Thursday, 17 November 2016


It was late in the afternoon and I was embracing the heat. It appears there is no ‘cool of the day’ here in Benin. Meltingly hot, I found myself attending a ceremony for a man I had come to know, to receive one of the highest honours in his Country: For service to his nation, by order of the President. The usual ‘protocol’ was observed – hierarchy is important here - and I listened in awe at his lists of achievements for health care in Benin. A true hero. As the heat sapped the life out of me, I wondered if I could have done it – if I could have got out of bed every morning to 99% humidity and to a workplace where my love for people was bound within limits I could not control. I wondered how his compassion hadn’t died or faded to apathy. Maybe it had somedays. Anyways… his turn came to return the speech. My ears cling to every word and I do my best to follow without making my own story up… ‘Merci a Dieu – notre Dieu insondable….’… the room rippled with soft and heartfelt ‘Amen’s’. Something had been said and I needed to know what it was. Something in the room had woken up.

I scrabbled for my dictionary…. Insondable. ‘unfathomable’. Now I get it. He was talking of our unfathomable God. And everyone agreed.

I’ve had the privilege of spending a few hours on some of the wards we are doing mentoring projects on this last couple of weeks. It fills my heart. I wonder how the nurse so ably does 7 dressings on the trot, with one single sterile dressing tray and somehow keeps it (pretty much) sterile for all 7 patients. I wonder at hours spent folding pieces of gauze, cut from big rolls of it… because the pre packs cost way too much. I wonder how their skilled hands twist and fold to make dressings I thought only Johnson and Johnson knew how to create. I hear the cries of young children in pain because their parents can’t afford the pain killers they need. I watch a mothers head drop to the floor as she awaits her child’s dressing, only to be told they cannot do it because she cannot afford the supplies and the wound stays dirty.

I can’t even take it. Unfathomable. In the wrong sense of the word.

What on Earth gave me the right to be born in a Country where we lavishly throw many of these things away? Where we tidy away half open packets of gauze in the bin and buy Paracetamol for 16p. Why should it be so? How can it be OK? It’s not. And it should wrench my heart and make me want to scream. That is OK. That is the only right response.

And yet our God is unfathomable. These people who have so little are the happiest I know. They giggle about Yovos (White people) trying to say their names and they generously offer me a bite of their lunch. They make me feel alive and they remind me that our God is unfathomable. They know it more than I, and I am jealous of that. They know they have nothing else. They have nothing. Yes, I am jealous of that. Unfathomable.

I’m going home in a few weeks for Christmas and I don’t know if I can do it. I want to see nature and breathe fresh breezes. I want to see friends and hug family tight. But please don’t make me face the reality that I do not know my unfathomable God as well as my friends here do. Please don’t let me get distracted with stuff and wrap myself in control and fear.

Please instead sweep me up in an awe – of your great grace, of your great love, of the beauty of your birth and your gift of eternity. Overwhelm me in that and allow me to love generously. Allow me the gift of being loved generously too. I long for those things.

And let my unfathomable God be seen for who He is.

In awe and love always, KWW

Sunday, 6 November 2016

all God does is good

It's been a whirl of a few months - after a fantastically restful break over the summer, I rejoined my floating home in late July in Durban. From there, we set sail for Cape Town where we spent a few days. If you have never been - well, you must. Table Mountain stands majestically above the city skyline, as the Africa Mercy takes its home on the Waterfront harbour. For me, it was a time of rest, refueling and a little bit of planning for the months ahead. From there we took a 10 day sail to our new home in Cotonou, Benin.

I'm in a new season now and have moved from Hospital Director to Medical Capacity Building Director. I wanted to get my hands dirty in a different way and have the opportunity to get involved with the training side of what we do. 

This is me with my Medical Capacity Building team. As a team, our goal is to support and strengthen the local surgical health system from grassroots to Government in the most impactful way. Ambitious, aren't we?!

This is what we hope to provide:

·        High quality medical education programs and quality improvement initiatives which include courses and mentoring in the areas of Anaesthesia, Surgeon mentoring, Surgical Nursing – Ward and OR, Biomed, Ponseti and Nutrition (Food for life).

·        Targeted donations
·        Targeted Infrastructure projects
·        Support to the Government to influence policy development such as implementation of WHO Safe Surgical Checklist and National Surgical Plans
·        Data collection for use in research and impact evaluation

It's an honour to be a part of creating and building a 'lasting impact'.

I'm still keen to keep my hand in the clinical side of things we do, particularly in relation to quality and evaluation. One of my favourite events of the last few months, was the surgical evaluation days we held for patients who we provided surgery for here in Benin back in 2009. It's not often we get the chance to re-connect, to check on how people are doing, to encourage, love, laugh, to learn what went well and what we could have done better. In fact, there aren't many people or organisations in the world who do such a thing. Patients were surprised as we showed them photos of what they looked like back in 2009 and were, without a doubt, touched by the fact that we cared enough to dig out their phone numbers and hunt them down from so long ago. Below, Dr Gary Parker - our Max Fac surgeon of nearly 30 years, reconnects with some long lost friends..

And for the patients who still have life transforming surgery to come, here's a small glimpse of some of the beauties we have lined up....

The twinkle in her eyes would never tell you of her twisted feet beneath....

Same for this little one...

Like so many of the people we get the privilege of caring for, I just love to watch the transformation. It's a delight to look beyond their eyes and to let them know that we see them as more than meets the eye. Treasured children, wonderfully and fearfully made.

One such treasure with who is in our line up with a Cleft lip is called 'Bignon'. Some born with such disfigurements are rejected and spend their lives fighting to be known - worse, even thrown away. But you know what Bignon means? 'All God does is good' - her mum and dad knew there was more to their treasure than a funky lip.

And with that thought, my friends, I will leave you.

All God does is good.

Check out this incredible short video....

Love always, KWW

Saturday, 28 May 2016


We all know what happens when you put a plant by the window, it grows towards the light. I’m looking at a plant doing that right now. Its leaves are, literally, stretched towards the light. It’s like they couldn’t get any closer if they tried. They are desperate for it. Desperate for a taste of life.

Just yesterday I turned the plant around. I faced it towards the wall, back towards the light, ‘face’ towards… not very much. Nothing life giving, anyway. And, do you know – it was only a few hours before I could see those leaves turning back towards the light. They simply cannot bear to be away from it. They just can’t do it. They’re desperate.

I wish I looked like that. I wish you could look at me and see me desperate. Desperately turned towards the light. I wish,  if you took me on a good day and stripped away all that was good and picked me up and turned me away from the light – I wish, I wish you would find me desperately turning back towards the light.

I wish, if we found ourselves in some lifeless conversation… if we felt like death had got it’s hold… if things were being torn down or gossip was spreading its infective spew, if light was not present and hopelessness was staring right at us… I wish, I wish I could be the one to pick up my chair and put my back to the darkness. I wish you could see me stretching towards light, towards truth and grace. If only I was like those sun worshippers - their care and attention to make sure that sunlight reaches every part – that not a minute is wasted in the shade of a passing cloud. I wish my heart was so attentive. I wish it would shudder at the hint of darkness and find its place in the light. I wish.

And yet sometimes, I just sit staring at the darkness. For hours. Or days. I sit lifeless. I seem to feed on it. And funnily enough, I get weak. We don’t do so well without the light.

Sometimes a friend along the journey comes and shares some light and before you know it, you feel life seeping back again.

But sometimes there’s a humongous choice. Sometimes I have to actually get up, intentionally turn myself around and look for the light….

And then other times, light and life descend from nowhere.

The glistening twinkles of sunlight falling on the ocean blue, the crashing waves at 501, the chirping bird high above in a tree, the riches you find in so called poverty, the redemptive song that fills the Hospital corridors, the hope that literally shines through blood soaked bandages and casted legs or the thought that maybe, after nearly 2 years on this beautiful island, we did make a difference… sometimes light and life just seep back in.

917 Max Fac Surgeries
473 Women’s Health Surgeries
238 Plastic Surgeries
817 General Surgeries
162 Paediatric Orthopaedic Surgeries
Over 12,000 Dental patients

Light into darkness for 1000s of lives. 10s of 1000s of collective years of suffering. Ended.

Not to mention the 1000s trained and mentored in ways that will enhance their ability to provide safe surgical care to thousands more.

Or the surgical clinic that was renovated and filled with expertly trained Malagasy nurses who will go on to treat some of the 2,000 new cases of obstetric fistula that will form their ugly selves here in the coming year. Light sometimes looks like hope. Justice even.

Madagascar’s population is one of the poorest globally and there are approximately 15,000 children and adults disabled from clubfoot, with an estimated 1,000 children born here with the condition each year. The cost of treatment is often prohibitive for many families with an average income.  And so what a joy to be a part of Tamatave’s first ever clubfoot clinic born right here –  and with the support of International NGO, Miraclefeet, the work will go on for years to come. These beautiful feet will turn to the light. They will know what it is to walk and run and play… they will do the things they were created for. Light sometimes looks like redemption. Like new feet dancing in the rain.

What beauty He lets us hold.

And so, as we close our time here on this rich island of Madagascar, we are already in full swing with plans for Benin. The hope we promised in 2014 that got snatched by the scare of Ebola will be restored this coming August. We will deliver the package of light with care. It will be generous, it will be full of love and, I pray, will deposit oodles of light into 1000s of more lives.

May we turn to the light. Desperate.

And, until the day comes when we don’t need to stretch anymore, may you be found drenched in the restorative, hope filled power of light.

Love. KWW

This is me with my incredible Hospital Leadership Team

Check out these beautiful short videos if you want to see some more....

New feet

new life

new freedom

Thanks for letting us share in your beauty, Madagascar xxx

Saturday, 19 March 2016

love ripples

Did you know that love ripples? 

It seems it’s well understood here in Madagascar. You will have seen so many examples of it through other Mercy Ship blog posts –  Medical Capacity Building, patients who have had surgery, the 7000 something who have had dental care… there are plenty of examples of love poured out.

But did you know it rippled? Its effects don’t just stop where you pour it out.

A few weeks ago, I met with a senior lady from UNFPA – the organization who are helping us find and transport ladies who have obstetric fistulas that need repairing.  I met them to address a few issues and it was enlightening to hear their stories. We see the part that’s in front of our eyes and, sometimes, we can easily forget the rest. The part that involves finding the ladies – literally searching for them, talking to them, trying to convince them that this big white ship is a safe place to come. The part that involves gathering names and arranging bus loads of ladies to come for screening – helping them find a route to the nearest town, over nonexistent bridges and rivers that are swollen from the rains… and when the day to send the bus towards the ship comes, convincing the ones who are too scared to come, to climb aboard. It’s humbling to see the collaborative work that we are privileged to be a part of. And it was interesting to see how the ‘issues’ I had come to address, slowly became not so big when I began to understand their story. It’s a phrase our very own Group Managing Director Donovan Palmer has put in my head – ‘seek to understand’ –  and his wise words stood me well.

At the end of this conversation, the doctor who coordinates all these crazy logistics said to me… ‘when one of the ladies returned to the village after her surgery, the village elder asked me: how come she’s so strong?’  – he explained, ‘ not in her body, I know she’s healed. I mean – how come her spirit is so strong?’. I opened my mouth to answer but didn’t get the chance before the lady from UNFPA jumped in to explain that she had looked at our website and realised that we don't just care about physical healing but about healing of the soul as well. She said that she realised that the most important thing Mercy Ships could bring to Madagascar was love. She said that there are ladies far away in the south of Madagascar who could have the opportunity to have surgery closer to home but they have refused because they want to come to Tamatave. She flung her arms in a big embrace and said, ‘it is like they know they will be surrounded by love if they come to you....’.

Love ripples.

And even in the painful circumstances of the young girl who passed away last week, love rippled. It did.

I saw it in the dedicated care of those whose skilled hands cared for her. I saw it in the Community. I saw it in the way every department offered their help. I saw it in the feedback from a missionary who lives not so far from the young girl’s village (at least 4 days by road from us): ‘… Her mum told me, through tears, how well you cared for them throughout their time on board. Her uncle told us that you did so much for them, not least making all the transport arrangements (4x4, MAF, Helimission…) and that you didn’t ask them to pay anything.  They also told me that the family and the village elders expressed much appreciation for all that you did for them in getting them back home, and the word they used was fitiavana (love); in doing all these things you have shown your love for this dear family, and by doing that you have shown many more people the love of God in you’. 

Let’s keep loving and may it ripple far and wide – in our own hearts, in our Community, in Madagascar and far beyond.

“A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)