A Childhood Lost, Hope Found at Last

At only 14 years old, Diongnima spent most of his childhood living with a growing tumor over his left eye.

Meet Diongnima

At only 14 years old, Diongnima spent most of his childhood living with a growing tumor over his left eye. For nine years, the tumor brought physical challenges to Diongnima, obstructing his vision, but it took an even greater toll on his spirit. 

“It demoralized him,” his cousin Mamadou shared. “We didn’t know what to do. We did everything we could think of, but we did not have a solution.”

Even though his family sought treatment across Senegal, they struggled to find anyone who could help their son. Over time, the tumor — caused by a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis — grew, leaving Diongnima disheartened. 

Diongnima dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player, but he knew his condition would keep him from accomplishing his dream. Because of his obstructed vision, his peers would tease him, saying, “You can’t play; sit on the bench!”

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“There were a lot of things I could not do because of the tumor — first of all, soccer but also farming and raising animals,” said Diongnima. Without the hand-eye coordination for such practical work, Diongnima’s family did not envision him taking after his father as a gold miner and instead encouraged him to become a teacher. 

“I had a sad life before the surgery. I was sad because my friends were doing things I could not do,” said Diongnima. “At school, I sat alone because I could not sit with my classmates.” 

His tumor made him prone to teasing, so Diongnima would wear a hat to hide it. 

“He wore the hat all the time without taking it off,” explained Mamadou. He would even find Diongnima wearing it to sleep. Diongnima felt like an outsider in his own community, leaving him and his family worried about his future. 

That future began to brighten when one day, Diongnima heard about a hospital ship visiting Senegal. His hope restored, Diongnima traveled 500 miles across the country to the capital city of Dakar. Sadly, the pandemic forced the Africa Mercy to sail away in early 2020 before Diongnima could get the operation he needed. But hope was not lost! Diongnima and his family waited, filled with excitement for the day the ship would return — when he would finally have a chance for life-changing surgery.

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That day came in 2022 when Diongnima boarded the Africa Mercy to receive surgery to remove the tumor. Finally, after years of struggles, Diongnima could see clearly, his future, now filled with endless possibilities. 

 “When I get home, the first thing I am going to do is play soccer,” Diongnima said laughingly during his recovery. Once he had healed, the young boy headed back to his village in southeastern Senegal, ready to embrace his community again. 

Mamadou recalled the moment he first saw Diongnima’s healed forehead after the successful operation: “When I saw it, we were really happy because this is what we wanted. His behavior has changed a lot… He’s back to being the real Diongnima.”

His family shared that Diongnima’s healing went beyond just physical restoration… but to his spirit as well. Because of the kindness and encouragement he found on the Africa Mercy, Diongnima was reminded of what it felt like to belong. 

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“The people who work on the ship have a kindness I have never seen in my life,” shared Diongnima. In his experience, the volunteers on board, as well as the other patients, looked past his tumor to engage with him. They introduced him to new card games, played the guitar, and practiced their French with him. “It’s so good—it’s what people should do in life.”

Diongnima might have always dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player, but after his time with Mercy Ships, he sees another path. 

“I like the way they take care of the patients on the ship,” he shared. “It gives me great pleasure. Apart from becoming a professional soccer player, being a doctor is what I would like to become.”

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