It’s been eight hot, beautiful weeks here in Senegal, and although my time with Mercy Ships is coming to an end for now, I wanted to take another opportunity to share some more stories about what I’ve seen. Communication is one of our greatest assets as humans. Stories connect us, they inspire us and they drive us to learn, to have courage and to fight for a common goal of peace. Stories also give flesh to statistics that are hard to understand sometimes.
The last few weeks have been wonderful. It has been a while since I’ve written on here, but the stories that have filled the last couple weeks have filled me to the brim too and now I’m overflowing. Overflowing with gratefulness and a full heart. I have found many chances to enjoy friendship with the people of Senegal. A chance to show them that although our lives are different, we still want many of the same things. To share a meal and game with Muslims, as Christians and know peace. To encourage each other to heal, to challenge one another, laugh with one another and find friendship in its purest form.
October has marked the end of the first part of our plastics rotation while we’re here in Senegal. It has been a pleasure to be part of changing people’s lives, not just in the physical, but the emotion and spiritual as well. Giving people access to hope and healing is a powerful motivation.
So let’s share some more stories, because that’s what we’re here for.
Little patient A was born with an extra toe. Although a simple procedure in Australia to remove, poverty separates people from access to basic health care. My last post talked about how poverty can isolate people from freedom. To give us perspective, 5 billion people in the world do not have access to surgery that is safe, timely or affordable. Basically, that means that if you have ever had surgery, including myself, you are part of a minority in the world.
A’s mother had taken her from doctor to doctor and no one could help her. They found out about Mercy Ships and an opportunity for change found them. Her mother said to me, ‘We had no hope, but you have given us hope again.’
Another young mum shared a similar story. When she was 10, her headscarf caught on fire while she was cooking over an open flame. Once again, poverty shows itself in their stories. The result was a burn contracture to her neck and chest. Thankfully her face wasn’t harmed, neither was her ability to feed a newborn infant, which she ‘unfortunately’ (but not really) had to bring to the ship with her. Now she is free to turn her head from side to side.
We have developed quite the friendship while she was here, and I was sad to see her discharged this week. Friendship brought us together, our mutual love for silliness and a good belly laugh. I’d often just sit by her bed, her speaking to me in Wolof, me speaking in English. Neither really understanding the other, but completely knowing at the same time. Communication is more than just words and humans are good at connecting in many ways.
Little B had a Fetus-in-fetu (similarly known as a teratoma), where a tumour grows on the child made up of tissues resembling bones or hair or teeth. His mother stated that when she gave birth to him, everyone said she’d give birth to an animal. Seeing cases like this, that are so rare, and giving them a chance to be free is more than just removing a tumour on a child. You open a door to a deeper kind of healing as well.
But sometimes we don’t get to win the fight against poverty.
I looked poverty right in the face a few weeks ago and really saw it for the first time. A tiny infant, 2 months old, who weighed less that a newborn baby was admitted for re-feeding so that we could fix his cleft lip and palate. The problem was, he had an undiagnosed bowel problem that probably required emergency bowel surgery that we couldn’t do. I looked at him and realised quickly that we had reached the end of what we could do for him, before we had done anything. I knew that when we called an ambulance and transferred him out to hospital that we might not find a doctor that would take him on. I knew from experience that he would require many resources and a long road to recovery, that the hospital didn’t necessarily have the money for. I knew it would be expensive, but who would pay? I knew that because of poverty, this baby would probably die.
It was frustrating and confusing and also all too familiar. I knew that when I reach the end of what I can do at home, I have a reliable system that will back me up. Yet here, where the healthcare system and access to safe surgery is so disassembled, the system isn’t there to back you up.
The problem with problems like poverty, is that the task seems so overwhelming. The amount of people that we have seen and treated here in Senegal are only a small percentage of the need here. You’ll see children like the one we couldn’t help, and you’ll say, “Well, they’re all going to die anyway.”
But that’s just it, my prayer is that in doing this, in helping do my bit, one day they will not just die anyway. Poverty is already a lot smaller than it used to be. But it is still a large problem.
In order to see a world at peace, I believe we must have a world that is connected, right to the very ends of the Earth. I am firmly passionate that this means we must continue to share life with one another. I think it means connecting and sharing stories with one another. The connections we have with the people that we meet are real.
‘So let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up’ ~ Galatians 6:9
Finally, in the words of my Kiwi family here on board, and words I’ve heard often of the last few years.
Don’t give up.
kia kaha, kia māia, kia manawanui
Be strong, be steadfast, be willing.