The Hope Centre

Africa, Documentary, Mercy Ships

So a quick break from the darkness of Congolese authority and the scourges of leprosy. I have a whole back log of photographs from my time with Mercy Ships in Sierra Leone. I’ll be posting them sporadically throughout the year. Not much writing on this one, just a collection of my favourite photos from the ‘Hope Centre’. This is the off-ship building Mercy Ships uses to house patients that have a long recovery time and need extra therapy or rehabilitation. Everyone is taken very good care of here.

The painted wall mural on the walls outside the Hope Centre from when the Anastasis last visited just after the end of the Civil War.

Patients from Guinea play draughts/checkers the afternoon before they return home.

A young patient sleeps under his mosquito net in an air-conditioned ward in the Hope Centre.

A young cleft lip patient runs past the paintings made by Mercy Ministries group activities which connect non-medical crew to the patients.

Barry and Cheryl Wells run the Health Centre for half of the 24 hour shift.

The Hope Centre building was known in Freetown as Obama City. For some reason Mercy Ships decided to change it’s name…

Denise Miller leads the Mercy Ministries activities on an afternoon.

The Hope Centre is a pretty cheesy name in my opinion, but then I can’t deny that I really enjoyed the visits I had there. I only went a few times, but the hopefulness there smacked you in the face somewhat. If you walked in their off the street, whether you’re from Sierra Leone or the States you would be presented with children and adults with to be quite blunt quite alarming deformities and abnormalities to their faces, bodies and legs. But there is not even a hint of a Victorian Freak show about this place. You very quickly barely notice their physical differences because they are so happy to be there. The predictable cautiousness they have when they first enter the building evaporates within their first day – let alone the fact they are here to have life-changing surgery, they are made to feel loved from the very outset.

It’s what I love about Mercy Ships. It does cost a large amount to run the operation, and it does focus on the individual more than development, and it’s not work that Africa can make sustainable, but then sometimes it can only take one person to make a difference, and when you spend time in places like the Hope Centre you can see for yourself that every bit of effort made by the volunteer crew, and every dollar donated by those in ‘normal’ jobs back home is worth it.

NB – please look at the comments made by Mark Palmer. He is working with various off-ship programs to make sure they do have a long-lasting sustainable role in local development and training, so I take back my comments, apparently my view of Mercy Ships is much more in line with their old model which they are steering away from… excellent news.


74 thoughts on “The Hope Centre

  1. I hope you are very wrong my friend(the development and sustainability part). We in Programs are working furiously to train local health care personnel, to initiate infrastructure development and just teach Africans to take care of Africa. If Africa, or at least some parts of it can never sustain this work then I am going to die a very frustrated man or Jesus will take me before that happens. By the way you should check out the story of the Hospitality center in Togo and how they are sustaining that effort!

  2. Just as a note though. Your comment about us not being developmental is bang on looking at our old model. Our new model, just started, is much more developmental.

    1. Hi Mark, very sorry for that misinformation, and very glad to hear that so much progress is being made… I had no idea about the Togo Hospitality Centre. I’m returning to Sierra Leone in September, and will be visiting the ship every now and then so will hopefully see you around. I’ll put a note in the blog… all the best.

  3. Thanks for sharing this piece of hope! These images themselves help sustain the belief that people make change happen–that hope helps propel that effort!

    I lived in Haiti for a year and know how indemic poverty and pain impact an artist. Your expression makes me remember. It helps me hope!


  4. I am sorry, but i seem lost in this thread of comments. Especially to see comments on these photos as ‘Beautiful’, ‘Amazing’, ‘Incredible’, and above all Nice. Correct me if I am wrong. But as an African, it is unusually weird and awkward to hear others talk of these pictures with such delight when all I can see is dilapidated structures with crutches, bandages with women and children in deformed bodies. Come on guys, i can’t ask too much than avoiding such comments. Thanks

  5. I like this post. I am all in favor of helping those less fortunate. Our church supports an orphanage overseas and it make me feel as if I am doing something, even though it is only a small sacrfice. If all os us had the same idea, the world would be a far better

  6. Hope. Faith. Love. These three but the greatest of these is Love. No shortage of that there, either.

  7. Thanks for the pictures. We have developed a partnership with a village in South Africa that is all about empowering the local people to rise up and be leaders of compassion in their neighborhood. It is so discouraging sometimes to see the suffering and yet you find that there is beauty right in the middle of what seems like great pain.

  8. Thank you for telling the story. At many of our government health centers and hospitals in Africa, if you are lucky you will get paracetamol when in fact what you need is anti-malaria drugs. When you are not so lucky, you wont even get the painkiller. It is such centers that are giving hope to the people – in Uganda where I live, in Sierra Leone and many other places in the developing world.

  9. Lovely work! not only the ones who run everyday all the centre’s operations, but also who wanted to share his point of view on this regards, congrats!

  10. It’d be pretty hard for anyone to look at all these photos and not feel that odd dichotomy of awe and sorrow. The most amazing thing about places like this is how they transform the sorrow into happiness. It’s really easy to sit in a place of comfort and health to look in on this place and think how awful it must be… That’s totally missing the point of life!

    When we see people who we think must not be happy because of their deformity, or whatever the reason, it’s hard to take in when you are hit with the reality that they are actually happy!

    Being happy doesn’t depend on wealth or health or other people… it comes from inside of you (not from outside)

    Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos.

  11. Great photos great post! I especially love the little boy looking up at the drum player. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful experience and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  12. This amazing post left me awestruck! Thanks for sharing it in such a simple way. Your photos are priceless and tell such a beautiful story! I am going right now to look for a link to help the mission.

  13. Get outa here! I have a WordPress account and when I logged in I was very surprised to see you on Freshly Pressed! Tom, your photos are beautiful, and I love seeing the people I see everyday with the happiness and joy in which you’ve captured them. The Lord is moving in huge ways at the Hope Center, and I pray you are continually feeling His presence and power in your life.

    1. Rachel! Good to hear from you… guess I’m being fruitless telling you to get on facebook. Anyway, spread the word that the Hope Centre is on Freshly pressed – good bit of exposure for Mercy Ships, and from a look of a few comments it’s drawing a lot of interest. Back in September, so see you then.

  14. It’s great to come across a blog that documents your work in Africa. I’ve always wanted to travel there, but have never built up the courage to do so… the two week holiday in Kenya doesn’t count.

  15. Stunning photographs. Absolutely incredible to find such joy and resilience. The name doesn’t seem cheesy at all, it seems perfectly fitting all things considered.

  16. I guess the absence of the Victorian Freak show feel about this place is rooted in the cultural differences.Unfortunately, I have not had a chance to visit or live in any country in Africa, so my opinion is purely based on reading or classes. In any case, our African Art professor told us about her numerous trips to the continent and one of the most amazing things for her was the way people nickname their country fellows based on their differences/disabilities that are celebrated, not laughed at.

    1. I must say that nicknames are often based on differences that are celebrated, but rarely on disabilities that are celebrated. I have travelled greatly in Africa, and most of my photographic work is with the stigmatised – leprosy, epilepsy, rape victims, buruli ulcer, tumours, cleft lips, bowed legs… and they, I’m afraid do not have disabilities that are celebrated. In fact, when they are not feared for witchcraft they are often laughed at and bullied. At times this gets taken further to much more serious levels of stigmatisation.

  17. Nice picture.. they always manage to smile no matter how bad things around are going. I know it really feels coz i belong to a similar place in Africa.

  18. Wow, I just love your pictures. I spent some time in Kenya, but I wasn’t able to take nice photographs…

  19. wow tom, i know ive stumbled across this post late but thanks for sharing some inspirational photos that should really make the majority of us think about how lucky we have it in the developed world. pretty compelling stuff.

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