When Valerie was four, she asked her father to pull her out of school. “I didn’t want to go anymore,” she recalled. Her legs had begun to bow outward. Instead of going to school, Valerie became apprenticed at a nearby tailor shop. She spent most days cutting, ironing, and stitching fabric together.
It was a stranger who eventually told Valerie about Mercy Ships. One day, the 14-year-old left the shop on an errand, only to be startled by a woman following her, trying to give her information. “I was scared,” remembered Valerie, “but, looking back, I think that woman was an angel.”
Not long after, Valerie came onboard the Africa Mercy. She would be one of 78 children and teenagers who would receive orthopedic surgery during the ship’s 10-month field service. But for older patients, correcting bowed legs isn’t a quick process. Even after her successful surgery, Valerie’s legs needed lots of time and physical therapy in order for her to be strong enough to walk.
Fast forward a few months, and Valerie had almost finished with rehab. She wasn’t staying in the hospital anymore, but instead she was staying in the nearby HOPE Center (the Mercy Ships outpatient facility). It was a sunny afternoon, and she was lying down, looking at the sky. “I was very happy that day,” she remembered. “I told myself, ‘Now that [Mercy Ships] have healed my legs, I no longer want to be a seamstress … I want to go back to school.”
Not long after that moment, Valerie’s legs had become strong enough to go home. She didn’t go back to her apprenticeship. Instead, she was going to return to school. “It will be great,” she anticipated. “People will say, ‘Is this the same girl? Her legs are straight!’”