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