Off to Sierra Leone soon…

Mercy Ships

Many of you are likely to know that I’m off to Africa again in February.

Mercy Ships, the NGO I worked for in Togo last year have asked to take me on again for 8-10 weeks in Freetown, Sierra Leone this year. However this time, instead of photographing a variety of requests from the many offices across the globe I will be photographing with the aim of producing a book and exhibition for them to use for fundraising across the USA and the UK. That creative process will start after my third field service with them at some point towards the end of 2012. I will of course not be profiting off of this.

Meanwhile, despite this privileged position I am still a volunteer and am fundraising for Sierra Leone to pay for my flights and basic board and lodgings. This total is $3000 and I’m just over half way there. If you would like to hep in any way do please donate here. If you are not sure about donating to this direct link online then get in touch with me for another way:

To remind you of some of the work that Mercy Ships did in Togo here are a small selection of pictures that I took there.

Gafar, an 11 year old boy with a large benign tumour. As Dr Gary Parker the chief surgeon points out this is almost worse than malignant tumours because it is a much slower, painful death that leads to all sorts of stigmas and social exclusion. Some tumours on the neck and mouth are even worse because they result in very slow starvation. Gafar was practically a mute before his surgery. His eyebrows didn’t so much furrow from worry as weigh heavy at the sides from the past few years of misery.

Gafar lies under anaesthetic, post-operation. His tumour has been removed, and he now has two weeks of recovery in the ships’ wards to look forward to.

Gafar and Tani play in the hallway of the hospital floor. Gafar is a strikingly different human being, mischievous and fun. Tani, a young patient who is undergoing several long-term operations suffered severe burns to her face. Neither show any sign of concern of the physical changes they’ve gone through, but are simply basking in the wake of the slow deaths they escaped.

In 2010 the Africa Mercy was docked in the Lome, the capital of Togo. The ship has a number of 4x4s for getting around the city which are regularly used by medical staff during the day to ferry patients to and from the ship and the hospitality centre in town.

The hospitality centre in town was a building that Mercy Ships used to let patients stay in care and recover a bit longer without crowding up wards on the ship. It also served for most of the eye patients that needed tests and correctional treatment.

Many of the Africa Mercy’s 450 crew don’t get to meet patients of help with Mercy Ships’ prime mission on a regular basis (they are busy in the keeping of the ship). So day trips are organised for them to spend time with the locals that Mercy Ships sets out to help. Here a young boy from a special needs school for the mentally disabled plays with a carpenter and a shop assistant from the ship.

The orthopaedics team often deal with the younger patients, whose deformed legs or feet are usually easier to mend than older ones. A child born with club foot is caught early and the large remainder of their physical development continues like any normal person. Here a particularly young boy does not like his correctional shoes put on to ensure the correct growth of his bones after the club foot operation.

Vision trips are made up of a team of people from developed countries, often generous donors that wish to see the cause they are supporting from afar. One such team from a church in Texas brought bags of cuddly toys for the patients. This lucky recipient being held by a nurse doesn’t seem to be quite as pleased as her mother on the ward bed behind her.

Sassou was born with a growth behind his right eye. As it grew, pushing against and slowly killing his eye, his father spent most of the families money on doctors to cure him, but to no avail. His teacher suggested Mercy Ships when they arrived, who quickly agreed to operate. To Sassou life is no different now to how it was before. He still can’t see out his left eye, but he no longer has a time limit of a few years on his life.

Mercy Ships cannot operate on everyone that comes to them. There are so many patients wanting care that priority must be given to those that are sure to recover successfully. So cancerous patients are not offered operations. However for a few nearby terminal patients they provide a palliative care team. In this case Ayabavi, an old lady with very late stages of cancer that started with the enormous tumour on the side of her head receives a wound change from Harriet. The team also provide painkillers, social care and advice on how to look after themselves once Mercy Ships have gone.

Lucie Amedji is also a palliative care patient, with a malignant tumour on her right eye that has spread through her body. It has been extremely painful and the painkillers that Mercy Ships provided have alone made her life bearable once again. The supply of drugs that the palliative care team provides will run out a couple of months after their last visit (which was the beginning of August 2010). The cocktail of painkillers she requires costs in the region of $60 a month. Her church community who provided much support throughout Mercy Ships’ Togo field service cannot help her financially. She earns an average of about $1 a day.

Kossi was a patient near the start of the Togo field service. Surgeons removed a large benign tumour from the side of his mouth, which was slowly suffocating him to death. His father was so grateful that he invited us to one of his services, where he is the Pastor (front figure). It was outdoors in the evening, and at just an hour very short for an African Christian service. He breathed fire and brimstone in the sermon, and the congregation, all seated in a circle got very animated towards the end of it. Kossi is the boy seated on the right in the light blue and white shirt.

Mercy Ships teamed with Bethesda of Benin, a fellow NGO, to create the Food for Life Agriculture Program. This photo is of the second graduating class so far celebrating the end of the course with traditional song and dance. They underwent a 16 week course where they learnt about biological agriculture and how to manage and market a farm. Now they not only have agricultural knowledge, tools and skills, but they can pass on their knowledge to fellow Africans to improve farming practice in their local areas.


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