For many of the world’s suffering poor, medical care and surgery are beyond their reach. According to the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery, more than 16.9 million people (nearly twice the population of New York City) die every year from a lack of safe surgery. Over the last 40 years, these statistics have been the driving force for the Mercy Ships mission of bringing hope and healing. Thanks to volunteers and supporters, Mercy Ships sends state-of-the-art hospital ships to bring world-class healthcare and medical training to regions where clean water, reliable electricity, and medical personnel are limited or even nonexistent. Over years of partnership, the McKeen Charitable REM Trust has provided hope and healing through their support for the Mercy Ships medical education programs and direct surgical care for children and adults in need. These gracious gifts help transform people’s lives by repairing burn injuries, restoring sight, mending cleft lips and palates, and more!
The Impact of Transformational Development
Mercy Ships believes that building medical capacity (through increased knowledge and infrastructure development) is the foundation for real, sustainable change. It provides African healthcare professionals with the skills and tools they need to contribute directly to improving healthcare delivery in their country long after the ship has left the port. During the Guinea field service, Mercy Ships was able to see the impact that medical capacity building had on the local population. During an initial medical screening — where volunteers go into the cities of the country being served to find patients in need of medical care — the team saw fewer cleft lip and palates cases than expected. This decreasing number was due in part to mentoring that took place on the Africa Mercy two years prior.
“Depending on what stats you look at, every three to ten minutes, a child is born with a cleft lip or palate,” Dr. Gary Parker, Chief Medical Officer and maxillofacial surgeon said. “It’s a major public health issue.”
This significantly reduced number of cleft lip/palate cases was partly due to mentoring that took place in Guinea years ago. Dr. Raphiou Diallo, who participated in a mentorship with Mercy Ships, has helped facilitate 323 lip and palate surgeries in the capital city over the past two years.
“I first mentored Dr. Raphiou Diallo back in 1998,” Dr. Parker said. “He had already left his education at this point, and his dream was to build a team of people who could help this region of West Africa. Because of his formal training and his heart, he is the one who can move things forward.”
Since then, Dr. Diallo has taken further surgical exams in France. With these additional qualifications, he could easily move himself and his family to Europe, where the standard of living is higher. But instead, his commitment remains to West Africa — to his home.
“It says a lot about his commitment and his position to build his continent up,” Dr. Parker said. “When you find someone passionate about helping those in their own country and who wants to teach, you can go so far.”
As one of the biggest influences in West Africa, Dr. Diallo’s impact is far greater than we can measure, having the capacity to pull people back from the edge and make a lasting difference in their lives.
“The greatest reward is the one we get from the patients. It is the fact that we can really help people who are in need and who have almost lost hope, who count on you and your team to give them a smile and the will to live again,” said Dr. Diallo. “The other reward is the opportunity to train students. Our generation will not be there one day, so we must give the next generation the opportunity to continue this profession. Training the youth will have an impact.”
The Impact of Access to Surgery
In many areas of sub-Saharan Africa, surgical care is scarce or, in many cases, completely inaccessible. For children like Gamai, this lack of access to medical care means the difference between a life scared and one free of her painful burdens. Gamai’s mother, Confort, never imagined that boiling water to make rice for her daughters would be the start of a nightmare. Little Gamai, who had just started walking, toddled past the pot knocking it over as she fell. As the piping hot water spilled onto her torso, her piercing screams met her mother’s ears. The world around Confort fell silent as she tried to console her child. Confort and her husband rushed Gamai to the local hospital but could only afford some ointment to ease their daughter’s pain. Not knowing what else to do, they reluctantly watched their little girl grow over the next few years with contracted hands and arms, severely limiting her mobility. Attempts to live their normal lives began taking a toll on the family due to the scorn Gamai faced by other people.
“If we went out and she was mocked, she would become shy and cry,” Confort said.
The decision was made to keep Gamai from the outside world, and for three years, the young girl was kept isolated in the courtyard of the family compound to avoid mockery. Confort shared her daughter’s pain saying,
“I became very sad and angry that this was the way my daughter was going to grow up — hidden from the world.”
Then one day, Confort learned of an opportunity for people to receive restored mobility from an operation — a specialty of Mercy Ships. When the Africa Mercy arrived in Guinea, Confort made the brave journey with Gamai — now 4 years old — out of the family’s home to the patient assessment site. There Confort was met by fellow mothers who had gone through similar accidents with their children, and she began to feel at ease. That same ease developed into hope, which eventually grew into excitement as Gamai was approved for surgery onboard the Africa Mercy.
“Now, I am a different woman,” Confort said. “I am filled with happiness that being hidden will not be Gamai’s future.”
When the day finally came for Gamai to leave the ship, no one could have guessed she’d spent the majority of her life behind closed doors. Engaging and full of life, she leaped for joy as she played with her newfound friends — children that neither mocked her nor stared at her for being different Unable to lift her hands above her head before surgery, Gamai can now reach higher in life than she ever could before, thanks to the gifts and support from our partners like the McKeen Charitable REM Trust.
The Impact You Can Make
For more than 40 years, Mercy Ships has partnered with friends whose compassion has changed lives forever — from helping to heal legs warped by malnutrition to repairing cleft lips and palates, to training doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and more. Every gift, whether big or small, makes an impact on a person who is hurting and hoping for help. Today you can join in the mission of hope and healing by visiting mercyshipslegacy.org or speaking with Borchers Trust Law Group about adding Mercy Ships to your legacy giving. Everyone deserves to experience the power of hope, and thanks to the generosity of people like you, children and families will finally be able to embrace their futures with confidence. Thank you for playing a vital role in bringing hope to those in need!