day.

Ward Nurse Education Mentoring
Local ward nurses were mentored in their respective surgical specialties:
6 in maxillofacial ward care
2 in orthopaedic ward care
2 in general ward care 2 in obstetric fistula ward care
1 in rehabilitation
Most were on the ship for a period of 6 weeks, 3 days a week. Great feedback was gained from the participants during a collaboration day.

Primary Trauma Care Courses Four French-speaking facilitators from Primary Trauma Care in Europe came to facilitate these courses for 26 participants from the local hospitals. Five participants completed training-of-trainers and taught the second course to their fellow colleagues. Trauma care was a highly requested training by the government and local hospitals. Pre and Post tests showed significant increases.

Primary Trauma Care Courses
Four French-speaking facilitators from Primary Trauma Care in Europe came to facilitate these courses for 26 participants from the local hospitals. Five participants completed training-of-trainers and taught the second course to their fellow colleagues. Trauma care was a highly requested training by the government and local hospitals. Pre and Post tests showed significant increases.

Anaesthesia Courses Two courses were held in anaesthesia. The first course was in Brazzaville prior to the ship’s arrival in country. 180 anaesthesia nurses, 6 doctors of anaesthesia and 2 OB GYN doctors attended the three day course. The second course was in Pointe-Noire with 35 anaesthesists and nurse anaesthesists. The focus was on obstetrics anesthesia, difficult airways, trauma, pain and maternal health. On day three, the emphasis was on the WHO Safer Surgery Checklist and Pulse Oximetry.

Anaesthesia Courses
Two courses were held in anaesthesia. The first course was in Brazzaville prior to the ship’s arrival in country. 180 anaesthesia nurses, 6 doctors of anaesthesia and 2 OB GYN doctors attended the three day course. The second course was in Pointe-Noire with 35 anaesthesists and nurse anaesthesists. The focus was on obstetrics anesthesia, difficult airways, trauma, pain and maternal health. On day three, the emphasis was on the WHO Safer Surgery Checklist and Pulse Oximetry.

Ultrasound Course This course was held for five days in the mornings and had 10 participants attend all the sessions and another 52 who came for various portions of the training. This was conducted by our radiologist who came at the beginning of the field service.

Ultrasound Course
This course was held for five days in the mornings and had 10 participants attend all the sessions and another 52 who came for various portions of the training. This was conducted by our radiologist who came at the beginning of the field service.

Two-week sail We set sail on June 1 for the Canary Islands for our dry dock period and arrived a day early on June 13, 2014. We'll spend two days in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and then fly to the USa for a needed break from June 16 - August 9.

Two-week sail
We set sail on June 1 for the Canary Islands for our dry dock period and arrived a day early on June 13, 2014. We’ll spend two days in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and then fly to the USA for a needed break on June 16. When we return to the Africa Mercy on August 9, we will set sail for a 10-month field service in Benin. 

Credit photo: Debra Bell

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Yellow worms on a platter

This is one memory I have of the Congo. Hi, I’m Zodi and I’m 12 years old now. One of the things I’ll remember from Congo is eating exotic foods with my dad. We had crocodile, porcupine, gazelle, and caterpillars. I have also really enjoyed living on the ship. I have made many friends and have had extraordinary experiences. I have made some amazing memories and relationships with some of the patients and with other Africans. Something that I really enjoyed doing was going off the ship to the outdoor market. It was fun trying to communicate with the Congolese in French. I am learning French in school and hope to be able to speak it fluently one day. I’m excited to visit the USA this summer for our vacation. I hope to see some of you soon.

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We’re Still Alive!

Friends and family, we are still alive! Our Guinea field service has come and gone and now we are working in the Republic of Congo. We arrived 7 months ago and have been in a whirlwind ever since. To give you a brief update of what life has been like over the past several months, view our pictures and read the captions. I’ll add more in the days to come.

Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo  March 2014

Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo
March 2014

 

Shelling peanuts with Auntie Giselle is a great way to learn Congo culture.

Shelling peanuts with Auntie Giselle is a great way to learn Congo culture.

 

Eating dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants, Mama Bert's

Eating dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants, Mama Bert’s

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Guinea: the first 7 weeks

We’re nearly two months into our 10 month field service in Guinea. Following is a pictoral timeline of our our adventures thus far.  Anusumane Sylla, on the left, is the Guinean that works directly with me in Staff Development as a cultural advisor and translator. He speaks English and the four main languages in Guinea: French, Susu, Maninka, and Pulaar. He is also a local musician who has original songs played on the radio.

The tall gentleman, Abdullai and Sadio, in the orange shirt, were friends and former co-workers of Lisa from the last field service we spent in Guinea in 1998-99. These two men came to the dock asking for Lisa as they remembered working with her in the dental clinic when she was the Dental Coordinator. They were happy to see that she had gotten married and had two daughters. During their visit, they brought a stack of photographs they had kept since 1999 with pictures of Lisa and other dental team members. Their visit was a welcome surprise.

During our first week in Guinea, Ansumane took us around town to introduce us to the city of Conakry, our new home. This is a traditional man we met at the airport.

He is from a part of Guinea called the forest region where African Traditional Religions are practiced. He is identified as such because of his hair style, the charms and amulets he wears, the cowry shells which adorn his neck and the clothes he dones. Below is a painting found in the airport depicting the traditional beliefs held by those in the forest region. Certain types of  instruments are used in religious rituals and ceremonies, often involved in invoking evil spirits or the spirits of the dead. Eight percent of Guineans follow traditional religions in the strictest sense, 87%  follow Islam and a blend of African traditional beliefs and only 5% of all Guineans profess to be followers of Jesus.

 We enjoy eating the local food of rice cooked in tomato sauce and chicken or fish. One large plate costs 15,000 Guinea francs which to us, is a mere $2.20. Other favorite foods in Conakry include ginger juice made straight from fresh ginger root and juice made from the sorrell flower. It’s packaged in a small plastic bag tied at the top and bought for 20 cents from a street vendor. To drink, all one must do is tear off the corner of the bag with one’s teeth to produce a small hole and then drink away! We also enjoy an occassional beef scewer cooked over a charcoal grill and sold by a street vendor. Avacados, yams, pineapples, bananas are also family favorites. Hot food seems to taste better straight off the fire, as seen below.    

I find cultural symbolism fascinating. I learn so much about the worldview and core values of our West African friends and neighbors by observing and interpreting their cultural symbols. The Nimba is one example which is highly significant in Guinean culture. The Nimba is an abstract carving of a woman with her breasts exposed. It is a national symbol displayed on local currency and painted inside important buildings (Below, notice painting inside airport).

The Nimba represents the mother of fertility, protector of pregnant women and the ideal role of a female in Guinean society. It is perceived as the vision of woman at her zenith of power, beauty, and affective presence. The abstract symbolizes a woman who has been fertile, having given birth to several children and having nurtured them into adulthood.

The Nimba’s hair is braided into corn rows which represent the rows of crops grown in Guinea. It’s presence is exemplified in all aspects of life and displayed publically at weddings to give direction to the new union, at funerals to initiate the dead, and during the planting and harvesting season to celebrate productivity. The Nimba is a reminder to Guineans of the revered qualities which embody their social system.

A Guinean from the forest region has described the Nimba as “the joy of living and the promise of an abundant harvest.”

Guinea is known for her traditional music which is unique to the region of West Africa. One instrument that is often seen played is the balafon, a wooden xylophone which uses gourds to enhance and amplify the sound.

Another is the kora, a cross between a harp and a lute. Typically, the kora player is also a singer-historian who sings praises to noble patrons, as seen below.

Different types of drums are also played throughout Guinea. In fact, Guinea is a hub for djembe players worldwide.   

We’ve made several new friendships and have rekindled old ones from our Anastasis days. See below Ebenezer and Comfort Yeboah and Pastor Chris Ampadu from Ghana as well as Pastor Forbes from The Gambia.

 Ann Grainger who has lived in Guinea for the past 14 years.

Fresh pineapples from the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Sylla.

Patrik and Diana Bergstrom

Friends, neighbors and co-workers from the Africa Mercy

On October 5-7, our family took a three-day weekend and travelled upcountry to Kindia (4.5 hrs. drive from Conakry). We had a wonderful time together. Most of the pictures below are taken at FABIK, a Guinean farm where Mercy Ships’ agricultural team is training trainers of local NGO’s in organic farming. It was refreshing to spend time in the countryside away from the hustle-bustle of the city.

The first sight of the mountains from the taxi.

Stalks of sugar cane

We ate three stalks of sugar cane on our hike and brought the rest home.

Zodi and Lisa looking out over the pineapple and banana fields.

Early every morning before anyone awoke, Zodi and I would take a walk in the rain.

The farm grew 15 varieties of bananas.

Raising goats is a great farming business in a Muslim-majority nation like Guinea.

We spent most of our weekend hiking trails through the forest.

A local farmer and his two wives tending their small plot of land.

Exploring the pineapple fields

Elsa and a good friend, Elise from the ship

A staple in organic farming…a compost pile

Rice fields

Bananas

The rabbit shed

Suspending cages above the ground will keep the rabbits safe from predators.

Friends

Chomping on sugar cane

African landscape

With so many goats, it was hard for Elsa to resist not picking up the babies.

 This was our guide for one of the trails.

FABIK Farm - Kindia, Guinea

Take a look at this Guinean hearse on the left.

I had to laugh when I saw this house. I never knew Bob was a Guinean name.

Rainy days are a welcome change from the typical hot and humid.

A not-so-good family shot

When Zodi saw this white horse, it reminded her of Liberty, the horse she used to ride in California, but this one wasn’t as hearty.

It’s fun discovering wildlife you’ve never seen before – a shiny brown frog

It was a bit random to stumble upon this skinny old camel from Mali.

Say Cheese!

The motorcycle was a little late in coming. There was no other way around the puddle.

Following our guide and feeling very safe.

Whenever you’re having a bad day, thank God you’re not a chicken in Guinea.

I hope you enjoyed our first 7 weeks in Guinea. Stay tuned for more pictures soon.

The photographer

My favorite form of relaxation when I’m not taking pictures…a hammock and good book.

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Highlights from Togo

Zodi: (paraphrased) I liked visiting an African boy named Darius in the ship ward. He came to the ship to receive eye surgery. Just one year earlier, he had chicken pox and it went into his eyes and blinded him. My dad went with me to visit him. We would bring play-doh and water marbles for him to touch and play with. My dad would read him books and we would always pray for him before we left. I was so sad to hear that our doctors could not help him. Mercy Ships tries to help as many people as they can, but sometimes it isn’t possible. Darius taught me the importance of spending time with people who are suffering. In some places in the world people like Darius are rejected for being different. Darius was my friend and even though we couldn’t change his life, he sure changed mine.

Elsa: ”Spending time off the ship with the local people was my favorite thing. Learning how to gather water from the well, how to wash clothes by hand, visiting the local market and trying new foods were some of the things I enjoyed doing most. While we are worrying about a stain on our clothes, the people here have to wash their clothes by hand. They don’t complain.”

“While all the kids are playing with video games and having fun in America, the kids here are washing clothes, cooking the food and getting water from the well. They work hard here but they are at peace with each other. They don’t complain about doing all these things. Living on the ship sometimes feels like I’m in America again. I love getting off the ship with my family because it makes me feel like I’m at home, the place where I was born. It feels like I never left home. Did you know that I was born in Ethiopia? I’m from Africa and that’s why I loved being in Togo spending time with my Togolese friends.”

Lisa: “I was so grateful to be able to offer my services as a dental hygienist to the crew and our local Togolese day workers. There was such a great need because dental hygiene had not been offered consistently onboard for the past ten years.  Although I find my work rewarding, my most memorable highlight was when I befriended a female patient named Tene who underwent vesico-vaginal fistula surgery.”

“Tene’s condition began 18 years ago when she experienced prolonged labor while giving birth to her fifth child. It caused a fistula or hole between her bladder and vagina. As a result, she lived with a constant trickle of urine, making normal life impossible. This condition is what I would consider the modern day leperosy because these women live as outcasts in society. Their husbands often leave them because of the stench and they are forced to live outside the community in isolation, left to suffer alone. To pay for transport to the ship to receive surgery, Tene sold her family pig for a mere $16. She lived a whole day’s journey away. Tene expressed to me how everyone in her life had left her. After her surgery, I visited her almost every day for three weeks and felt a real connection with her. We would play games together. Her favorites were jenga, pick up sticks and an African bean game. Through the help of a translator, we would talk about life, tell Bible stories and pray with one another. Her successful surgery gave her renewed hope for a better future upon returning home. On the day she left the Africa Mercy, Steve and I said our goodbyes and then gave her an envelope with 15,000 cfa ($30), enough for her to get home and purchase another pig for her family. The gift we gave Tene was small compared to the priceless gift of friendship I received from her.”

Steve: “God did so many remarkable things in Togo in my life, but if I had to pinpoint one thing that made a significant impact on me, it would be the close relationship I developed with Kodzo Ben Afidenyo. Ben was hired as one of our ward translators while we were in Togo. He and I had the opportunity to get to know each other in the hospital ward during the times I visited the patients recovering from surgery. By western standards, he would have been considered materially poor, but he made up for it in intellect and character. He soon became a fellow colleague of mine and trusted confidant.”

“Ben helped me gain an understanding of Togolese culture that I could never have acquired in any travel book. I especially enjoyed collaborating with him in the design and implementation of a Togolese culture learning class which we co-taught to Mercy Ships crew every Tuesday evening. Over the past six months I have marveled at the lives which have been physically transformed through the ministry of Mercy Ships, but at the end of the day, the most meaningful experiences for me have been the relationships I’ve developed and nurtured. It has been a tremendous privilege to work alongside the Togolese people. My life will, undoubtedly, never be the same.”

 

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Togo and Beyond

We wrapped up our field service in Lome, Togo on June 15 and sailed to the Canary Islands to receive our bi-annual dry dock where the Africa Mercy undergoes maintenance, updates and repairs. Enjoy the pictures below of friends we made in Togo, and the beginning of our 11 day sail to the Canary Islands.

Long-time friend, Valentine and son Ramon from Benin.

My close friend in Togo, Ben, and his fiance Bebe

Guests Isaac, James and Epiphanie visiting us in our cabin.

Friend Solime Agoto and his family on a visit to the ship. Solime was the only translator in the ward who could speak a remote northern language. Lisa used Solime as a translator in communicating with her friend, Tene, a patient who had received V V F surgery on onboard.

We spent our last weekend in Togo at Epiphanie’s house. We presented Ben and Epi with an MP3 Bible Stick in their native language of Ewe. They were so grateful and appreciative.

This is me with William Walter Ames, Togo representative for Simply the Story orality training. William and I organized a 5-day training for Mercy Ships Guinean day workers.

Ben saved his money, while a translator in the ward, to buy this motorbike.

Leaving Togo with the joy of remembering the lives transformed and the sadness of leaving some of the most generous and kind people I’ve met in Africa. The lifting of the gangway signifies that the ship is nearly ready to depart.

Goodbye Togo

Every evening, the bow is open for crew to hang out, read, dream, pray and revel in God’s creation around us. We love when we spot sea life. On this sail we saw flying fish, sea turtles, and these dolphins. 

Lisa and I helping to lead worship on the bow of the ship.

More worship on deck 7

Pirate night on the sail – ARRRR!

More pictures from our worship nights on the bow on our sail across the Atlantic.

Elsa mesmerized by George’s guitar playing.

Zodi and friend Jessica on the bow

Sailing is a time of regrouping, reflecting, being thankful for all that God has done over the past months and preparing for the next phase of our journey.

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Elsa: “I love it here!”

Hi. We’ve been on the ship two months now and it’s really fun here. I’ve met friends and you know what? Last night we had a Film Festival on our ship and my friends and I made a video for it. There were 15 short movies that crew members made. We all dressed up and went to the International Lounge to watch the films. We had so much fun. This is a picture of me and my friend Anna at the festival.

Yesterday we went to the outdoor market and it was awesome. I got a really cool outfit (picture on right). There is a cafe and store on the ship and it’s really cool. Yesterday we got to make cards for Mother’s Day.

I just love living here on the ship. I love it because we get to have so many adventures everyday. We get to go off the ship and we can swim in the ship pool. There is even a school onboard and it’s almost out for the year. May 25 is our last day.

Each day before school gets out, we get to dress up like an animal or pirate or wear pajamas to class. School is really fun. I have only two other kids in my class. And did you know that there is a hospital ward onboard and I have my own patients I like to visit? Do you want to know all my friend’s names who live in the ward? Tene, Fatima, Gladys, and Darius. Mr. Salime translates our words to the patients from English into French, Ewe, Mina and Kabye.

In the ward, when I visit my patients, we play all sorts of games like jump rope, making bracelets, painting finger nails, hand clapping games and a really famous game in Togo using beans. We also play with balloons and blow bubbles. I hope you like my pictures. Bye. See you next time. 

This is me and my friend Fatima in the ward

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Zodi: “Africa is Awesome!”

I love it here! This is a picture of my class in the Mercy Ships Academy. One of my favorite parts about being in Africa is when we leave the ship and go into town. I like eating African food from street vendors. I love buying pineapples, mangoes and coconuts on the side of the road for 50 cents. I love watching the women cut up the fruit with their machette and hand me the pieces in a small plastic bag to eat with a toothpick. I like buying cold water in a bag for 10 cents and being adventurous by trying new and interesting types of food. I’ve eaten cow stomach and intestines, fish eyeballs, fufu and bush rat.

Eating street food – for our family of four, it only cost us $2.00 for lunch

On May 18, I tried my first bush rat. It tastes a lot better than you’d think.

My family and I like to go down to Deck 3 on the ship which is where the hospital wards are. This is where people recover from their surgeries. We all visit patients before and after their surgeries. Elsa likes to play with a girl named Gladys who had a problem with her eye and a girl named Fatima. My mom visits with a lady named Teni who just got surgery for a problem she has had for more than 20 years. My dad and I have been visiting Darius, a 9 year old boy who got a bad case of chicken pox in December and it got in his eyes and caused blindness. His story is so sad.

He was a normal boy until he lost his sight. Now he can’t go to school or do anything without help. The first day my dad and I went to visit him in the ward, we were sad to hear his story. After that, we went back to the cabin and cried together. Then we started visiting him often. We read story books to him, brought play-doh to play with and my dad shared a Bible story with him. Every night before we left, we held hands with him and his mom and prayed that he would be able to see again.

The doctors on the ship were able to help him to see out of one eye, but not the other. He has to wear these sunglasses to protect his eyes from the light. I wish we could have done more to help him. Not every story has a happy ending.

This is Darius with his mom just before they went home. Please pray for my friend Darius.

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