Every story of hope and healing begins with a step of faith. And perhaps no step is greater than a mother choosing to trust a ship of strangers with her child. This Mother’s Day, we celebrate the women who, despite overwhelming odds, have held onto hope that a brighter future is possible for their loved ones.
Many of these mothers have already endured one of the hardest fates imaginable. They’ve had to watch as their child suffers from a medical condition that they are helpless to treat, which often causes their children to leave school and face mockery from others. Yet many of the stories of transformation we encounter begin the same way— with a mother who refuses to accept that a life with limitations is the only future for their child. No matter how far the distance or how great their fears, the hope of healing is worth it.
From women who fought to see their child healed from blindness to women who stayed by their child’s side through every step of a challenging recovery onboard, here are just a few of their incredible stories.
Francoise lived an experience no mother should have to endure. She watched as her newborn baby, Paul Pascal, inched closer to the brink of death every day. Born with a cleft lip and palate, Paul struggled to drink milk and dropped to a dangerously low weight.
“We were so scared … we thought he would die,” said Francoise. She stayed up with her hungry newborn night after night, rocking him as he cried, desperately trying to feed him, fighting for him to survive.
When the Africa Mercy® arrived in Cameroon, Francoise rushed her baby to the ship, searching for help. Baby Paul was so malnourished from his inability to eat that he was unable to receive surgery immediately. Instead, volunteers enrolled him in the Mercy Ships Infant Feeding Program which allowed him to gain weight. Francoise’s fear turned to joy as her baby blossomed in front of her, his cheeks slowly filling out and his hair growing thick and healthy until he was strong enough to receive cleft lip and palate surgery.
When it came time for the ship to leave Cameroon, Francoise was celebrating a milestone she never thought she would see, her baby’s first birthday.
“The Lord has changed the life of Paul and given him a new one,” she shared.
When Confort heard the piercing screams of her baby daughter, Gamai, a regular morning turned into a mother’s nightmare. Gamai had knocked over a pot of boiling water, leading to excruciating burns across her upper body.
“My imagination took me to places a mother dares not go,” Confort said. “I fell to the floor clutching my baby.”
After a trip to the local hospital, Confort realized she could not afford any medical care beyond some ointment to treat her baby’s pain.
Over the next few years, Confort watched as the complications of her daughter’s burns led to contracted skin, restricting the mobility of her hands and arms. To protect her from the mockery of strangers, Confort decided to keep Gamai sheltered from the outside world. The two stayed home together every day, which caused Confort great grief.
“I became very sad and angry that this was the way my daughter was going to grow up — hidden from the world,” she said.
But Confort wouldn’t let this be the ending of Gamai’s story. When she heard the news that a Mercy Ship was coming to Guinea to provide life-changing surgery, she brought Gamai, now 4 years old, to claim her chance at a different future.
The road to recovery wasn’t easy — in fact, surgery and post-operative rehab were incredibly painful for Gamai. Listening to her daughter cry brought back scarring memories of the accident. But Confort never gave up.
“It pains me to hear her hurting, but I know it needs to happen.”
Months later, Gamai’s hands and arms were free to move — and she was free to live her life outside of closed doors, without fear or pain. Her mother celebrated, saying, “I am filled with happiness that being hidden will not be Gamai’s future.”
Aicha was just a few months old when her mother, Fatmata, noticed the telltale signs that something was wrong with her baby’s vision. By the time she started to crawl, visible cataracts had begun to show in Aicha’s eyes.
For Fatmata, the grief of having a blind daughter was paired with the helplessness of being unable to afford surgery to help her. She worked in the market every day with Aicha cradled on her back, overhearing people call her daughter a witch.
Even though Fatmata was afraid of letting strangers touch Aicha, she decided that her hope of healing was stronger than her fear of the unknown. She decided to bring Aicha to a Mercy Ships eye screening, where they were told that she was a good candidate for cataract surgery.
After Aicha’s surgery, this mother’s fear was replaced by complete joy as Aicha began to smile and walk around, looking up at her mother for the first time.
“She was like a new person. She was dancing and laughing,” she shared. “She was sick and now she is healed. I have no words to express how happy I am.”
Celebrating Mother’s Day
Each of these stories is unique, but these women are not alone. The history of Mercy Ships is filled with courageous, faithful, patient mothers who never gave up hope for their loved ones. The hope of watching their children walk on straight legs, see for the first time or smile without any limitations.
They put it all on the line to trust strangers with the lives of their children — and as a result, the lives of patients, families, and entire communities are transformed.
Join us in celebrating their stories this Mother’s Day!