Even at the young age of 4, Hamadou knew there was something different about him from other children in his village. After Hamadou’s delivery, his mother, Hawa, was surprised to find her son had been born with a cleft lip, a condition that affects 1 in 600 children worldwide.
Though the condition is somewhat common and easily treatable, those affected in areas we serve in sub-Saharan Africa often find themselves unable to access the resources needed to correct it.
Without surgery, Hamadou found himself growing up feeling separate from his family. This feeling of isolation touched much of Hamadou’s life, even in simple tasks such as getting a drink of water.
In Hamadou’s community, people commonly use the same drinking pot for water for those living in the house and visiting, but when the little boy would come for a drink of water, he often found embarrassment instead.
“People would not want to drink from the same water pot as him,” Hawa said.
Not wanting her son to live with this shame, his mother looked for help. After much searching and a delay caused by the pandemic, that help finally arrived.
Hamadou came on board the Africa Mercy for surgery to correct his cleft lip. While there, he met French volunteer Lily Orcel who was serving for the first time with Mercy Ships. When the two met, Lily was surprised and humbled by the need she saw. In France, a child with a cleft lip would often be treated as a baby, but where she was serving in Senegal, fully grown adults would board the Africa Mercy in hopes of healing from the same condition.
“Just to know that we can have a huge impact on their quality of life with a surgery that we would do very easily back home — and that they’ve been waiting for that their entire lives — it’s just an honor to be part of such a process,” she shared.
Just as Mercy Ships made an impact on Hamadou and his family, the little boy left his own mark during his time on board.
“Sweet Hamadou… was a 4-year-old with the courage of a 24-year-old,” said volunteer nurse Mary Toupin. “I asked his mother several times, ‘How did you raise a child that was so strong and brave?’ …he was very exceptional.”
Little Hamadou’s courage saw him through his surgery, and though it began to waver when he was told he would have to wait to eat his favorite rice until he fully healed, his strong spirit remained during his time on board.
Now, mother and son both have a new outlook on life. No longer different from those in his community, Hamadou is eager to begin school and excited to learn more about science and technology.
Thanks to those who believe in our mission and the dedication and love of a mother to provide for her son, Hamadou’s future is one worth smiling about.