For many right now, our healthcare system seems fragile, but for the people we serve every year, this fragility is the norm in their countries. For patients like 2-year-old Saliou, the lack of access to medical care is the difference between a life hidden in the shadows and one embracing the future.

At 2 years old, little Saliou had no idea that his cleft lip set him apart from the other children. His grandmother Ndiane 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.

Unfortunately, Saliou’s family didn’t have the means to find healing for him. With minimal access to safe, affordable surgery, his grandmother 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 grandson would be healed.

But, one day, that changed. Thanks to our partners and volunteers’ generosity, we had the privilege of serving in Senegal — providing free surgeries to patients suffering from cleft lips, burn contractures, twisted limbs, and more. This field service, Saliou was able to receive surgery onboard the Africa Mercy!

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

While this year has brought a lot of challenges to our world, we are excited to report that our 2019/2020 field service to Senegal saw many people just like Aliou find hope and healing.

“This year COVID-19 brought monumental changes to the world,” said volunteer Dr. Sarah Kwok, Mercy Ships Anesthesia Supervisor. “We experienced the fragility of life.”

Our time in Senegal was unfortunately cut short due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. This decision was made to ensure the safety of the patients we serve and the volunteers who work onboard the ship.

We are grateful that during the Africa Mercy’s 8-month stay (we had planned to be in Senegal for 10 months) Mercy Ships provided over 1,400 life-changing surgeries onboard our hospital ship and treated over 5,500 dental patients at a land-based dental clinic. Despite the shortened field service, we were still able to provide healthcare training to 1,270 local medical professionals through mentoring and courses — teaching tactics that they will be able to use in their communities as a defense against diseases like COVID-19.

We are thankful that so many people were helped, and so many healthcare workers trained, and we know that none of this would have been possible without the generosity of our dedicated partners  and the sacrificial work of our inspirational volunteers.

“In the midst of all of this we stay connected,” Dr. Kwok said. “We love and serve one another and continue to hope and dream that one day every person will have access to safe and affordable surgery. We were there before COVID-19 and we will be there after, stronger than ever!”

To view the PDF summary of our Senegal field service, please click here.

To learn more about how Mercy Ships is working to combat the effects of the current world health crisis visit our regularly updated COVID-19 response.