It is no accident that Ismael’s name sounds like “smile.” This cutie is basically a human-shaped bottle of smiles. When we first met him, we got blasted with an exuberant, “HELLOOO!” and “ISMAAAEL!”

Ismael is definitely NOT one of those babies who are quiet and sit still! He is always either talking (making cute noises) to himself, singing to himself, crossing his eyes, or gulping food down with gusto. Occasionally, the food even made it into his mouth! As his grandmother, Auriette, says, “People love being with him because he’s always cheery.”

Sadly, these happy-go-lucky impressions mask a heart-breaking situation. Soon after Ismael was born, his mother whisked him away to another part of Madagascar. When he was four years old, she returned, said she couldn’t take care of him anymore, and left him with Auriette. The little boy couldn’t walk or talk, and he drooled a lot. Nobody knew what was wrong with his left foot.

Auriette’s heart went out to the little boy. She gave up her jobs in order to take care of him. Living on half the normal income and with two other children to support, Auriette’s husband had to work even harder in an unstable job market.

Auriette couldn’t go anywhere without Ismael, carrying him on her back. She was constantly exhausted, constantly looking for a solution, constantly questioning the future, and constantly feeling shackled. The worst thing was the uncertainty of not knowing if there would ever be a solution. She also feared that any possible remedy would remain out of reach because of lack of money.

Auriette says that if it hadn’t been for Mercy Ships, they don’t know what they would have done. Mercy Ships gave Ismael calcium and vitamin D for rickets, the disease that caused his left ankle to bow. A free surgery repaired his ankle.

A delighted Auriette says, “Thank you very much! I hope God will pay you back for everything you’ve done for Ismael. Because I have nothing to give back to you, apart from ‘thank you.’”

Ismael and Auriette received a warm welcome when they returned home . . . a community of smiles for a smiling baby.