Sandrins can wear shoes for the first time in years after having surgery onboard Mercy Ships to correct a club foot.  ©Mercy Ships / credit:Tanya Sierra 

On World Humanitarian Day, Mercy Ships celebrates students in Africa who can return to school because they received surgeries to remove tumors, straighten crooked feet, repair cleft lips or correct other maladies that once made them outcasts.

Garden Valley – On this World Humanitarian Day, Mercy Ships celebrates helping students go back to school. The back-to-school season often means new clothes, new shoes, and backpacks full of supplies. But, for children in Africa, just being able to attend school is often a dream. That opportunity is frequently denied because they have physical abnormalities, such as cleft lips, large facial tumors, bowed legs, “knocked knees,” etc.  Mercy Ships provides surgeries to correct these conditions, thus allowing children to return to school.

Mercy Ships provided free surgeries for 846 children in Madagascar. One of those children was a young girl named Sandrins, who could not attend school due to a club foot. Her mother Lydia had carried her over three miles each way to attend classes. But by the time Sandrins was eight years old, she was too heavy for her mother to carry. The little girl’s twisted right foot was too painful for her to walk to school, so she was forced to drop out. Each day she watched sadly as her twin sister went to school without her.

“I would like to see her go to school. I want to give her the chance to run with the other children. To see her walking like every child! That’s my motivation!” Lydia said.

One day she heard a radio announcement that Mercy Ships was providing free surgeries in Madagascar. Daring to hope, she took Sandrins to a medical screening. Two surgeries and months of physical therapy later, her daughter’s foot was restored.

After Sandrins’ recovery, Lydia remarked, “Now she can play with her friends. She is going to school. She is accepted.” Now Sandrins will receive a good education that will help her build a future, and she is healthy enough to play with other children. Parents all over the world can identify with Lydia’s delight in her daughter’s brighter future.

During two field services from 2014 to 2016, the 400 volunteer crew members on the Mercy Ships state-of-the-art floating hospital provided 2,951 free life-changing surgeries, 15,974 dental encounters, and taught healthcare courses to 1,882 healthcare professionals including surgeons, anesthesia providers, doctors and nurses. These courses improved surgical and healthcare outcomes in Madagascar’s hospitals – positive outcomes that have continued after the departure of the Mercy Ship.

Mercy Ships will spend the next ten months in Cotonou, Benin, where the volunteer crew anticipate providing over 1,700 life-changing surgeries and helping more school-aged children return to classes.