Kadidja lived her young life with undeniable joy and radiance. But while her personality has always been bright, her future became uncertain the moment she was born with a cleft lip and palate. If left untreated, the condition would threaten her standing in society and how others saw her for the rest of her life.
The doctor who assisted her delivery in 2019 knew he did not have the resources needed to correct Kadidja’s condition but encouraged her mother, Ramata, to seek help at a nearby hospital ship serving in their country.
Ramata traveled with Kadidja, then just a year old, to the port city of Dakar. Unfortunately, when she arrived in the spring of 2020, she received the news that the Africa Mercy — had been forced to leave Senegal due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Although it was a disappointment, I understood why the ship left,” Ramata said. “The ship was here to help people, and to help people, the environment needs to be safe.”
Ramata took her daughter home but as Kadidja grew, so did her mother’s pain. She knew her child was not going to fit easily into the community.
“I refused to take her into the village because the other children would look at her and try to touch her nose and lips,” she shared.
Kadidja’s cousin, Maimouna, said even at her young age, the little girl was aware of the attention.
“She was ashamed to go out because she saw that she was not like the other children,” Maimouna said.
Ramata feared that her daughter would always feel like an outsider and that her future would forever be overshadowed by a condition outside of her control. Then, after years of fear, hope arrived on the horizon.
Ramata heard that Mercy Ships would be arriving in Senegal and offering surgeries to people in need. So the mother and daughter quickly journeyed to Dakar. Once they arrived, Ramata heard the words she’d longed for: Kadidja was approved for surgery.
While going through the process of preparing for surgery, Kadidja’s joyful personality began to show to the volunteers on board. Volunteer pre-op nurse Daniela Calle-Bueno remembered the little girl’s joy saying, “She was so much fun. Seeing her be so open, dancing, singing, and acting like nothing was wrong was beautiful. Just like a fun-loving little kid.”
After years of shame, the kindness and acceptance shown to her, and her daughter by volunteers like Daniela overwhelmed Ramata.
“Since I left my village and came to the ship, it felt like I have been in my own home,” she shared. “The volunteers are doing a great job. They welcomed me and my daughter with great respect, and I was so happy to be there because everyone loved my daughter.”
This reaction not only eased Ramata’s worries but also soothed Kadidja’s pain as well. A week after her successful surgery, Kadidja saw her newly healed smile in the mirror for the first time. At that moment, her mother was overwhelmed with love and joy.
“I am so happy! She looks so beautiful,” she shared. “She can interact with other children again, and she can go to school.”
Soon after, Kadidja was ready to go home. Finally, she was confident to return to her community, now with a brighter smile and a brighter future ahead of her.