Saturday, 9 December 2017

more than meets the eye



It was a hot and sticky afternoon following some meetings at 4 of the major Hospitals in the capital city of Yaoundé when we retreated to an air conditioned Boulangerie for lunch and free Wifi. It’s a paradox I have become used to and one that lures and yet always feels so odd. One minute discussing how we can come alongside and address the situation of making surgery safer in Hospitals and the next sinking into the comfort of indulgence and extravagance. We walk through Hospitals which are very often in complete disrepair, in need of not just a good coat of paint but for so much more. We know that the vast majority of our world (2/3rds) simply can’t access surgical care and there we are ordering our £4 orange juice and £6 crepe.

I breathe with ease and enjoy the cool air that brings refreshment to my clammy exterior and try not to ponder too closely what that money could have bought… a life? a safe arrival of a little one? The comfort of the A/C exposes my own discomfort and it’s then that I notice the flip flopped hands.


The view itself shows the kind of neighbourhood our Boulangerie was in; fancy cars carrying more of the privileged to join me in filling their bellies with all sorts of wondrous delicacies… but it’s not all that meets the eye. There’s a guy down there, sitting on what looks like a skateboard, wizened legs folded beneath and flip flopped hands moving him along…. do you see him?



My life feels full of so many extremes – often of temeperature... but of need, of pain, of joy…



Ouessini who has spent the last few weeks having his feet straightened. Isn’t it wonderful?



Sidonie, a nurse anaesthetist, spent 2 weeks mentoring on board with us and has just completed a week on one of our anaesthesia courses – “I leave with an extraordinary experience and a feeling of harmony between anesthetists and the surgical team. All the care given to patients by doctors, most especially post operative pain management, has changed my perspective on patient care. Here, the patient is the priority.”

And Dr Jacques, a max fac surgeon who has spent a few weeks with us - “The reminder of God's presence before, during and after the activities through prayer changed my perspective on patient care. The group spirit that suddenly invades the Mercy Ships crew. Everybody tries to give the best he can give.”

Kennedy, one of our local Day Crew who translates and helps us deliver many of our training programs always responds, ‘I just can’t even explain…’ whenever I ask him how his day was. 


Valerie shared, “At first, I wasn’t sure it was me...” when she saw herself in the mirror for the first time since surgery. Her facial tumor, which has been continually growing for the past 25 years, weighed almost eight pounds when removed.


Paul, once frail and dangerously underweight, is barely recognizable now as a bouncing, chubby-cheeked baby. Thanks to the caring hands of the infant feeding program dietitians, he now weighs a whopping 6 kilograms and is on his way to being healthy enough to receive cleft lip surgery.

There’s so much more than meets the eye. And in this season when we are reminded of our waiting for Hope, for a Saviour - it’s a good reminder. I read that the Hebrew word for ‘wait’ is ‘Qavah’ and it also means to entwine or to wrap tightly. What a beautiful twist to contrast the often negative connotations that waiting brings! Waiting is more than empty hope, but a time when we actually become stronger. To entwine our purposes with His, to be wrapped tightly, to know Him better. It’s so much more than meets the eye.

To the man with flip flopped hands and folded legs, it feels empty to hope for you, but I do…  I know there’s more…

To the kid whose feet are now straight. The hopes, the dreams, the imprisoned feet now set free, the pride your parents must feel, the joy, the testimony of hope you can bring. Go and show the world that there’s more than meets the eye!

To baby Paul who will soon get his new lip. You have shown us how to get strong in the waiting. May your life display His glory. 


Behind the twinkly Christmas lights and extravagance of Christmas celebrations – there’s so much more than meets the eye. Let’s celebrate our Mighty God! Everlasting Father! Prince of Peace!

May you be wrapped, entwined and in all your waiting, may you know hope and joy.

Happy Christmas!




From ‘Seasons’ by Hillsong

I can see the promise
I can see the future
You're the God of seasons
I'm just in the winter
If all I know of harvest
Is that it's worth my patience
Then if You're not done working
God I'm not done waiting
You can see my promise
Even in the winter
Cause You're the God of greatness
Even in a manger
For all I know of seasons
Is that You take Your time
You could have saved us in a second
Instead You sent a child

Saturday, 21 October 2017

safe surgery for all 7.5 billion - now that's a magical idea

5 billion of the world's 7.5 billion people lack access to safe, affordable and timely surgery. It's why I'm here. Last April I had the opportunity to do a TEDx talk in Benin - it was their first ever TEDx event and so it was an honour for Mercy Ships to be invited to join them. You can watch my 12 minute talk here 'Safe surgery for all 7.5 billion, now that's a magical idea'. Hopefully you can't see my knees knocking in terror! If you know me well, you know I like to get mad about things so I tried to make the most of the opportunity. Me and injustice will never be friends!



Things here are shaping up. Everything MCB wise is in full swing. The WHO Checklist team are on the road and will spend the next many months training in over 30 Hospitals. The Ponseti team are doing an incredible job and it almost feels like we have been here longer than we have. We have already had discussions with the Ministry of Health about the future of clubfoot treatment in the Country and that feels thrilling to me. It's always good to feel a glimpse of combined efforts being multiplied.

Feeling encouraged, empowered and supported are all so important to me and it's great to have opportunity to be a part of that, not just within our team, but with our local partners.

The rain is slowing and the days are getting hotter... here are a few photos to give you a glimpse of life here.







35 participants started a 22 week training program in nutritional agriculture this week and they each receive a wheelbarrow! This was captured at the opening ceremony in Edea, about 1.5 hours drive from Douala. It was good to get out of the city and watch another set of hungry students embrace the opportunities ahead.


Thanks for love and support.

Love always, KWW

Sunday, 10 September 2017

We arrived!

It seems only yesterday that I was marveling at the Swiss mountains and filling my heart with the sound of cow bells and my belly with delicious cheese and wine. After a wonderful time at home followed by 4 weeks at French language school, I re-joined the ship in Gran Canaria and after a fairly smooth 13 day sail, we arrived in Douala, Cameroon. If I say it quickly, I can forget the sail, but truth is, it wasn’t my favourite time. In the past it has been fun – but for some reason, the necessary anti sea-sickness drugs made me more weary than normal and the gentle roll of the ship left me semi-comatose most days. It’s a weird feeling and somehow it exacerbated the discomfort of the transition between home and here.

We arrived in Douala, where we were then not allowed to leave the port for 5 days! The reality dawned on us that we were arriving mid rainy season and that the river we now called home was a rich muddy brown and the skies a permanent grey, with bulging rain clouds…. there was a bit of self-talk necessary… it was going to be alright. Right?





It’s now nearly been 4 weeks since we arrived and I’m slowly falling in love. The sun has shown itself at least twice (!) and Mount Cameroon even revealed itself across the river during a most beautiful sunset. Our Day Crew who help us translate pretty much all we do are fabulous. The meetings we have had with local healthcare staff have been engaging and have fanned the flames of hope that we can partner with some wonderful people and hopefully learn from each other as well as encourage and empower them to make surgery safer here in Cameroon.

                                     
                                         An all crew photo the day the clouds cleared!

If I told you there are 1.15 surgical specialists per 100,000 people (compared to 92 in the UK) with a total of 83 surgeons and 24 anaesthetic doctors for their 23.4 million people would you believe me? Because such injustice is true and it’s part of the reason 5 billion people in the world lack access to safe, affordable and timely surgical care. It’s not right.

I begin to hesitate as I lament my lack of cheese and wine and mountains. How dare I.

It’s our first time in Cameroon and I’ve been challenged once again as I consider what it means to serve, ‘the forgotten poor’. That phrase conjures up lack and somehow hails us as the heros… but what it doesn’t do is describe the rich I see before my eyes. Because somehow life at home has taught me that my lack and my discomfort of where I find myself translates to who I am and it’s how I measure my joy. I’m happy when I have stuff, a good job and when all is well but when these things are not true, I am somehow less and my joy fades. But what I notice once again is the privilege to encounter those who know far more about building for eternity than I. I notice a people who are laughing and cheering each other on despite the relentless rain, despite the holes in their roofs, despite their spoilt crops. Somehow there’s a joy that doesn’t rest itself on what they have and don’t have. It’s deeper than that and it reminds me of my distance from eternity and makes me question where my identity lies.

And so I try to find a balance between the facts – the utter injustice of lack of access to healthcare and the reality of the deep joy I see. There’s no doubt about it – God didn’t create these people to die at 53 and so it fuels my purpose and reminds me both what I have to learn and what I have to share.

What if the question to ask in suffering isn’t so much “Why this?”— but “What for?”
For such a time as now, we move into people’s suffering, so love moves right in and kicks suffering right out.
For such time as now, we tear down our fences so we can build longer tables.
For such a times as now, we show up even when it seems small because this is how we love large.
For such a time as now, we love just one, like we’d absolutely love to love everyone. Like we would love to be loved.
For such a time as now, we live shaped like a Cross, reaching right out, because this how He begins to reshape the world.
When our “Why This” is made into “What For” — we find what we were made for —made for Brave Love, for Great Givenness, for Unafraid Joy — for such a time as now.
When all our Whys fade into What Fors, our deep pain leads into out deeper purpose.
(Ann Voskamp)

As the Field Service begins, we are corporately taking time to fix our eyes on the Kingdom of God.  Here on the Africa Mercy, our managing director asked us to consider what it would look like for, ‘His Kingdom to come and His will to be done’ for us here. I love these kinds of questions because I believe that’s exactly what God is calling us to – to partner with Him, in His dreams and in His plans, as he reveals Himself through all we do.  He has not called us to run nearly 20 courses, or travel the country to over 30 different Hospitals teaching about the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist, or prepare mentoring for over 50 Surgeons, Anesthesia providers and nurses or partner with the Cameroon Clubfoot program and train people how to straighten bent feet or select over 30 participants to take part in the Food for Life program just to keep us off the streets!

We believe we have been called to strengthen local surgical capacity and to somehow affect the 5 billion people in the world who lack access to safe, timely and affordable surgical care. We want to join the efforts around the world to transform surgery globally. What an incredible opportunity.

As a team, we are praying together for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done:

  •         We hope to continue building trust with our local partners and for God’s love to be seen in all of our interactions
  •       For our Ponseti program, to not just treat patients and provide training but to help broaden understanding and support for the Cameroon Clubfoot project.
  •          We pray we can find eager participants for all our courses and those who come will also have the authority to affect change in their work place.
  •          For our Courses, we teach using a ‘Train the trainer’ model. We hope to find excellent trainers who are willing and able to take the material they learn and continue teaching once we leave.
  •          For our Mentoring programs, I would like to see us continue to build a model that truly strengthens the professionals that work alongside us. This is complex as it involves a big commitment from the individuals as well as us. We pray we can really affect change in Cameroon as participants leave us having gained new skills that will enable people to access surgery here long after we have gone and for generations to come!
  •          Using the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist is mandatory in many operating rooms across the world. We hope to have conversations that explore whether this would also be a helpful step to make surgery safer here in Cameroon.
  •          In Madagascar and Benin we have been a part of initiating discussions with the Ministry of Health to create a National Surgical Plan. Often surgery does not feature heavily in a Country’s National Health plans – because it is so complex to fix. We hope to be a part of these discussions here in Cameroon.

This is just a taste of what God has put on our hearts and we are expectant to see Him open doors for us.

                                           
                                         Me and the Medical Capacity Building Team


May His Kingdom come and His will be done!

Love always, KWW


Monday, 5 June 2017

how did that happen?

Somehow I made it home to embrace good old British summer! Transition is in progress and my fingers are blue as I type!!



I thought you might like to join me as I WOW at all that we have done these last few months in Benin!

I have to say I'm privileged to be doing my favourite job as 'Medical Capacity Building Director' - likely in my whole life I think. I feel like all my experiences up until now have been preparing me for it and have given me great insights into how to do it. Medical Capacity Building is Mercy Ships' fastest growing department and so it should be! We focus on providing training to local professionals and with 5 billion of the world's 7.5 billion people lacking access to safe and affordable surgery, I can honestly think of nothing I would rather be doing than trying to make at least a little dent in that....

We provided medical training for 1962 local medical professionals! This includes courses for anaesthesia and basic surgical skills as well as in depth training on the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist which has been shown to reduce mortality and complications by up to 50%! It's literally just a sophisticated checklist and yet when people work as a team it can dramatically transform patient safety and therefore save lives! We've also had all sorts of mentoring going on including nursing, surgeons, anaesthesia, biomed, sterile processing and Ponseti (treatment for clubfeet). With nearly 2000 people impacted by all these efforts, our teams have been busy - let's pray that seeds sown will save lives for generations to come.






We also provided free surgery to 1793 patients! Amazing!




78 Orthopaedic surgeries transforming bent legs and feet to ones that can run!









676 Cataract surgeries for 
both adults and children!




494 Max Fac surgeries!




52 Women's Health surgeries!



“I have another chance…” says Mabouba, 22, “…and it’s because of you.” Last November, Mercy Ships surgeons removed Mabouba’s life-threatening tumor. Six months later, she’s still relishing her second chance at life.  

How did that all happen?

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your love and support that makes this stuff happen!

Love always, KWW

Thursday, 25 May 2017

keep on dreaming

It was in a house just nearby in Akpakpa, Cotonou that I began dreaming big for Benin. Maybe the seeds were sewn long before, I don't know. We dreamed and we wrote lists as we felt the Holy Spirit breathe through our hearts. I was a part of the Advance team preparing for the ship to arrive in August 2014.

We allowed ourselves to fall in love with this Country. We dared to believe that mountains could be moved.

I think it was about 10 days before the ship was due to arrive that we heard it would not be coming. Ebola was spreading and we were afraid that our ship would be like a magnet attracting people in desperate need and make the situation a whole lot worse.

So you can imagine how it felt. Total disbelief. What on earth did God have in mind? What should we do with all those dreams?

And so 2 rich years later, the coast was clear and we made our way back.

A few months back, I shared some thoughts about redemption – regaining something that was lost. 

You can read the Mercy Ships statistics reports if you want to see what we’ve ‘done’. But as we all know, it is about so much more than that. Who can measure lives transformed? Who can count the seeds that have been sown? Who can know the dreams kept quietly in each of our hearts that have seen God’s powerful touch?

As we wrap up and say our goodbyes, all I can think of are the things He has redeemed.

Back in 2014 our Medical Capacity Building programs were still in their infancy – 2 years on and the people of Benin received so much more than they would have done then. Just today I met our key contact at the University Hospital and do you know what he said? He was saying thank you and I was returning my thanks… and he again returned his. I playfully said, ‘NO! It is us who are thankful!’, and with that he took a more serious tone; he told me to listen. He said that other missions come and they have compared us. He said that we are different. Others say they will do good things, but it is not always the case. Mercy Ships do what they say.

In the words of one of our local Day Crew as he shared his experience translating for our Anaesthesia mentoring participants, ‘…it’s about something so much bigger than me'.

I could tell you so much more, but what you must know is that it’s never the end of the story.

He’s always redeeming. He’s always regaining something lost. It’s who our God is.

It's been a wonderful 10 months here in Benin and now it's time to close our doors and take a chance to breathe. I will join the ship again in Gran Canaria at the end of July ready to sail to our next destination: Cameroon. But first some English fresh breezes, birdsong, friends & family and a few weeks of french study in Switzerland. 

Keep on dreaming precious friends, let His love and power invade every injustice and every thing you carry in your heart...




Saturday, 29 April 2017

He sees it all

I have a 9am alarm on my phone every day; it’s a silent one and just flashes up with the words, “He sees it all’. It’s a phrase that has brought me comfort and peace on thousands of occasions. You see, living on a ship with 400 others has its moments. Sometimes I feel trodden on, ignored, forgotten, insulted, rejected, misunderstood, tired. The fact that, ‘He sees it all’ makes all the difference. It’s clearly not all bad or I wouldn’t still be here, but you know how those feelings can steal your joy? That one phrase helps me release forgiveness and put my trust in Him over and over and over again.

Last week I visited Ouidah – a town which is not only the birth place of Voodoo but also home to the ‘Gate of no return’ which stands and testifies to 400 horrific years of slave trade. 


20 or so years ago, this was identified as a world heritage site and 2 Km of the 200Km slave route here in Benin which runs from Abomey to Ouidah has become a ‘tourist attraction’. This 2 Km has a collection of monuments and statues that tell the story and give honour to those who lost their lives. We were greeted by our guide and said a cheery hello. Not thinking, I proudly announced I was from England and wished I never had as he went on to describe how we had played such a huge part in this piece of history. In one of the statues, the people are depicted as tree trunks – to show that they were not seen as people but as pieces of wood, or as ‘a commodity’. It broke my heart.

We learned that of the millions of people who left this region previously known as Dahomey, many of them died before they even reached the slave boats. The 200Km ‘slave route’ was one of, ‘survival of the fittest’ and if you didn’t fair well from the chains around your neck, wrists and ankles – or from the open infected wounds from where the chains dug into innocent flesh; or from the scarce food or water; or from pure exhaustion - your destination was death. Only the descendants of the King were exempt from being a slave – all women, men and children were taken. We saw the site of a communal grave, 12 metres in depth, where the dead and nearly dead were put. The nearly dead were ‘useless’, so left to die with the already dead. The ones left living - the 'fit', were sold and shipped with a 1000 on each boat and they lived in cramped conditions for several weeks or months as they traversed the Atlantic when yet more died. Women were raped and babies were conceived into this cruel story. I don’t want to know that this happened and I don’t want to admit that it still happens in a million different forms today. I can only trust and know that He sees it all.

Last week I had a chat with someone about our work in Guinea. Yes that’s right – we finish here in June and head to Cameroon for 10 months in August and then after that, we will go to Guinea. My head is in 4 countries at the moment – Madagascar, Benin, Cameroon, Guinea and 5 if you include home….

Guinea – a Country which was already struggling to survive and then Ebola hit. I learned that they currently have 7 Anaesthetic doctors for the entire country. And sadly because of difficulties, they are not getting paid which leaves much of the work to the nurses. Nurses cannot prescribe and anyway, even if they could – there isn’t a functioning anaesthesia machine and except for those who have their own, there are no laryngoscopes and little in the way of drugs. That means no general anaesthesia for much of Guinea. My heart cries out at the utter injustice. Large salty tears bulge up out of my eyes and so they should. He sees it all. He has to. It’s too big for me.

And so as a sweet reminder, this week, a patient came back on board. Bignon – I told you about her before. She was born with a cleft lip and plate. A few months back she had her lip fixed and now she’s ready for her palate to be fixed too. Bignon – her name means, ‘all God does is good’. In the face of brokenness and almost guaranteed rejection, her mum and dad decided to call their sweet little bundle, ‘all God does is good’. They must have known He sees it all.


And oh the peace that brings. May you know it too. 

Love always KWW xx



these legs now run!




3 siblings all have cataract surgery: these eyes can now see!




these feet have new paths to walk on!



Sunday, 12 March 2017

baby girl

I've just spent 2 wonderful weeks in Madagascar. Truly fabulous. My task was to take a close look at some of the projects that we were a part of these last couple of years and to see how they are doing. What went well? What didn't go so well? And what could we do better next time? I prayed that these questions would be wrapped in humility and love. That their delivery would go deeper than the reports that would be produced and that somehow some more love would be deposited in this sweet country. It's rich culture and breath taking landscape is a reflection of some of the beautiful hearts I have met. The trip was not without its challenges and cultural mountains to climb. In 2 weeks I think I slept (or tried to) in 9 different beds and I took 11 flights from beginning to end. It was a privilege and a joy to see many successes, but one of my biggest take homes.... I just wish we could do more. Obedience is one thing. Not turning a blind eye to the need is commendable. True. But the need is vast and we are a drop in the ocean. So we keep on dripping and learning along the way....


Madagascar by air... for some reason the photos simply won't behave and sit right... I'm sorry....








We were a team of 3 and our plan was to visit 16 of the Regional Hospitals throughout the country in which we’d given some training during our 2 years in Madagascar. I was there to launch these evaluation efforts and they will continue for 2 weeks after I leave. All of our medical capacity building efforts share one common goal; to make surgery safer and we wanted to see how we had done. Five billion (yes, five billion) people lack access to safe, affordable and timely surgery worldwide and we are trying to do at least something to set the balance right.  Getting around Madagascar is no small feat, so we partnered together with MAF, who expertly deposited us in places it would otherwise take days to reach. In one of our hospital visits, I had the privilege of watching new life being born….



Oh baby girl, I doubt you will ever know how things were on the day you were born. I wish you could have seen your mum. She was so brave. I saw her wheeled into the operating room. She didn't even look like she was in labour to me; she lay flat and still and with her dark brown eyes wide open. I can't imagine the fear in her heart. I tried to let my eyes lock with hers - to let her know that the white girl was no threat - but I'm not sure what she was thinking. You'd been trying to get out for many hours and so they decided to do a C-section. I'm glad you were in the right place - it's not easy to get to a hospital in your country and just a few days before, I heard of someone being carried on foot 87Kms to reach surgical care. 87Kms. On foot. It's difficult to build roads with so many obstacles in the way – not just physical, but everything else too.

Your mum lay waiting in the operating room, exposed, vulnerable and alone. I was wondering why the wait was so long and then it dawned on me; your family must have been busy out there gathering money to buy the supplies for the surgery to start. Finally, a brown cardboard box arrived containing some needles and fluids and other supplies that the team would need to keep you and your mum safe. The anaesthetist prepared to give your mum a spinal anesthetic. She gracefully bent forward and let him do his thing. Not a whimper. Not even a wince of her face. She was so brave. I wanted to hold her hand and let her know everything was going to be alright. But the blue drape hid her face and, as she lay behind it, the team began the task of preparing for your escape.

Your mums belly looked pretty small tucked inside her petite Malagasy figure, but you popped out a healthy size and you even had a few folds of skin wrapping a little flesh; your mum had been feeding you well. What a shock for you to feel the cool air and bright lights. I didn't hear anything, but your legs kicked and your hand gave a wave. After a few seconds you gave a cry and I could feel the relief in the room. All was well with you, precious girl. A midwife whipped you away whilst the team closed up your emergency exit. You'd made it.

I went to your mum and told her she was brave and gave my congratulations. I'm not sure she understood what I said but I hope she could tell from my eyes that it was a message of love. I hate to think I added to her fear. I was simply there to observe the team in action and they did great. I saw some equipment that we had donated in use. It measured your mum’s oxygen levels and helped the team get any warning signs of things going wrong. We hadn’t done much, but we hoped to make surgery safer - for you, precious baby girl.

You were born on International women's day and as I sat pondering the privilege of witnessing your first few miracle breaths of life, I prayed over you. I prayed that you would be a woman of courage. A woman who would stand for justice. A woman who would be instrumental in changing health care in your country. It's not all down to you, baby girl, don't worry. But I pray that you will grow up and one day acknowledge the bravery of your sweet mother that day and be inspired, just as I was. She could have died, you know - and she was all alone. She just braved it all.

And meanwhile a storm was brewing. Not only have you been born into a culture where accessing health care is so impossible and one where even the pesky mosquitos are out to get you, but one where tropical storms hit too. We drove away from the hospital with a cyclone circling and watched as the looming clouds descended. As we drove, we saw rice fields drowning under inches of rain and we heard stories of destroyed homes and lives lost.





Oh baby girl, this isn't fair for you. What if we could trade places? What if I could be the one under the leaking roof and you be the one tucked up in my cosy guest house? I don't know why it should be me and not you. I'm sorry. But let's both be brave, OK? Let's both stand for what's right. Let's be brave when it feels scary. Let's be women who know that they are beautifully and wonderfully made and walk in the confidence of that. Let's remember that we were created for a purpose. Let's not be defeated - we've each got battles, baby girl. Some people will be kind and others will simply try to make us small, but let’s embrace God’s empowering grace and stand to fight and let Him work it altogether for His glory. We will have bruises, no doubt, and likely some scars. But we will fight for justice, OK? There will be no haves and have nots. We will dream big and we will call heaven down to earth and encourage others to do the same. OK?

I can’t wait to hear your stories. May justice reign and beauty transcend all the brokenness in-between.

Love always, KWW