Little Rosella's cleft lip meant she couldn’t eat, talk or smile like any other girl.
The overwhelming reality is that many people in Madagascar do not have access to medical care. For those living in remote areas, the doctor rarely (if ever) comes and the hospital is far away. This can make a curable illness fatal or a disfigurement permanent.
For those wanting to help, the scale of the need sometimes creates a feeling of desperation - a natural feeling to want to do more.
The vast, hilly landscape in rural Madagascar. Photo credit: Ruben Plomp
Ever since Mercy Ships floating hospital docked at Madagascar, MAF has partnered with them to make sure that as many people as possible are able to benefit from the ship's well-equipped hospital set up, and not just the nearby community.
With MAF’s help, the Mercy Ships assessment team examined prospective patients in 11 cities all over the island, many more than usual. Even still, people in hard-to-reach villages – where the need is often greatest – would have found it impossible to benefit were it not for MAF's pilots flying the medical team from the cities to remote communities for screenings and bringing patients to the ship for treatment.
Ruben Plomp, one of the screening team, contemplates what this means. ‘I look at Rosella, so serene, resting on my lap. She’ll probably never understand how her life could have been very different. How small her chances were of being chosen out of the millions here in Madagascar to step on-board an airplane, fly to a ship and get a free surgery’.
Ruben Plomp of Mercy Ships on an MAF flight.
MAF flies regularly to Rosella’s village, Bekodoka which is a 6-day journey by ox cart from Mahajanga, a city in north-western Madagascar. She was one of several patients there needing help.
Knowing the need, MAF was able to provide the transport for the teams to make this extra screening in the remote village. It would have been impossible for prospective patients to make such a long journey to Mahajanga for assessment overland.
Mercy Ships' screen team arrive in Bekodoka. Photo credit: Ruben Plomp
‘It was great teamwork!’ enthused MAF Programme Manager Bert van den Bosch.
'MAF’s partner Philadelphie, who provides healthcare in the area, organised the screening, Mercy Ships conducted the assessments, MAF flew the teams to the village, and Helimission flew an evangelistic team to the surrounding villages to bring the Gospel. After the screening, MAF flew the patients and the screening team to the ship and brought the patients back home afterwards.’
Between screening and having her surgery, Rosella, had to get stronger. Malnutrition is rife in Madagascar, weakening the immune system and stunting the growth of too many young children. While she waited, Rosella and her mother were cared for by the Mercy Ships' team, a kindness for which the team are fully prepared with facilities for hosting family both before and after procedures are carried out.
Rosella and her mum. Photo credit: Ruben Plomp
The surgery was performed as soon she was well enough and Rosella and her mother were brought back home to Bekodoka by MAF Pilot Rebecca Dillingham accompanied, by Ruben, who held Rosella on his lap throughout the flight. He described what he saw when the MAF plane landed in Bekodoka:
‘After two months of not being in contact with anyone from home, Rosella and her mother step off the plane to the sight of her father waiting on the dusty airstrip. Rosella’s father had spent his morning making the long, five-hour walk from their home, and we now witness him being rewarded with what his heart has yearned for so long – seeing his little girl’s lips restored.’
Trust and hope
Ruben continues, ‘Before they begin their journey back home, we are invited into the local clinic, where the village elder thanks us. He asks if we can help more people. It’s like their trust has grown; they see that our help really does have a positive impact on their community. I thank the people for putting their trust in us. It takes a lot of courage to step on board into an unfamiliar world, full of unfamiliar people.’
‘As for Rosella’, Ruben concludes, ‘she can now smile like any other little girl, she can eat how she’s supposed to eat. Hopefully one day, with her lips that can now form words like it’s supposed to, she’ll tell other people that there is something called hope.’