Ibrahima had always emphasized the importance of school to his children, knowing that a good education could open doors for them that had been closed for so long. So, when his 6-year-old daughter, Sira, begged to stop going, it broke his heart.
Sira’s legs began to bow outwards when she was 4 years old. Developing an orthopedic condition at such a young age was discouraging, especially when the main mode of travel for Sira and her community was by foot. But over time, her condition began to affect more than her ability to walk… it started to overshadow her joy.
“It’s very difficult to have your child like that,” Ibrahima said. “You sometimes lose heart to see your child in that situation.”
Sira would often come home crying about the staring and teasing she was experiencing at school. Every time, her dad would tell her, “One day, your success will be the thing they talk about.” Though Sira begged to stop going to class, Ibrahima insisted that she stay strong.
“I knew if she had an education, then it wouldn’t matter what her legs were like,” he said.
He told her to ignore the stares and taunts. But it was difficult for young Sira.
“I was always worried because her friends would laugh at her,” her mother, Binti, said. “Sira was always so friendly, but when people started staring, she became so shy. She wasn’t happy.”
Binti tried to find ways to make her daughter feel better despite her condition but knew that without medical treatment Sira’s spirit would continue to be strained. Her family searched for help around their community, visiting the few doctors available to them.
During these appointments, the doctors shared their suspicions that malnutrition was the cause of Sira’s pain but were unable to help her. Eventually, Sira’s parents — small-scale farmers with a little shop — could no longer afford the medical bills and were forced to stop looking for help.
“I said, ‘When God is ready, he will cure her,’” Ibrahima recalled.
That healing came nearly two years later!
Ibrahima learned about a hospital ship coming to their country. On board were hundreds of volunteers ready to bring hope and healing through free surgery to children like Sira. Though the thought of bringing their child to strangers could be frightening, Ibrahima had proof that healing was possible.
“We have our neighbor who had already been there,” he shared. “Their child was totally cured!”
Ibrahima brought Sira to a screening session, and the young girl was selected for surgery — one step closer to healing.
Unable to leave their work to travel to the ship, Ibrahima and Binti asked for help from Sira’s grandmother, Diaite. The two made the 12-hour trip to the Africa Mercy, where at last, Sira received surgery to correct her condition. The operation only took a few hours, but Sira’s journey to healing would continue over the next 12 weeks.
During that time, Sira relearned how to walk and rebuilt the strength in her legs. Volunteer rehabilitation team lead Dean Hufstedler oversaw her exercises.
“I remember Sira because after we explained what we wanted her to do, she just swung her legs off the side of the bed, slipped her feet down to the floor, grabbed onto that little walker, and just took off,” Dean said fondly.
It was this remarkable determination and resilience that sped Sira’s healing process along. Her willful determination was on full display when her casts came off. While other children required help putting on their shoes after rehab sessions, Sira was determined to do it by herself.
After her rehabilitation had ended, Sira was fully healed and ready to return to her village, excited to share all that had happened. When Sira arrived, neighbors swarmed her home to see the change. One by one, they took in the sight, awed that her legs were now straight!
Soon after her homecoming, Sira returned to school with a new confidence and a brighter future ahead of her. Ibrahima and Binti both believe that Sira’s healing will allow her to reach her full potential.
“If she studies hard, she will succeed, and she will help herself and people around her,” Binti said. “I used to think that her legs wouldn’t change, but God helped us.”