Closing the HOPE Center :(

Martha plus Facilitators

These 4 women made my job a million times easier and they helped me to have conversations with the patients and mamas I loved so much. I am so grateful for them.

Well the Hope Center closed 2 weeks ago. We finished packing up last week, and now I am working in HR on the ship til I leave in early August. I’m pretty worn out and am happy we will be sailing soon and the atmosphere is so relaxed when we sail (as long as the waters don’t get too rough and I don’t get sick).

The amount of people who stayed at the HOPE Center this year was the highest Mercy Ships has ever had at a Hope Center. Here’s some crazy statistics:

  • 49,143 total patient and CG nights spent at the HOPE Center
  • 29 days over our 234 bed capacity
  • Open 269 days and had less than 100 people only 7 days total
  • 100,337 lunches and dinners provided by the caterer

It was a crazy, busy year, and I loved it so much! You wouldn’t believe all that goes into running a place like this: getting them all their correct food for their Diet Plans, coordinate appointments and getting them to the ship, placing orders, preparing nutritional supplements, dealing with the many, many issues and problems that come up (many of which are ridiculous or amusing), making sure patients are taking medicine or doing what the doctors and nurses told them to do, etc.

Our Facilitator team worked so well together. Some of our local Day Crew were really great. They had so much work too, cleaning after 200+ people daily (many of whom don’t know what a toilet or a shower are because they don’t have those where they are from), teaching health classes, keeping track of when people are coming and going, giving out diapers and soap and meals, etc.

We had so many fun and cute and sweet patients. I feel so blessed that I was able to do this job for 2 years and to have basically the most amazing boss to have ever lived.

The patients who had the biggest impact on me were the babies. I will be vague for privacy purposes. We had the 3 that I have posted most about, Honorine, Mas-Oudatou, and Paul, who had all stayed with us fooooooorever to gain weight and get healthy for surgery. A good part of the year we thought there was almost no chance she would get big enough for surgery. They tried everything, and eventually the only thing left to do was pray. The other 2 babies were almost definitely going to get surgery. One was 3 months old and 4 lbs when he arrived, but he was gaining weight so fast that he became so fat we were sure he would receive surgery. The other one was super small and unhealthy for her age so we wanted to take as much time as possible for her to stay with us so we could make sure she was getting good nutrition to get healthy. Since she was older she was big enough for a minor cleft lip surgery, so we weren’t worried.

But coming close to the end everything was turned up on its head. They all got difference types of infections or sicknesses that prevented surgery and/or made them lose weight. One of my fellow Facilitators suggested we ask the chaplains onboard to ask for all the crew members and day crew to pray for them. We also posted on Facebook that we needed prayers. When one of these babies got sick, it indirectly provided the solution to get her healthy for surgery. The other two had their surgeries postponed and postponed.

When I was called when my favorite baby’s surgery was cancelled for the second time, it killed me because they weren’t sure if she would be well enough by the day the following week for surgery. So there was lots of crying. A few hours later the baby and her mama came back to the HOPE Center. Her mom was sobbing and so sure her baby would never get her surgery or be healthy or normal. I sat with her and cried with her and talked to her through Beatrice’s translation (our day crew who speaks her language). That was one of the hardest conversations of my life. I told her we wouldn’t give up and we would keep fighting and getting her to eat and drink as much healthy food as possible and keep trying to get her strong enough to walk, and it wasn’t over and she would hopefully get her surgery. I didn’t even really believe it at the time myself and was so broken hearted and knowing it was even harder for her mom.

That next week they all got surgery. I sat in the hospital allllllllll day long with that mama trying to support and distract her. The other 2 babies had already received their surgeries, so all of those mamas and babies were there to keep her company too. There were lots of cheers and hugs when she got back from surgery. I’ve never been so relieved. What was really awesome too was that the night after her surgery, there was a community meeting with all of the crew and with the national offices around the world. Because everyone had been praying so much for these 3 babies, they did a feature on the Infant Feeding Program, and the ship’s nutritionists gave a talk, and all of these babies and their moms were invited to the meeting and were celebrated.

My favorite part was when Lee-Anne, one of the Nutritionists, honored and thanked the moms for their nonstop hard work to get these babies big and healthy. Sometimes our patients have to completely disrupt their lives to come to where the ship is for a long time to go through the screening process, surgery, and recovery time. These mamas and the babies stayed the longest. One arrived the day the HOPE Center opened in August and left the day we closed in May. That mom had her work cut out for her too because that baby was so stubborn and hated eating.

Nurses and Dieticians together with some of the babys and their mothers that have been part of the Infant Feeding program.

I love these 2 more than I can put into words.

 

Since they left 2 weeks ago, two of the moms have repeatedly called Beatrice (who speaks their language) to greet her and me. They don’t have internet where they live (or even know what that is), so I gave them Beatrice’s number so she can message me if they ever need me.

Now all of us who had to live in the team house are now living and working on the ship and loving it. One of our Day Crew named Ruth who worked in Reception at the HOPE Center, was hired on as Crew and will be a Facilitator next year. She’s so amazing, and I’m so glad I have gotten to introduce her to the ship and a new amazing experience (even though it might be a little terrifying). I’ll miss her, but I know once she gets the hang of it she will probably be better at my job than me.

Luckily I get to hang out with her and a few other good friends over the summer as we do a super long sail to the Canary Islands and go into shipyard. While I’m so sad I won’t be with patients or doing the job I love most, shipyard phase is necessary for us to keep doing what we do, so its cool to help out in a different way. I have always wanted to learn about the Mercy Ships HR process, so I’m very happy to be going into this job.

Peace out. I’ll be back in the US in August.

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Fun at the HOPE Center

We have been having a lot of fun with the kids at the Hope Center lately. Having between 200-260 patients and caregivers staying here each day, it gets a little chaotic, and we get to deal with some new crazy issues every day. It keeps it interesting.

The above photos are our “good quality” pictures taken by my co-Facilitator Ian Graham. It is amazing having this talent around when I want cute pictures.

As always, you can help support me by Donating to help me get through my last 4.5 months, you can pray for me, and you can especially pray for these 2 patients I talk about below.

Honorine and Mas-Oudatou

Anytime I’m not swamped with work I usually go out of the office searching for Honorine or Mas-Oudatou to practice walking or play or do whatever. Inevitably I am surrounded by kids very quickly, which can be fun or drive you crazy. Honorine is the one in the blue in the top pictures. She is 2 years old. She is very weak and malnourished but getting stronger every day. Mas-Oudatou is the one with the weird hair. Our goal for both Honorine and Mas-Oudatou is for them to get healthy, get their surgeries, and to be able to walk before they go home.

Mas-Oudatou has been here all year. She and her amazing mom, who I love, have been at the Hope Center longer than anyone ever I think. She got here the week we opened and will probably be here close to the end if she is able to get her palate surgery. She has stayed here so the Nutritionist can check up on her every week. She is gaining weight much slower than we would like, so its up in the air whether she will be big enough for surgery. We can only encourage her to eat (even though she is extremely stubborn) and pray. She turned 1 this month. I don’t think I have ever seen another person with as many facial expressions as her. She is so funny. And she has been standing and grabbing anything that will help her walk since she has been here. It really surprises me that she can’t walk by herself yet, but when she can she will be going everywhere nonstop. I’m very excited for that day.

I love Honorine soooo much, even though she has had a Love/Hate relationship with me. You can read some of my previous blogs for her story. She was here in December, and she was in such bad shape and so weak, and I just wanted to take care of her. She came back in January with her mom, who is very attentive and loving, and I am so glad she is here with her instead of the father. Honorine and I continued being best buds til she got sick and repeatedly had to go to the ship to get her blood drawn by white people in scrubs (just like me), and she was screaming and crying and decided she was now scared of and hates white people. It probably didn’t help that I went to be with her one of the times her blood was taken. For several days after, she would cry every time I came near (same with all white people). Over time she slowly liked me more, except in the mornings when she was tired or if any other white people came near. She is adorable when she gets sad or scared. She lifts her right arm over her head, and her mouth gets wider and wider, like she is yawning, until she cries. Its so weird, but very cute and sad, but it is helpful because I know when she is starting to get upset or scared and can comfort her or take her back to mama. She still gets a little scared of any new people, especially if they are white, but she and I are best friends again.

Last week I took her to see Rehab at the tent so we could get her a walker to get her walking. You might think she is just a baby who is taking a while longer than others to start walking when you first look at her, but she is a 2 year old and is literally 1/2 the size of my nephew who is the same age. Also, when you walk with her or do anything with her you can just tell how weak she is. When she is just hanging out, when you would expect a kid to be sitting or crawling, she is always laying down because it seems exhausting to her just to keep her body up. The walker is helping her practice more often. She gets tired of us walking her pretty quickly, but she will do the walker longer. Her mom also works hard with her on some other techniques they showed us in rehab. I’m extremely worried she will never be normal. She walks on the insides of her feet unless we put shoes on her, so her legs might deform. She just seems so far behind and not normal. So please, please pray for her and her mama.

Here are a few pictures with some of the patients we hang out with every day. Its pretty cool that we can all have fun and play games when we all speak different languages. I love my job so much! Thank you for those who have supported me and helped me to be able to do this work.

Christmas at the HOPE Center!

We had an amazing Christmas at the HOPE Center! We gave out gift bags for all patients and caregivers staying with us (thanks to donations from the crew and a couple different national offices!) on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas day we had a big special meal with all of the patients. Everyone was just so happy the whole time. It was so much fun. This post is mostly just photos. Photo credit for all the Christmas pics: Ian Graham

As always, the HOPE Center, all the patients, and I would gladly accept all of your prayers. Thank you so much to my supporters! If anyone would like to support me in all of this work, please consider donating HERE (it is tax deductible 😉

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Christmas Dinner

HONORINE – This little girl is so malnourished and dehydrated, is almost 2 years old, and can’t even crawl or stand. She was miserable and filthy when she first arrived. All it took was a few days of us loving her to transform her. She had to go home so her mother could come back as her caregiver instead of her father. She is supposed to be back mid-January for us to get her healthy over a couple months and then they will do her cleft lip surgery. I’m very worried about her getting back. Its a 3 day bus ride, and her area of Cameroon is where there is a lot of terrorists. Please pray for her.

Beginning of the Year in Cameroon

Ulrich (Junior), orthopedic patient, before surgery.

I have never been so stressed or busy in my life! The Hope Center team arrived in Cameroon over a week before the ship arrived because we would be opening almost right after the ship got here. So we got here, did an orientation with our 40 local Day Crew, did what training we could, and started setting up everything that arrived in the Advance container.  The problem was that we only had some space in the Advance container, so we couldn’t put a lot in it. We were also supposed to get another container that had 100 of the beds we needed before the ship arrived, but it got locked up in Customs, so we didn’t end up getting it until 2 days before we opened. We just kept hoping and waiting and waiting some more. We couldn’t do anything else until the ship arrived, and then we knew it would be craziness.

The ship arrived Wed, Aug 16th, but they wouldn’t be able to get our container off of it until Saturday. Then, we were supposed to open Tuesday, but that weekend, they said we were going to receive 166 people on Monday instead of Tuesday! So we had Saturday and Sunday to set EVERYTHING up, and we have a lot of stuff. We also had to set up 226 beds, and that takes a long time. The problem was that Saturday morning we had to take all of our Day Crew to a Mercy Ships orientation on the ship, and they had church Sunday morning. So basically we had half a day Saturday and half a day Sunday to set up. Nope! Not possible. It wasn’t gonna work.

Patients didn’t end up arriving until Tuesday, and it was only like 70 of those 166 on the first day. The rest of the people came on different buses every day for a week. We had a million things to organize, patients to tend to, and I had 4 other Facilitators and 40 Day Crew to train. For 9 days straight, I worked at the Hope Center from 6:30am-8:30pm, and then I would go home and do at least 2 hours of computer work before sleeping for 5 or 6 hours. Some days I was so stressed by the end of the day that if someone talked to me, I would have cried. At the same time, it was such an amazing experience. I love being busy if it is for a purpose. All of this absolutely had to be done! I didn’t have time for sleep or for free time. I think I even lost some weight because I didn’t have time to eat, which was okay by me. My adrenaline was pumping constantly. When I would try to sleep, I kept thinking of what I needed to do the next day and would be grabbing my phone every two seconds to write it down.

Our Patients

On the first couple of days, when we got the Ortho kids, it was the most shocking thing in the world. All of the kids last year had really messed up legs, but I have never seen anything this bad. When some of them sit down, their legs are bent up to where their feet are resting on their shoulders. It’s crazy. Some of their legs look like they are on backwards. How this is even possible is beyond me.

Junior: This boy is like the coolest kid ever to me. His legs are shaped so that in order to walk, he either walks on his calves, or he leans forward and uses sticks to walk around like a spider. He has adapted so well he can do anything. We have these little toy Tonka trucks, and he would rest his legs on the truck and roll around. Watching him play soccer is the craziest thing ever. He can actually do it even though he’s done on all fours, and he does this thing where he bounces his legs around. It’s incredible. He still has so much fun. He’s my hero. It’s funny because he was probably made fun of his whole life, but here he is like a movie star. Everyone has heard of him; everyone wants to take pictures with him.

 

As always, thanks sooo sooo much to everyone who is supporting me. This year is definitely more of a struggle financially than last year. I literally couldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for all of you who sponsor me, so it means so much to me.

If you would like to support me financially here, you can donate through Mercy Ships HERE.

 

Time Off + Starting out in Cameroon

I made it to Cameroon! We are about to start the biggest, most intense Field Service Mercy Ships has ever had. Same length of time, more patients, more surgeries, more Medical Capacity Building, more volunteers, and a Hope Center almost twice as big as last year. I’ll split this up into 2 sections: My Summer + Cameroon. Each section is long, so if you don’t want to hear about my summer, skip ahead.

My Summer

I left the ship in the Canary Islands on June 20. Because that’s in Europe, it was super cheap to fly elsewhere in Europe. It was actually cheaper to fly to Italy and fly home 10 days later than just to fly home June 20. So basically it felt like my flight plus half my hostel nights were free. I ended up still having to spend more than I would have liked, but things don’t always go as planned.

Italy was beyond amazing. I just had a lot of problems late in the trip. I fell in love with the country and enjoyed everything I did and wished I had more time in each place to do things, but by the end of the trip I was just desperate for home and my mom. The problems started small with finding out there was no AC in any of the hostels, someone stepping on my flipflop and breaking it so I was walking around on hot pavement over an hour trying to find a place to buy new flip flops, showing up to my hostel one night and all my stuff on the ground and someone else on my bed because the hostel randomly decided to move me.

Stuff didn’t get bad until I was going to my third hostel in some tiny town in Tuscany. They said there were always taxis at the train station, so I assumed I could get one. I waited like an hour and no one showed up so I had to walk. It was over a mile with my huge, heave backpack plus a 50lb rolling suitcase. A few minutes into the walk, a wheel on the suitcase broke. I carried it the rest of the way, stopping every minute or so for a break. I was crying by the time I got there. Luckily I went to a winery right after, so I could relax. That hostel was super cool, but I started getting bumps all over and found a tick in my bed, so I assumed they were bug bites.

Then, in order to get the hostel’s shuttle to the train station, I had to go an hour later than my train ticket. I thought it was fine because I thought all of my tickets said you could go at the listed time or up to 4 hours later. I took my first train from there to Florence with no problem, but when I was gonna get a train to Venice, I found out that rule didn’t apply to that ticket, so I had to buy a new ticket because I missed my train. Tickets were twice as expensive, and I had to wait several hours because the next few trains were sold out. Then, I got there, and cars aren’t allowed in Venice, so there are no taxis. I took a water bus but got off at the wrong stop, but it didn’t take me very close anyway. I walked up and down lots of stairs with my 50 lb suitcase and huge backpack and arrived at the location my hostel was supposed to be, but it was nowhere to be found. I walked around forever and eventually found someone who let me borrow their phone. I called the hostel, and the guy told me to wait where I was and someone would come get me. I waited and waited, and no one showed up. Then, I found a shop and asked a woman to look it up online, and the only mention of this hostel was on HostelWorld, which is what I booked it through. And she must have thought I was stupid and just couldn’t find the address, but we went there, and it looked like someone’s home, and we even rang the bell again. Nothing. She called back for me, and the dude said there was no one available to come get me for another hour (after I had already been waiting an hour). I kept asking him to either give me the correct address or instructions, and he refused, so I decided it seemed a little sketchy and not to stay there. The woman who was helping me pointed at a different hostel nearby. I went to stay there, and the next morning a guy in my room told me there were bed bugs in his bed and showed me his arm, and it was covered in bites. The number of itchy bumps on my body was still increasing daily, but they looked nothing like his. Also, we looked at his and other beds, and I saw multiple bugs in each. But I saw none on mine. I told the guy at reception, and he moved me to a different room. By this point the bumps were itching like crazy. I ended up throwing away my nice backpack, suitcase and like 1/3 of my clothes to avoid transporting bed bugs to my mom’s house, and when I eventually got to Lubbock 2 days later, we sealed all of my things I still had in a bag and deep cleaned it all, but the bumps were still multiplying for several days. I probably had like 300+ at some point. Eventually we decided it was probably an allergic reaction to something. I don’t know, but it went away after a while. It was just super miserable for about a week.

During the whole thing, I experienced a lot of generosity and felt like God was taking care of me. A few people who care about me were just doing lots of nice things to help me along the way. One cool story was that in the Venice airport a woman saw my Mercy Ships water bottle and said she volunteered a few years before, and we knew a few of the same people and talked until the plane boarded. The flight left super late, and we arrived in Turkey right before my next flight was supposed to leave. I was about to start running to my gate, and she and her husband found me and gave me $20 and a Starbucks card. I ran about a mile to my gate (I haven’t ran a mile in like 13 years), and thankfully they were running a little late and let me on. This gift from this couple became a huge blessing because I had no American money or credit cards, and I ended up staying at a hotel in Houston, so I wouldn’t give bed bugs to my friend if I had them, and the hotel was supposed to have a free shuttle which didn’t show up, so I had to take a taxi. That cost exactly $20, so it was like God sent me an angel.

My time home was wonderful. I spent most of my time with my mom and nephew. I didn’t think I could love my nephew as much as I loved one of our little patients last year, but I loved him more and more each day. At first, Wyatt didn’t seem very affectionate or want to be held, but by the end he would never let me put him down. A lot of the time I was actually regretting my decision to come back to the ship because he will be a whole year older next time I see him, and its hard to leave my mom for so long, but everyone has to make sacrifices to do overseas missions, and it is almost always worth it.

Cameroon

I made it to Cameroon last Sunday evening. My bags did not. It was a bit scary because I desperately needed some of the stuff in it by Wednesday, but thankfully I got it Tuesday. I moved into the Team House when I got here. It is where I will live all year. Currently we have 19 people living here, but once the ship arrives, that number will go down to 11-14. I’m sharing a room with 4 other girls and a bathroom with 6. Laundry is a challenge. The Hope Center team came last week, but the rest of the people came here to do Advance work before the ship arrives and have been here a few months. I’m friends with a few of them, so it’s been fun, but it will be nice when there are fewer people here. Also, we have a pool!

The Hope Center is so nice. It is going to be amazing. It is obviously much bigger since we will house up to 220 people (probably more occasionally) as opposed to 120, but the arrangement of it all is nice. All of the storage areas are near the office. There are more places for us and the patients to hide from the rain. It is super cool! We have high hopes for the year. So far we have done orientation with our 40 local Day Crew, tried to get to know them a little and already had them working a little. We have set up everything that we put on the container that arrived before the ship (basically 120 beds).

The ship gets here Wednesday, and that’s when everything gets crazy. I’ve been super nervous (or scared) about the next 2 weeks. We will be able to get our Team House stuff off the ship then, but our containers with all of the Hope Center stuff won’t be available until Friday. The Hope Center opens the next Tuesday, and we are supposed to receive 168 patients the first day (potentially some the day before but hopefully not). That means we only have Friday-Monday to set up a whole lot and train all 40 day crew (plus the 4 other Facilitators since I’m the only person who has done the job before). That in itself seems like it will be so hard, but the fact that we have 168 people coming the first day when I am the only one who will know what I am doing. Last year we never had more than 125 people staying at the Hope Center total, and our busiest day we maybe got like 38 new people. We are quadrupling that on our first day. Crazy! But as long as we work hard and have faith, God will make it all work out. But yeah, the Hope Center could definitely use some prayers. I could also use them. We will work as much as possible on Thursday, but starting Friday, I will probably work like eight 10-14 hour days in a row. I know I’m absolutely gonna love the adrenaline and craziness of it all and of having new patients to love, but I’m still just nervous.

We are helping even more suffering people this year, and it will all be worth it. If you would like to walk alongside me to serve Cameroon, please pray and/or consider donating here. I would appreciate any support I can get. I don’t get paid for this work, but I pay to do it. I am thankful to all my supporters, especially because I would have used much more of my savings last year and wouldn’t be able to afford to be here now without y’all.