Meeting Hawa

by Pierre, Geneva, Switzerland
Long-term Volunteer

Adventure in Africa

When I first saw the ship, I had a very deep inside feeling. I boarded the Anastasis in Cape Town, South Africa on a Sunday, at the end of her public relations tour. Three days later, the Mercy Ship began a 10-day sail to return to Liberia, West Africa.

My job onboard was in the Renovations department, helping to keep the aging former cruise ship functional for the more than 300 volunteers living onboard.

While we sailed and docked in Liberia, I spent hours chipping and painting to help renovate a section of cabins on C-deck that will house 16 nurses at a time. It was an amazing three weeks for me - full of emotions and many wonderful new friends. It felt like being at home.

A Chance Encounter

Hawa and her father, waiting to hear if Mercy Ships surgeons can operate her.

The day before I left, they held the first medical screening in Liberia. As one of the non-medical crew, I signed up as a volunteer to help. The night before the screening, they announced that due to election demonstrations, not all of the volunteers would be able to go. Disappointed, I prepared to spend my Saturday onboard instead.

That afternoon I happened to be near the ship’s gangway when they announced there was a Land Rover going back to the screening site and they had space for just one volunteer. So I went.

When I got into the Land Rover, I saw a sight I will never forget. In the seat next to me was a grotesque mass of flesh spilling out of where a mouth would be, and behind it, the eyes of a beautiful little girl.

I felt no shock, no repulsion - only compassion. When she took my hand, I had no words. I don’t know what happened between us, but I fell in love with the spirt of this brave little seven-year-old girl. I led her into the screening hospital to see the surgeons. It took several hours of tests before they determined that her tumour was not malignant, and accepted her for surgery.

Hawa and her father were admitted to the ship’s hospital the day I left. I visited them in the ward, and again I held the hand of this girl who could not speak, while I had a long conversation with her father.

Hawa's Miracle

Hawa during her recovery on board the ship
Hawa (middle) 2 years after her successful operation

Back home I anxiously awaited emails from friends on the ship updating me on Hawa’s condition.

They told me that when she looked at herself for the first time in the mirror, she began to weakly speak over and over, „Hawa is beautiful, Hawa is beautiful.“
Hawa can now speak. Soon she will be able to go to school. It is amazing that I was there that Saturday by the gangway at just the right time. It is amazing that I was the one to sit next to her, and hold her hand.

I volunteered with Mercy Ships because I wanted to help change lives. Hawa's life was indeed forever changed. And so was mine.

Pierre