Ahh! Chicken Pox! + End of Field Service

Wow! Its near the end of the field service, and although I have had a range of emotions over the last couple of months (mostly of sadness because I will miss so many people and fear that next year won’t be nearly as amazing), the last week has just been pure exhaustion, and currently I am just feeling relief that my work is over as of a few hours ago. For the rest of the time before I leave the ship on June 20th, I am on PTO, which will consist of a 4 day trip up north to visit patients, then chilling out and planning a couple of the nightly activities for the crew on our 10 day sail, then a few fun days in the Canaries, then I peace out til August.

The last month at the Hope Center was amazing and devastating and crazy all in one. First, my little man was here until a week ago, and if he hadn’t stayed so long I don’t know if I could have handled it all emotionally. Samsdine and his mama came back in early April for his cleft palate surgery, but he had lost so much weight, they scheduled him for one of the last days they could do that surgery, which was in early May. I was so grateful because I got to spend so much time with him. When he had surgery, he took a while to wake up from the anesthesia, and he had to remain intibated (?) until the next morning. I was able to spend quite a bit of time in the ICU with him and his poor mom the day after surgery. The day after that I had to work, but I had multiple people text or call me to say he was back in the Ward and was playing and making noise and back to his normal, amazing self.

He had surgery Wednesday, and I worked alone Friday-Sunday. Sunday I got to work, and baby Djaliou and his mama were sitting outside my office waiting for me. This was the little baby who came to us at 5 lbs at 3 months old with what looked like a tongue tumor. Our doctors saved his life a few months ago, but he had to come back once he had gained weight for surgery on a hernia. He had gotten so much bigger and even cuter but was still super tiny. At his appointment they decided the hernia wasn’t life threatening like they initially thought, and he was still too small, and it was too risky to do another surgery, so maybe next time we are in Benin they will get a 5 or 6 year old Djaliou coming for surgery. It wasn’t a waste for them to travel all the way to the ship though. Our dieticians hooked them up with a lot more formula, and they got to be reunited with Samsu and his mama. It was awesome. Samsu came back from the hospital they day Djaliou got there, and last time they were here the mamas became very good friends. I was up in the clouds, two babies I loved so much back at the Hope Center!

Samsu keeps getting more and more fun as he gets older. He was the most awesome, cutest little guy ever. Saying goodbye wasn’t as hard this time as before because I’m going up north to visit him soon. I cried so much last time, and I feel like I love him so much more now than I did then, but I know its not the end yet. I’m also hoping to find a water filter before going to visit, just in case his mom doesn’t boil the water he gets, since we think lack of clean water is why he got so sick last time he went home.

Meanwhile, the day Samsu had his surgery, another girl who had been staying at the Hope Center got admitted to the ship, and Sarah (the missionary who has been bringing patients down from the north all year for surgery and translates for them) pointed out to me that the girl had all these bumps on her arm, like she had broken out in a rash. Sarah was worried that whatever it was would prevent her from getting her Cleft Lip and Palate surgery the following day because it was the last day the doctors were planning to do any palate surgeries because they wanted a long enough recovery time before our hospital closes just in case there were complications. The next day I got to the ship in time for lunch (before checking on Samsu in ICU), and I got texts from a couple people at the HOPE Center saying CHICKEN POX! Then, I see my boss Martha running up to me (literally) to ask if I have had chicken pox before. I find out that a child who had been discharged from the hospital the day before to the Hope Center has chicken pox (who had been at the Hope Center for a few weeks prior to surgery) and that they figured out that the little girl who was supposed to have surgery had chicken pox. She was currently in the Isolation room in the hospital and was not going to have surgery. They needed to get her off the ship ASAP! They sent her to the Hope Center.

So normally chicken pox wouldn’t be such a big deal. Kids get chicken pox. Then they get over it and never get it again. Who cares! But it creates some complications here. You do not want a person with a weak immune system or who is recovering from palate surgery to get chicken pox. There were a few children we could think of at the Hope Center or on the ship who might not survive if they got chicken pox at that point in time. In addition, we are about to sail to a new country. If a bunch of our crew have chicken pox, they might not let us in. So a lot of drastic measures were taken. An email that afternoon said no one except essential personnel was allowed to go to the Hope Center for the rest of the year. Mercy Ministries, which is just a bunch of crew who go to play and sing and dance with the patients every Tuesday and Thursday, was on their way there and had to turn around. We had to move people out of one of our rooms so we could isolate all chicken pox people in there. They were not allowed to leave the room except to go to the bathroom for 6 days! Additionally us Facilitators and the day crew were only allowed to go into the room if needed or to bring food, so we put some colors and toys in there and barely went in the room for 6 days. The kids were either cold and angry at us or would try to hug us and we would have to back away. We explained the situation and tried to say they were just temporarily contagious and we couldn’t risk spreading it to other patients, but in a place where community is everything, it was so, so sad. We had one little 3 year old patient whose caregiver was her 16 year old sister. She came to the office crying one day because she had chicken pox, and I think she felt like it was her fault, and she knew she would have to stay in that room for 6 days before they could go to their next appointment at the ship, instead of 2 days, when they were probably going to be discharged to go home. Apparently chicken pox has a 2-3 week incubation period, meaning that the people at the Hope Center who had it had been infected with it 2-3 weeks before. One caregiver had it a few weeks prior and never told anyone, so like half of the people who shared the same room at that time got it a couple weeks later. After isolating people, no one else new got it after a few days, but I kept having a fear that they had infected others in those first couple of days before they had a lot of pox, but the 3 week incubation period is almost up, and so far so good!

The last few weeks were mostly hard because I felt like we were surrounded by death and darkness and bad news, but there was plenty of good news and good outcomes with patients. It just gets easy to feel like the bad piles down on your sometimes. One day we got to work and within 5 minutes we heard screaming outside. We went outside and a woman was crying and screaming because she had just received a call that her husband died. This woman had just brought her baby to get surgery the night before knowing her husband was terminally sick but had no idea he would die so soon. This woman was so amazing and strong she stayed to get her baby’s surgery even though she was obviously devastated. I can’t imagine having to choose between staying by my husband’s side when he could die any day or taking my baby to be healed. About 10 minutes later we received a call with some very bad news about a child who had stayed with us a little while that we wouldn’t be able to help.

Another day the caregiver of a sweet, obviously traumatized little girl was sweating and freaking out, and I thought he was sick and needed to go to the hospital, but the other people said the hospital wouldn’t fix his problem. Apparently he was going crazy because he has these little “idols” or statues that he “feeds” by sacrificing animals, and he wasn’t there to sacrifice anything, and he believed they were mad at him and trying to pull him back (according to him and many others). The craziness came and went throughout the day. He would randomly freak out and try to run out of the Hope Center. Benin is the birthplace of Voodoo. Most people here believe its a real thing but think its evil. I don’t believe it, but the effects of it still exist. If people practice an evil religion and believe it, then they will imagine and do bad things. I think this dude was either on drugs or insane and has been sacrificing for his idols, so of course he would freak out if he believes they would be mad about it. When it happened, everyone was just trying to get him to calm down and to diffuse the situation, but I went to find the traumatized little 3 year old girl as she stared into space as she often does. This poor little girl has gone through so much, between her ginormous tumor on her face and family practicing voodoo. Some days she just stands outside (or even in) our office and just starts crying and screaming for no apparent reason, and nothing will make her stop.

Then, the day before Samsu was supposed to leave, someone came and said your baby’s mom is crying. I went and found her sitting alone silently crying, which is crazy because Bariba people are taught from childhood that you do not cry. If a kid cries, they just hit them. Apparently her sister died during childbirth, but the baby lived. I felt so bad. I don’t know if she will end up raising the baby (on top of her 3 children) or if she baby will even survive unless there is another woman in the village who can breastfeed it.

This past week has been a combination of packing and moving everything at the Hope Center, packing and moving the Team House stuff to the ship, planning and having our Day Crew end-of-year party, unpacking and getting situated on the ship, and helping one of our Day Crew to become Crew and helping him figure everything out and shop with him and move onto the ship and all that. It has been so exhausting, but there was the light at the end of the tunnel because now I can just chill!

Tomorrow 2 friends and I will take a 12 hour bus ride up north to visit Samsu and a few other patients that touched our hearts! It is only for 4 days, 2 of which are travel days. Normally I wouldn’t think that it is even worth it, but I would probably do anything for this little guy.

 Infant Feeding Program: The 3 babies who stayed with us the most while trying to gain weight and seeing our nutritionists regularly.

Bignon: Came to the ship at 3 weeks old with a double cleft lip weighing around 4 lbs. She was discharged after receiving surgery at 8 months old weighing 17.7 lbs.

Djaliou: Came to the ship at 3 months with some kind of rare tongue thing that mad it hard for him to eat or breath, weighing about 5 lbs. We tried to help him gain weight for over a month at the Hope Center before he had to have emergency surgery. He left us only a week or 2 after surgery with lots of supplements. He came back to see us at 8 months weighing 10.5 lbs.

Samsdine: Came to us at 10 months weighing only about 9 lbs with cleft lip and cleft palate. He stayed at the Hope Center 3 months to gain weight and got up to over 15 lbs before his first surgery. He went home after surgery at 14 months weighing 17.5 lbs. He came back 2 months later about an inch taller but weighing only 15 lbs because he got very sick back home. In the 6 weeks he was at the Hope Center or Ship for surgery, he gained 3.5 lbs, ending up at 18.5 lbs at 17 months when he left.

 

If you would like to partner with me in helping patients next year, please consider donating. I can only do this through the support of all the incredibly generous, awesome people who have supported me this far.

Less than a month at the HOPE Center left

Three of us Facilitators. Im so glad I got to spend the year with these two, but sad that Ive already had to say Goodbye to one of them and will soon have to say Goodbye to the other along with several other amazing people I have gotten to know this year.

I can’t believe our Field Service in Benin is almost over. There have been many stressful or difficult moments, but I have loved this year so much and feel so blessed that I get to be part of everything Mercy Ships does. Once the Nat Geo show The Surgery Ship starts airing in the US, I hope everyone watches it. It gives a little glimpse at what life is like for so many of these patients. Its so cool to see so many of our patients who spent months staying with us at the HOPE Center and to know the whole world is going to see their story.

It feels kinda surreal to me that the year is ending. One of our longterm patients, Gifty, left yesterday morning, so its really hitting home that soon I will probably never see any of these people again. My favorite little patient who I love more than anything, Samsdine, came back a couple of weeks ago, and even though I was so happy he was back, I’m so aware of how little time I have left with him. I have so much joy every time I see him laugh or smile. I literally spend every second I can with him. I think half of my day is spent working and half spent playing with Samsu. All of the patients and day crew joke that I’m “Mama Samsu”  which I found disrespectful to his actual mother at first because she is a wonderful mom who loves him so much, but that seems like a common joke here and doesn’t seem to offend her.

*Click on an image to see them fullsize*

As a recap on Samsdine’s time with us, he came to the HOPE Center when he was 10.5 months old and was super skinny and tiny, but you could tell he was a fighter. He spent 2.5 months with us so we could fatten him up for his cleft lip surgery. I think he wasn’t big enough at the time for the cleft palate surgery too, so they just did the lip, and then he was only with us another week or so, and they sent him home with a date in early April to come for Surgeon Screening for his palate. He was gone about 2 months, and he came back pretty skinny again (around 15 lbs). He had grown about an inch but had lost about 2 lbs, so they wanted us to spend 3 weeks fattening him up again, and his surgery is scheduled early May. He was a little skittish when he first came back and didn’t seem to remember me, but after a couple days he was more and more like his old self. By now he’s fully come into his personality and is just so fun and awesome (and thankfully loves me again). He’s almost 1.5 yrs old, and he has even walked around half the HOPE Center and showed up right outside our office. I just recently found out that back home he has a daddy and 2 siblings waiting for him. (Its always been difficult trying to communicate with his mom because she speaks a local language from up North that we can only sometimes find a translator for). His mom invited me to come to their village before leaving Benin. Its like a 12 hour bus ride, and then it sounds a little complicated from there. I’m actually hoping I can figure out a way to go.

There’s an American missionary lady named Sarah who speaks their language and lives up north in the community and runs a clinic. She has brought several patients down here all year long and translates for many of them because she speaks 2 of their local languages. She is hardcore, dresses like an African, speaks their language, everything. I feel like everyone from any community near her goes to her with their problems and she figures out if she can help. She’s awesome. A lot of the patients she has brought here were people other people sent to her, so she doesn’t even know many of them and has become invested in their lives. You can tell she is stressed out to the max, but she is still here and still cares so much about all of these people.

A 40ish year old woman came down with Sarah with a neck tumor. It just seemed like another run of the mill West African tumor that our surgeons take care of all the time. She brought her still-nursing baby with her who I thought was adorable and would try to hold him when they first came, and he would flop into my arms and couldn’t hold his head up like he was a month old baby, but he appeared to be about 8 months but very malnourished and weak. Our nutritionist happened to be here to visit our cooks and a baby patient we had, and I asked if we could put this baby on a feeding plan even though he wasn’t the patient, so we got a translator and talked to the mom, and she tells us the baby is actually 1.5 years old, and he’s always just been really slow at developing and not normal, and she didn’t know why. The more I investigated online and talked to nurses or people who had seen him, it became apparent that he has Downs Syndrome, but he only kinda looked like a Downs baby. He had some struggled with breathing sometimes and seeming tired like there may have been a heart problem (a symptom of Downs) and he was really floppy and his muscles are so floppy, which Downs babies in America have but they usually receive therapy to help them fix it.

They were here a little over 3 weeks. I fell in love with this little baby, and he loved me. His mom kept saying in her language that I was his wife. During the time they were here, the ship was waiting on biopsy results from her tumor, and they discovered that they couldn’t do anything but maybe extend her life a few years but that the surgery came with really big risks to paralyzing her face, so they recommended her against it. She decided not to get the surgery, and they went home. I was so sad. The little boy flourished while here, just getting good nutrition and so much attention. He got to where he could sit up and hold himself up without falling over. I had just researched ways to work with a Downs Syndrome baby to teach them how to crawl right before we found out we couldn’t help her. I’m so scared that when his mom dies, this little baby will just be neglected by the rest of the family because people here don’t know how to deal with special needs kids, and who knows if he will even survive. I’m grateful that Sarah brought them here because I think she will stay in touch with the family and look out for the baby. I’m also hoping that if I go up north to visit Samsdine, I can visit him too.

These stories just represent a couple of the people who stay with us, mainly the ones who I have become closest to. All of the Facilitators go out and play with the kids and talk to people when we aren’t busy with our daily tasks, and we all have different patients who touch our hearts the most. We have between 70-120 people who stay with us at the Hope Center, about 2/3 of which are patients while the others are caregivers or babies of patients. Below are some pictures and a little bit about some more patients:

Oroumere: Such a sweet 12 year old boy who has such a playful spirit but couldn’t walk right or play with other kids normally most of his life because he got bit by a venomous snake when he was a toddler that infected his leg up to his knee and caused his foot to be contracted, kind of similar to some of the burn patients we have seen. He speaks French and Bariba (the local language of many of the patients from up North including Samsu’s mom), so he has even helped me with translation. He’s so adorable with all the little kids. He wants to play “big kid games” with us, but when all of the little toddlers come running up to play, he includes them all.

Gifty was what you might call a handful. She could be a huge challenge and drive you crazy, but you still have to love her. She and her mother came from Liberia, so they knew English, which is always helpful. Gifty has a lot of things wrong, only some of which Mercy Ships could address. Her brain wasn’t properly formed so she’s mentally handicapped along with all of her physical deformities. She didn’t talk. We heard her talk a little to her mom (but she can’t pronounce things right, so its very hard to understand her). She stayed with us a few weeks before surgery, and at the time I was so glad for her to be going to the ship. She was super clingy and one of the kids who just didn’t obey the rules and would come into our office constantly. On top of that, she hit me all the time, and hard too for a 6 or 7 year old! If you google “Noma” and look at the images, that is what her face looked like before surgery. Her face is still not normal but so much better. They had to remove an eye and did a few other things and plan to do more on our next field service in a country near hers.

When she came back to the Hope Center, it was like her personality had changed. She was very shy and kept to herself, wouldn’t come near us. It was nice but also kinda sad because she just seemed scared. Pretty soon she became very close and clingy with one of our Admin Day Crew guys, and it was really cute how she would follow him around, and he could ask her questions, and she would nod or shake her head. Then eventually, all of us Facilitators started trying harder to get through to her because she was so sweet, and it didn’t take a lot. Immediately, Gifty turned mostly into her old self (but not as violent), and then she sorta blossomed and grew on me. She even started to talk to us. I hardly ever knew what she was saying, but it was still really cool to have her talk to us when she wouldn’t talk with most people on the ship. I learned to have a lot more patience with her. She did drive me crazy a lot, but I really enjoyed spending time with her and trying to have conversations with her. One day a few patients and Day Crew and I were in Reception with her, and they started asking if she knew this person or that person’s name. And she would say it, even though it sounded like how it sounds the first time a baby learning to speak might say your name, but then they pointed at this baby and not only did she say his first name, but she added HER last name at the end. And then for me, she also said my first name with HER last name. It was really sweet. Some of the funny things that drove us crazy were: During the day, she would go around and turn on all the outdoor lights that didn’t need to be on. She would come in our office and turn off our light and AC. She would lock the reception door on the weekends when the admin day crew were off, but the Facilitators or Security Guards would need to get in there to log visitors or do other things, but she would lock that door from the inside, and we would have to go all the way around to its back door to unlock it.  Because her surgery involved her brain they had her stay with us a very long time in case there were complications because if there were, and she was back home in her country, she wouldn’t have a chance. But that very long stay has already come to an end. It feels so crazy.

Ichaou is another little guy who we have had at the Hope Center a long time because his surgery involved his brain. He’s one of a few little kids we have at the Hope Center currently who had an encephalocele, which means his skull didn’t form all the way during pregnancy so brain matter came out and formed a little tumor looking thing right above his nose. Not being a medical person, I’m not sure but think that if these go untreated long enough, they will kill you, but after having surgery I think he will lead a normal life, which is awesome. Ichaou is just a bundle of energy. He isn’t even 1 but is very big, and if someone is holding him, and he sees someone he likes, he just kicks and kicks. It’s so cute. He cannot stay still.

Clarisse is such a cute and tiny little girl. She came to us for the first time a few months ago after surgery for her encephalocele as well, but she immediately kept having problems and having to be readmitted to the hospital for a few days or weeks. Every time she came to the Hope Center, she was terrified of everything and everyone, but mainly us white people. She wouldn’t leave her mom’s side and would look down if we tried to say hi to her. On top of that, the hospital started making her wear a helmet any time she was out of bed that covered most of her face to protect her surgery site since there kept being complications, and maybe it was from her bumping it. Luckily the most recent time she got out of the hospital, there is no more helmet, and her whole personality completely changed. Now she likes us and is so happy and excited all the time. I never know what she’s excited about, but it’s so cute. And she’s so ticklish. She’s just so sweet and adorable. I hope we have completely fixed her and she has a great future ahead.

This little fatty is Bignon. I dont think this picture is even one of the recent ones that show how fat she is now. What is so awesome about how fat she is, is that she was the little 3 week old baby I talked about in my first HOPE Center blog post that everyone was unsure if she was even going to live at the beginning because she was so starved and weak because her cleft lip prevented her from latching on. She has been on the feeding program ever since and has surgery in a week or two!

Heres another baby named Aniba who is in our Infant Feeding Program and will get surgery next week. She was only a little malnourished when coming to us and now shes a fatty too after only a few weeks.

That’s all for now. If you would like to partner with me in supporting Mercy Ships mission in helping all these people now and next year in Cameroon, please Pray and/or consider donating here. I’ve got a few really really amazing supporters who I am so grateful for. I wouldn’t be able to continue to serve next year if it wasn’t for you, so THANK YOU! I’ll be in Texas and Oklahoma is July, so if you want to see me, let me know. Maybe our National Geographic show will be out by then too, so you all can see!

2017 So Far…With a Million Photos

A group of potential Ortho patients stand on the dock.

Some of our Ortho Kids pre-surgery. All of them have awesome legs now and have gone home.

©2016 Mercy Ships

The kids after doing some of their rehab exercises

Wow. I can’t believe how fast this whole last  year has gone. The HOPE Center will only be open less than 10 more weeks. I’m trying to live in the moment and not be sad that its almost over. Luckily I extended and will be here until August 2018, but I know all the time between now and then will fly by too, and some of my favorite people will be leaving the ship in June of this year and going back to real life.

Time flies by so fast I forget to post blogs. I just looked back and realized I haven’t posted since the end of December. I didn’t post about Samsdine and Djalilou and Elisabeth finally getting their surgeries and how each of them have all left to go back home by now.

How Samsdine got his surgery and was able to start walking a little by myself and how proud I was, after literally holding his hands and walking and playing with him so much every single day. How I didn’t think I would get very emotional about any of our patients leaving because they all come and get their surgeries and go and are in such a better condition than before so its a happy time, but when Samsdine left (even though he is coming back in April for his Cleft Palate surgery), I balled like a baby. I still have this fear his mom will think he’s good enough after lip surgery that they won’t come back for the palate even though his whole future depends on that so he will be able to talk normal and not drool all the time. Fear that his malaria will get bad again, and he won’t be near us to get infection. Fear that some bad thing could happen on their long journey home or back again. Completely irrational fears and worrying because of course he will come back, and he will be so much healthier because we helped him gain so much weight and he can eat now and was healthy when he left. I selfishly just didn’t want him to leave, but it’s so good they got to. His mom was soooo happy when she came to the Hope Center after their appointment at the ship when she found out they could go home after 3 months of being stuck in a place where hardly anyone knew her language and she knew nobody. After her own mother criticized her for wanting to go to Cotonou so the white people could save her baby because it was hopeless, and everyone was sure he would die. She could take him home and show everyone what happens when you faith and love and hope (and a little fighter like Samsdine).

I don’t know if I have ever written anything about Elisabeth, who stayed with us for at least 4 months. We have been asked not to post pictures of her until a later time, but I wish I could because nothing I could write would show how awful of a tumor and other things have been to her body. She is a 20 year old woman who had a face tumor that I think they weighed at like 10 pounds when they removed it. I forgot the exact weight. It grew between her teeth and into her jaw. Her head itself is really big (I’m not sure if that’s from the tumor or another condition). I think her brain is a little deformed too, but I can’t remember how, but it makes her definitely seem a lot younger than she is. When she came she was super skinny and had messed up legs like our Ortho kids that makes it hard for her to walk, but she was too old to be able to get the surgery we can do for that problem. Apparently her tumor was taking all of her calcium for however long she had it, probably most of her life, so she developed all these problems that come from calcium deficiencies. When she first started staying with us she didn’t weigh enough for surgery and was too depleted on vitamins to do it right away, so she stayed with us so we could help her put on weight and make sure she took all her vitamins. She was eating 3 meals a day, plus 3 Ensure, plus 2 Smoothies, plus 3 Mana, and 3 cups of milk a day, along with other supplements she got directly from the ship and not from us. She gain a ridiculous amount of weight, and when she finally got surgery it went very smoothly. They removed the tumor and had to take part of her jaw. She will never look normal, but she looks so much better. Before the surgery, no one wanted to be near her because the tumor smelled sooooo bad. She would sit on this one bench all day, and mostly only crew would go near her. At dinner time, when people needed to eat at the table she was it, that’s when she would go shower. I only know that because our bathroom has an opening in the ceiling to the patients’ bathroom, and it would always smell so bad at that time even in our bathroom that I would have to hold my breath to keep from gagging. People constantly requested to be moved to different rooms if they were in her room because of the smell. The surgery got rid of the smell! People were so excited and welcoming when she came back to the Hope Center after surgery. It was so cute. She only had to stay with us a couple weeks post op and was able to go home, which she was sad about, but all 4 of us Faciliators and Martha came to stay goodbye the morning she was leaving, and Rachel along with a handful of other Mercy Shippers actually drove her to her village a few hours away. It was so cool seeing her riding shotgun as they pulled away from the Hope Center. They said so many people came to see her when they got to the village and were so amazed by her face and by how big she had gotten. I can’t imagine how hard her life has been and how hard it will always be, but at least it just got a lot better than it was. At least this tumor didn’t kill her like it would have eventually. Through all of it, she still had so much joy. You just walk up to her and she’s laughing so hard. Constantly laughing.

Djaliou (below) stayed with us about a month before getting surgery. When he first came to the ship he was 4 months old, and I think under 5 pounds. He had what looked like a really big tumor on his tongue that prevented him from ever closing his mouth, and his breathing was so rapid that you just saw his little ribs going up and down so fast. He came to the Hope Center to try to gain weight, but it was gonna be a longshot if we could fix whatever tumor thing he had, if he could gain enough weight to survive surgery. The ship received the results from his CT after he was with us about a month. They found out he had some rare condition with extra lobes on his tongue. It was blocking his airway more and more each day, so they immediately scheduled him for surgery. He had gained some weight, not a lot though. Thankfully the surgery went very well, his breathing became a million times better and after recovery days in the hospital and like a week at the Hope Center he was ready to leave with Samsdine. He is coming back in May for hernia surgery. I am so excited to see how big he’s gotten. All of the pictures below were post surgery. We didn’t have any good closeups so you could see his mouth before.

Salidatou was such a goofy little girl who would go through every range of emotion in a very short time. She was scared of all of us Facilitators at first (as some of the really small kids from up north sometimes are since they have probably never seen white people). Her mom spoke the same language as Samsdine’s mom, so they were together a lot. When I was always playing with Samsu, she started coming up to me wanting to play too. Then she started following all of the Facilitators around while we worked. After the cleft lip kids get their surgery they usually come back looking like a whole new person, and they can’t really smile, especially at first. Well, after a couple days, we would get Salidatou laughing, and it was adorable because only the side of her mouth that hadn’t been operated on would open into a big smile. It was so funny and adorable. It must be hard for the kids not being able to smile until the swelling goes down and their lips loosen up, which probably takes weeks. I’m excited for Samsu to come back so I can see if he can smile again.

Saidou has had a really tough life. Most of his body was burned by a fire when he was 3 years old. His mouth was burned into a tiny O, and he couldn’t talk until after he had surgery. Now he talks up a storm with his little buddies he’s made at the ship and Hope Center. He was running around like crazy after his surgery, and we had to keep him from playing because he tore open one of his wounds. Sadly, the surgeries we offer can’t make him look totally normal, but he can talk and has a lot more range of movement that is gonna make his life much better.

Bello is the cutest little guy ever. His age is unknown, but he is somewhere between 6 and 9. He came to the Hope Center sick with Bronchitis and Malaria. He went to the ship for his surgical screening, and he was so sick they gave him medicine and an Admissions date several days out so he could get well for surgery, but each time he went to the ship for his surgery, he was still too sick, so they continued the meds until he was better. Those first couple of weeks, his father and he would come quietly knock on our door to get the medication 3 times a day. Bello would take it, and his father would have him rinse it out and give it back, and the father would so sweetly say Thank You even though they don’t even speak French but some really obscure language that required us to go through like 3 people to translate anything to their language to try to communicate. English to a day crew who translated to French to a patient who translated to Bariba to another patient who would translate from Bariba to their language. Otherwise, we never saw Bello. He was either in bed or sitting quietly with his dad and wouldn’t talk to anyone or come near us. One Sunday when church was being led by our Day Crew, they were sitting at the back with a whole bench, so I sat a few feet away from him. I would try to get him to give me fives. He started moving closer and closer to me and ended up playing with my hands most of the service. After that he was like my little shadow. I couldn’t get him to leave me alone. He started trying to come in the office and refusing to leave until we got his father. He completely opened up with everyone (still not talking tho). Then, he had surgery. His was a little more intense than most of the cleft lip kids because it was bilateral cleft lip and palate, so he was at the ship 4 or 5 days. I visited every day and he looked miserable every time I saw him. He didn’t move except when I put my hand out for a 5, he would barely reach out and touch my hand. He came back to the Hope Center very subdued, but I went and just sat next to him or put him on my lap while I was talking or playing with other kids, and he opened up and became happy again. We have had him almost 2 weeks post op, and I have heard him say 2 words. I guess without a palate all his life he wasn’t able to talk very well, so we aren’t totally sure whether he was mute or only would talk with his people he knew really well. I was off work today, and he had a Speech Therapy appointment, so I asked Janet if I could come. When I got there, he was crying with his hands covering his eyes, and he sat like that for 30 minutes. I couldn’t even get him to look at me. She said he was like that both previous attempts to get him to talk. It was so sad. I guess he’s just so overwhelmed and scared. Both times he said a word to me, it was in the middle of playing, and as soon as I acknowledged he said something, I couldn’t get him to do it again. They decided it was probably counter-productive to have him go to speech therapy with a bunch of scary white people, so they discharged him today. So I had to hurry and print him some of these pictures and go to the Hope Center to say Bye to him. He was back to normal, sat on my lap playing with my badge as if the morning never happened. I will miss this little guy a lot but know he will probably do so much better in his home environment.

I don’t know much about Divine’s story. I just knew she had really messed up legs and was really skinny. She came to the Hope Center talking a mile a minute. She would talk to me in French like I knew exactly what she was always talking about when she knew I didn’t speak French and had no idea what she was saying. She’s one of the kids that would always come with any of the Facilitators if we were getting cleaning supplies or linens or whatever, so I would just start talking to her in English and watch her look as confused as me. She’s one of the kids that would drive me crazy coming in the office when she knew she wasn’t supposed to, but I had to love her bold and sassy personality.

Abraham, the boy below with the tumor on his head who wore a helmet to protect his brain his whole time at the Hope Center, had this awful tumor that messed him up physically that our surgeons fixed, but he will probably also be mentally handicapped forever because it went into his brain since he couldn’t get it removed right away like we can in the US. This boy, like many of the kids, was such a challenge for us. The only bad thing about our job (minus waking up at 6:15am) is the stress caused by a bunch of crazy kids. They all come into our office every 30 seconds for 13 hours when they know they aren’t supposed to, so we lock the door sometimes, in which case they bang on the door.

Flaubert, the boy in the red outfit, has been staying with us for close to 3 months, and he has that one outfit. All of these photos of him were taken weeks apart. Most of the patients have 2 to 3 outfits, and you get so used to seeing them in one outfit that its weird when they are in new clothes. Flaubert is such a sweet boy. He always wants toys or games or books, but otherwise, he doesn’t just come in the office with no purpose. He is so polite and well behaved that when I see him playing games with other boys his age who are always being obnoxious and breaking the rules, I think about how bad of influences they are.

Here are some other random photos of kids. I’m not very good about befriending the adults since my attempts at speaking French aren’t very good (other than the important words like Diapers and Ship), so I just work and play with kids, and even that, I’m not as good at as I wish I was.

If you want to partner with me and support Mercy Ships’ mission in helping people in Africa by offering free surgery and so much more, check out my Crew Mates page and consider donating. Thank you.

Busy Month of December + Maybe Volunteering Another Year

©2016 Mercy Ships

©2016 Mercy Ships

We have finished the first half of our Field Service in Benin. Many people have finished their commitments on the ship and left, a lot of people went home for the holidays, and there will be over 60 new volunteers coming over the next couple of weeks. We have approximately 100 people staying at the Hope Center on most days, and it will likely become 110-120/night soon. The time has flown by. I’m so sad it’s halfway over.

Noellie on the right is 7 but looks 4 and her bones are so weak, her legs have repeatedly broken over the years

Noellie on the right is 7 but looks 4 and her bones are so weak, her legs have repeatedly broken over the years

The Hope Center manager Martha (my boss) wants to know within the next few weeks if any of us Facilitators will stay for the next Field Service in Cameroon. They need 5 Hope Center Facilitators next year because we are going from a 120 bed facility to a 200 bed facility which is also twice as far from the ship and will be more difficult to coordinate drivers and appointments, so I feel like I could be very helpful. Also, it’s pretty crucial for at least one Facilitator to be someone who is returning to train the new people. Additionally, in Cameroon they are planning to do more surgeries and medical capacity building in a 10 month period than ever before, but this can only happen if they have enough volunteers to make it happen.

Ortho kids doing their Physical Therapy by walking around the whole Hope Center

Ortho kids doing their Physical Therapy by walking around the whole Hope Center

Ortho kids on their exercise marth

Ortho kids on their exercise march

I am praying about this decision. I know that when I made the choice to come to Mercy Ships as opposed to a shorter, cheaper, what I thought would be a more fun, but less productive volunteer opportunity to South America, I did it because I felt like I was truly needed and could really help Mercy Ships to do so much for the poor people in Africa that we serve. I am so grateful I made that choice. Yes, it cost a good chunk of my savings, yes it took me away from my mom and nephew, and that was a big sacrifice, but it was worth it. If I serve one more year, I won’t be able to help my mom and brother with Wyatt for another year, but I think they are doing okay without me. In order to serve another year, I have to have a lot of faith that God will provide as I will need more financial support than I have had so far this year in order to do it. I have a few people who have supported me this year who are amazing, and it means the world to me that they have sacrificed to help me serve the people of Africa. There are so many people who have been a missionary for 10 or 20 or 30 years, living completely on support, but for me, just the thought of asking for support makes me feel sick. So yeah. Pray I will have faith and that I will make whatever decision is the right one.

If you would like to donate anytime, click here. Donations are tax deductible. The year is almost over.

December

This month was pretty crazy and hectic for me, but very fulfilling and awesome. I planned a weekend trip for 12 of us to the super cheap mansion on the beach, 2 Murder Mystery parties, 2 surprise birthday parties (one including a scavenger hunt I made for her, and one I actually baked a cake that turned out pretty well), and another birthday thing for my roommate Anna. Then we moved onto the ship right before Christmas, and needless to say, I was not prepared and worn out and had not thought about gifts for anybody.

Our awesome gingerbread house of the stilt village in Benin. We got second. (My contribution to the team was limited lol)

Our awesome gingerbread house of the stilt village in Benin. We got second. (My contribution to the team was limited lol)

The murder mystery parties were amazing, especially the one at the mansion. If you have ever thought about doing one, do it. (Just make sure you do one without scripts where you improve and decide what you need to do and who you need to talk to.) We have gotten ones for $30 that you print everything yourself, and it’s pretty cheap split 12-20 ways like we have done every time. Even better, if you want me to host it for you, I’m in.

The highlight between all the birthdays was the surprise birthday party we had at the Hope Center for Caroline and Samsdine (our infant feeding baby who just turned 1). It was so fun to include him and his mom, and he loved the cake. I absolutely love this baby. He has been with us almost 2 months. He has gone from around 9 lbs when we got him to up to around 16 lbs now even after repeated bouts of malaria. He finally has his Surgical Screening appointment on January 3rd. We are told he is probably big enough for his Cleft Lip surgery but will need to gain more weight before the Cleft Palate one can be done. The selfish side of me would be okay with this because he would be staying with us for a long time if so, and my days without like an hour of Samsdine time a day would be sad. But really I am praying they can do both at once because that would probably be a lot better for him to only recover from one bigger surgery, and he and his mom could go back home up North to continue their lives sooner.

The baby sister of one of our little ortho girls. She's a cutie.

The baby sister of one of our little ortho girls. She’s a cutie.

Currently out of the 100ish people staying at the Hope Center, 36 of them are Ortho kids, meaning they are young with a lot of energy, have their legs in casts, will be staying here a few months, and they are hyper and crazy and often drive us crazy by the end of the day. If you go outside and sit down to play with one kid, they all jump all over you. I have actually had to be concerned about Samsdine’s safety when I hold him or play with him because they will try to sit on top of him or they will run up behind me and wrap their arms around my neck and choke me. It’s chaos. They all barge into our office while we are working or open the door over and over and yell things to us that we don’t always understand. So then we have to somehow get 10 kids out of the office and lock the door, and when you do that they bang on the door over and over and over and scream so loud. They yell our names or Yovo (white person) or the words for nail polish or balloons or games or whatever they want. And it’s very difficult to try to get them to behave when you don’t speak their languages. Needless to say, it’s fun, and the kids are so cute, and I’m so lucky I get to help them, but 13 hour days at the Hope Center can be a little exhausting. But I absolutely love it. I love this job. I love the ship. I love knowing I’m making a difference. This has been an amazing month and an even better year.

Life at the HOPE Center

I’ve been slacking with the blog. We work at least 13 hour days, and on my days off I usually want to go do something fun or just sit around reading and being lazy. Needless to say, its gotten a lot more crazy at the Hope Center. We have over 100 patients almost every day. We no longer get bored because when we don’t have work to do, then we can go play with the kids, and it won’t be long before there is either a crisis of some kind or just more work to do. And there are so many weird and funny crisis’s. Today a lady tried to accuse one of our male Day Crew of stealing her feminine pads because she was mad at him.

I absolutely love this job (except waking up at 6am). I like playing with the kids and seeing them smile, but that is not the thing I am great at. Caroline and Anna are so much better with the patients. But I feel like I’m pretty good at completing all these tasks we need to do and solving problems and figuring out all this logistical stuff and placing orders. I also feel like I’m able to do things that directly impact these patients. So many people here are malnourished, and I’m able to see that, while our Nutritionist only has time to see some patients, I can email her requesting to give more milk to children or different fruits to all patients. I love that, not only do we do surgeries and everything, but for the weeks or months people stay here, we know they are getting good nutrition. (Did you know that a lot of kids who have bowed legs or other leg deformities ended up like that due to a lack of Calcium and Vitamin D? That’s crazy.) I love that people are able to go to their bandage changes and rehab, which is often the most important part of their medical care, because they can stay at the Hope Center.

Okay. The majority of this blog post is just the captions below the pictures, so you can hear a tiny bit about some of our patients:

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Two of my best friends here, Caroline and Anna. Fellow facilitators and roommates. I’m so glad they are here. I don’t know what I would do without them. There are 4 Facilitators. Two of us work together at a time, and we trade who we work with every two weeks.

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This little dude Miracle was the cutest. He would hold your hand and go everywhere with you. He would help me getting the Cleaning Box ready for the day crew. He was only with us for a few weeks though.

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The little dude on the left is named Elysee. He was the brother of a Plastics patient who was at the Hope Center over a month. When he saw you, his whole face would light up and he would run to you to be picked up.

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This is how African women carry their babies. I felt very uncomfortable and paranoid he would fall.

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When plastics patient Ruth and her mother and brother were discharged from the Hope Center. She has burns all over her body and her arms were stuck in one position. Now she is completely mobile and is so happy. She was such an awesome patient and little girl.

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This little man just had a tonsilectomy/adnoidectomy and stayed with us only a week. This is such a minor surgery that so many kids get done in the US, but here most people can’t have that surgery, so they have so suffer with sickness their whole lives. He was really cute, but he always seemed to want to hurt me. He would high five me as hard as he could and would try to bend my fingers backwards and would try to make me hit myself. It was interesting.

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This is my favorite little boy, Ramdan. He is always so well behaved and sweet, and he was a lot slower to get comfortable with us, but he always got really happy when I would go up to him and give him a high five. Now he always wants to play with me and follows me around. His mom is really really sweet too. It’s hard not knowing anyone’s language, but I guess you are able to just have a different kind of relationship with people. Ramdan had gigantism in one of his feet. His recovery has been very long. He has been with us 2 months.

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This is our little infant feeding baby Samsdine. I love him so much. He turns 1 year old in about a week. His arms and legs are like sticks, but he’s so much bigger than he was like a month ago when he came to us. He has a cleft lip and cleft palate. He has gotten big enough for the cleft lip surgery in January, but he probably won’t be big enough for the cleft palate surgery for a while. Sadly, he also has a really bad case of malaria that keeps making him sick. They have treated him for it like 3 times unsuccessfully. He had to go into the hospital for a few days earlier this week, but hes back 😦

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This is Elie and Djamiou. Elie is a 10 year old sweetheart who has gigantism in his foot. They did surgery, which greatly decreased its size, but it will still be very big. The ship had some special shoes made for him. He was so proud of them. It was adorable. He was so well behaved and always wanted to help us Facilitators. He got to leave the Hope Center a couple days ago after being with us a couple months. We were sad to see him go, but happy of course for him that he’s leaving to go live a normal life now. Djamiou is a little 2 or 3 year old soccer pro. I have never seen a kid so small be able to kick so hard and far and with such accuracy. He is absolutely adorable but very malnourished. He constantly wants to be held or to have a ball. If you put him down or take away his ball, he will whine more than anything, but its so cute.

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Arthur just got one of his hand bandages off today and was excitedly showing me how he could move his fingers. Both hands were probably burned where all the fingers were fused together.

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This pic was taken in the hospital, but all of these kids ended up staying at the Hope Center (only Valentine is still here). The tiny one on the left, Prince, is the only one who wasn’t a patient. He is the baby brother of Romest (2nd from the right). He was so so adorable, but if I ever walked toward him he would laugh and run away. His brother Romest, let’s just say was a handful. Gwladys is the girl holding Prince. I didn’t talk to her much, but she was really sweet. She always painted Anna’s and Caroline’s nails. The little boy in the middle is Valentine. He is such a fun kid. He’s always laughing and trying to talk in English. He hears our drivers radio in to the ship saying “Reception, Reception, this is Vehicle 981…” and he will come into our office saying that. He’s always trying to ask us questions and wants to know which facilitators will be here which days. I know a little of his story. He was in a fire, and his burns made him be fused from his stomach to his legs, so he had to walk hunched over. He got made fun of so much he had to quit school soon after it happened. His father found out about Mercy Ships, and they spent all their money to come to Cotonou and actually slept in a park a few days waiting for either Screening or Admission. Now he can run around and do anything any normal kid could do. And the little guy on the right is Aly who I have posted about before. He was one of our first kids and one of the first goodbyes, but hopefully he is recovering from his surgery well.