Tim Maloney and his wife Karen Morgan were astounded by the lack of medical facilities in the West African nation of Sierra Leone — making the work the hospital ship Africa Mercy does there all the more worthwhile.
For a week they got to personally see what Maloney’s job as the national director of Mercy Ships Canada is all about: spreading the word about the international charity that, one by one, transforms the lives of the world’s forgotten poor — for free.
Of course Tim, 60, had seen all the photos and heard all the stories in the three years he’s been with Mercy Ships, but this was the first time he saw it in real life as doctors performed the miracle surgery, trained locals and shore teams provided everything from first-aid training to how to grow better crops.
Africa Mercy has an all-volunteer crew of 450 — half of them doctors and medical experts — who pay to serve on the former 152-meter-long Danish rail ferry that spent seven years in shipyards being converted into the world’s largest charity hospital ship with six operating theatres and a 78-bed ward.
Volunteers pay — pay, not earn — $680 monthly if serving under nine months and $340 monthly if longer.
Maloney, the former director of the Land Conservancy of B.C., and Morgan, a Saanich Peninsula Hospital Foundation director, were aboard the hospital ship as part of a week-long trip to look at how the ship operates.
This included watching volunteer doctors performing life-transforming surgeries. In the following days they also visited a woman’s hospital established by Mercy Ships several years ago and a centre where pre-and post-operation patients live with their families until it is time to return home.
Other Mercy Ships projects they visited were a dental clinic and an agriculture project.
The one thing the couple noticed was that despite horrible living conditions, the people of Sierra Leon never give up on life and “hope shone through the despair. “
Small wonder. Take for example the cleft lip and palate of baby Obdilon.
When her aunt delivered the tiny bundle, it cried like a healthy baby, but 19-year-old Edwige could tell by her aunt’s expression that something was wrong. When she looked at the newborn placed in her arms, Edwige began to cry.
“Is this the baby I gave birth to?” she asked her aunt.
The wee boy had a bilateral cleft lip and palate. Despite her initial shock, Edwige’s motherly instincts took hold, and she accepted her son lovingly.
For a few hours, an exhausted mother and her child slept peacefully. Then, just as quickly as Odilon had entered the world, their troubles began.
Edwige’s mother-in-law inspected young Odilon with revulsion. Because of his cleft, she called Odilon evil and inhuman. She encouraged her son, Edwige’s husband, to leave her to avoid bringing shame upon the family.
When Odilon’s mother made the long and arduous journey to Africa Mercy, Odilon weighed a mere 2.5 kilograms. He was in such bad condition that the medical staff onboard the ship thought he would not survive for more than a few days.
After nearly 11 weeks of care and proper feeding, he weighed 3.7 kg, and the doctors gave the go-ahead for his surgery.
After a successful operation, Odilon slept quietly on his bed, sucking on the new fleshy formation of his upper lip.
With the help of Mercy Ships, little Odilon underwent a miraculous transformation that brought him back from the brink of starvation and gave him a chance at a normal life.
And that’s what Mercy Ships does, says Maloney — provide health care, relief aid and community support and meet immediate and long-term needs.
To learn more about Mercy Ships check out its website at www.mercyships.ca.