Returning to heal
For the past 45 years, Mercy Ships has had the privilege of serving those in need through the dedicated work of our volunteers and the compassionate support of friends like you. And today, that hope continues! For the first time in over 10 years, Mercy Ships has returned to the wonderful country of Sierra Leone!
With only a few hundred doctors for the nearly six million people living in Sierra Leone, access to most medical care is scarce, leaving many hurting and without options for healing. But together, we can bring hope once again. Our volunteers are currently working on the Global Mercy, providing surgeries, loving people, and transforming lives.
We are so excited for the healing ahead as children and families receive surgeries that will forever change their lives. Painful burdens will be removed, hope restored, bodies healed, and lives transformed! And we’re so thankful that you have chosen to be a part of this journey. As you continue to read the latest edition of Waves of Mercy, we know the stories of hope and healing will inspire you the same way they’ve inspired us all.
Resilience and Rebuilding
Earlier this fall, the Global Mercy crew packed up supplies, said goodbyes to loved ones, and set sail for a country known for its exquisite beaches and warm, welcoming people: Sierra Leone. Among those waiting for her arrival was Dr. Sandra Lako, Mercy Ships Sierra Leone Country Director, who has dedicated the last 18 years of her life to serving the people of this beautiful country.
“Sierra Leone is a great place. It has its challenges, but there’s so much potential,” shared Dr. Lako. “The people here are resilient, have great perseverance, and a real desire to see
their country change.”
The resilience Dr. Lako speaks of can be found in the hearts of many of Sierra Leone’s people — from the families struggling to navigate painful conditions to the medical workers who struggled to keep patients safe during the Ebola outbreak. That perseverance is also evident in the slow but steady rebuilding and strengthening of Sierra Leone’s healthcare systems after being weakened by years of war and disease.
Working with multiple NGOs, including Mercy Ships, as well as government hospitals, Dr. Lako has seen the transformation of the country’s healthcare landscape first-hand.
“When I arrived, the child mortality was the highest in the world, so one in four children didn’t reach the age of 5,” she shared. “I felt this was one of the reasons that God was calling me to serve here, and I’ve seen that rate change. So healthcare is improving!”
While the country continues to feel the aftershocks of war and disease, the people have worked together and asked Mercy Ships to join in their efforts to provide accessible healthcare — including access to surgical care.
With only a few hundred doctors for the more than eight million people living in Sierra Leone, access to most medical care is scarce. Add to that the difficulties and stigmas attached to many of those conditions, and some don’t even have the opportunity to search for help, let alone afford what they find.
“There is only one pediatric surgeon in the entire country of Sierra Leone,” Dr. Lako said. “He does a fantastic job, but there is a really long waiting list of patients. I think he’s very happy that [Mercy Ships] will be able to come alongside and provide surgery to reduce that burden on him.”
After serving in various clinics around the country, another struggle Dr. Lako has seen is the lack of information many people have about the conditions that they encounter. In Sierra Leone, it isn’t unusual to find people who believe medical conditions such as cleft lips, bowed legs, and benign tumors — all conditions that would be treated quickly in countries like the United States and Canada — to be the work of demons or witchcraft.
“One of the key things that I try to do is help families understand that this is how God made their child, and it’s not because of anything they’ve done or any evil spirits,” Dr. Lako said. “They’re human beings, like the rest of us. I try to get them to understand that and to accept their child. Often it is challenging because I know that surgeries [for their children’s conditions] are possible in developed nations, but unfortunately, they are not available in their country.”
The heartbreak that many families feel because of their child’s condition is something Dr. Lako hopes to help soothe with the arrival of the Global Mercy: “I know some of the families that have kids with these conditions who have been looking for help for years, and now that help will be available.”
While the volunteers on board the Global Mercy will be hard at work providing surgeries to those in need, many of the doctors on board will also be providing mentorship, coming alongside the already growing medical training happening throughout the country, including an increase in post-graduate training for doctors in areas like surgery, anesthesia, obstetrics, and more.
With additional training and mentorships available, those studying in the medical field will have the opportunity to grow in their own practices and encourage and educate others to pursue medical careers, creating a rippling effect of hope and healing for years to come.
“Health system improvement takes a lot of time. It needs people dedicated to that work, who are willing to move it forward,” Dr. Lako shared. “What we’re doing is giving healthcare professionals in Sierra Leone a platform to improve their skills, to gain new experiences, and to be able to continue making a difference in the lives of others.”
The Power of Healing
A child’s only job should be to grow, learn, and play as much as possible. Their lives should be filled with laughter and joy, love and family. But for hundreds of the children we meet on board our hospital ships, this is far from their reality.
Many of the children who walk the halls of our ships live their lives struggling with painful conditions — left untreated due to a lack of surgical care in their country — relying on their families and communities to support them. For many, it feels as though their childhood is stolen from them.
This was the reality for three young boys our volunteers met during our last visit to Sierra Leone in 2011. During that time, our hospital ward was full of children like Abdul, Fanie, and Sahr struggling with treatable orthopedic conditions that had affected more than just their ability to walk.
Without healing, even the easiest tasks would eventually become a burden. In a place with limited assistance, where mobility is a prerequisite to a successful life, these boys, and many like them, would find their options limited. But with hope, those painful realities that were placed on their childhoods would not shape their futures!
These opportunities for healing are only possible because of one thing: hope.
It’s hope for progress that country leaders feel when they extend an invitation for us to join them in their work.
The hope of healing moves every patient as they walk up our gangway, cautiously optimistic for their future.
A hope to touch someone’s life inspires volunteers from around the world to put their lives and careers on pause to pursue a season serving on board.
And it’s hope for a better tomorrow that drives our friends and partners to support our mission.
Our return to Sierra Leone will see even more children, families, men, and women who will travel similar paths to hope. And we are so grateful for everyone who is a part of their journeys. It’s people like you who make these stories of transformation possible. Thank you.