Monday, May 31, 2010

What does Mercy Ships do?

The simple concept is that Mercy Ships provides free medical care to the forgotten poor of Western Africa. But we can’t possibly help everyone. There are specific programs onboard that serve specific needs, so here are a few more details on the services Mercy Ships offers:

Orthopedic Care: Helping straighten crooked legs, arms and other deformities

Tumor Removal: Most tumors seen in Africa are not removed early, and therefore can grow to massive proportions before patients have them removed. We call them Max Fax patients here on the ship.

Eye Care: Blindness, cataracts---Dr. Glenn Strauss from Tyler does an amazing job with the eye team here---patients are in and out in no time!

Dental Care: We have a fabulous off-sight clinic where they screen and perform extractions and other procedures.

Plastic Surgery: Skin grafts and other surgical repairs needed for burn victims or other patients who have been involved in accidents.

VVF, or childbirth injuries: The VVF ladies are here now, and I will go in more depth on this in a later post. The VVF women will truly melt your heart.

Cleft lip and palate: These children require a quick and easy surgery to make them look normal again.

There are many Off-Ship programs where we send teams into the towns and villages to educate the people on various initiatives. Clinics are held and programs are set up to spread knowledge among the people so that when the Africa Mercy leaves Togo, the good deeds will continue on. Things like Medical training and mentoring, Community Health Education, the Food for Life program (agriculture) and Clean water and sanitation programs.

Here are a few pictures taken by the wonderful PR team photographers to show Mercy Ships in action!

Kids at the hospitality center who are healing from having Ortho surgery---getting some straight legs!!

This is Aissa, quite the celebrity patient around the ship. She had many surgeries to get her to this point, but she has a brand new face :)

This is Abel. Though his legs were crooked as can be, he was the goalie of his soccer team! Now his legs are straight as an arrow, and he can't wait to ride a bike for the first time.

Lawson makes an amazing transformation when the tumor in his mouth is removed.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Komi's Story

Not many children growing up in Togo have big plans for themselves. Some may want to be a farmer like their parents. Some may want to become a builder or a seamstress. But it is pretty rare that a child growing up in Togo aspires to be a doctor.
Twelve year old Komi is appreciative of the medical care he has received with Mercy Ships. “Because of the way that they took care of me here,” he says, “I want to take care of others in that way. I am the lucky one. I want to be a doctor like them.”
Komi arrived to the screening in Togo with a large growth on his neck. It was a thyroid tumor that had been growing in size for 5 years.
“When I first noticed it,” his mother remembers, “I wondered what it was. I did everything in my power to stop it, but I had no money to go to the hospital.”
Maulowé, Komi’s mother, was busy taking care of her four children and was cooking and selling food on the side of the road to provide shelter and clothing for her family. Komi, a triplet, has 2 sisters his same age and a younger brother.
Regarding her pregnancy with triplets, Maulowé comments, “I did not know I had 3 babies inside me. When I went into labor, I still did not know. Then, when they were born, I had three mouths to feed and I was overwhelmed.”
Sever years passed and Maulowé’s husband died, Komi’s tumor grew larger, and then she got malaria. Life for her family was extremely difficult.
Maulowé received a call from her brother that lived in Lomé. He told her about a hospital ship that was docked at the port, and they could help Komi. Because the mother was sick, Komi went to the screening accompanied by his uncle. Komi was approved for surgery and given a date to return to the ship.
In the meantime, Maulowé recovered from malaria and was able to come to the Africa Mercy with her son. Their stay has been short, but life changing. Dr. Gary Parker performed the surgery on Komi’s thyroid tumor and now it is completely gone.
Komi informed his nurse that the one thing he is looking forward to when he gets home is going back to school. “I want to play soccer with my friends,” he says. “They will no longer be scared of me.”
Maulowé sits next to Komi beaming. She was forced to take Komi out of school because the other children were afraid of him. They thought the devil was inside him and that is why he looked so different. Now she knows that he will be able to attend school and be a normal kid.
“I am so grateful for the nurses and doctors at Mercy Ships. May God bless you all.”
With smiles on their faces, Maulowé and Komi walk hand-in-hand out of the port and into the city. Mercy Ships has touched a life, and given him a dream of becoming a doctor. We can only hope and pray that his dream comes true.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Adventure #1: Getting to Togo

On May 14, 2010 I boarded a plane for Paris and that’s when the REAL adventure started…

That day in DFW there were terrible storms. Rain pouring so hard I had to pull off I-20 because I couldn’t see the road! I was gripping the steering wheel hard because I was running late, and I couldn’t miss my flight to Africa!! I’d been waiting so long for this!!

By the time I got to Terminal D they informed me the flight was delayed 2 hours [bummer #1 of the trip]. Thank the Lord, I could breathe again. I had one last drink with Deeds at the DFW Hyatt….here you can see me remembering to take my malaria pill

(note from Danny Bolger: don’t get malaria, that would be a trip downer).

On to Paris I go!! I arrive with 40 minutes to get to my next plane. Not exactly the 5 hour layover I was expecting.
I RUN through Charles de Gaulle to get to the shuttle to take me to my terminal. “Every 20 minutes,” it says the shuttle comes. 35 minutes later, I watch my departure time tick away on my watch. Bummer #2.

I work with an Air France agent for an entire hour before she tells me that she cannot rebook me, and it looks as though I have to purchase another plane ticket. Excuse me?! I’m a missionary, ma’am. Missionaries can’t afford another ticket. Bummer #3

Two hours drag by as the baggage department searches for my lost luggage. Finally, it is located. I have all my belongings; I just need a ticket to Lomé. Sigh.
I talk to a very nice agent who rebooks me through Casablanca, arriving in Lomé at 5am Monday morning. I’m ecstatic, and he even tells me its FREE! Praise the Lord.

Into the city I go!! Its about 5pm now, and I have a full 24 hours to enjoy Paris. Booked a quaint little hotel in the 6th arr. and got out to explore the city! Below are a few pics from my brief stay in the City of Lights.

St. Germain des Pres Church
Pond at Luxembourg Gardens

Luxembourg Palace

Inviting little outdoor shop, a pop of color along the sidewalk

Photograph exhibition on the outer gate of Luxembourg Gardens

The River Seine

I decide it’s necessary to get to the airport 4 hours early, just in case any complications arise. I take the metro to CDG and begin the waiting game. I FINALLY board the plane bound for Casablanca. My layover there is about 1.5 hours. But before we take off we sit on the runway for 45 minutes. Are you kidding me?? This cannot be happening. bummer #4
The stewardesses let me move up to first class for the last 15 minutes of the flight so I can, once again, run to my gate. We land in Casablanca and when I get to my gate, there is not a soul there. I was 5 minutes late, and it was gone :(

Reality Check: I am the only white girl in this airport, its midnight, I’ve missed my second plane, I don’t even know what language they speak here and my father has told me not to leave the airport under any circumstances. Options: sleep on the floor in the airport, or go find a hotel.

I don’t think I’m cut out for this.

Defeated, and on the verge of tears, I go to rebook my ticket. When I finally reach the front of the line, the agent looks at me like I’m crazy. “Your flight leaves in 20 minutes,” he says. What?? So. Confused. Then I get it---turns out there was a TIME CHANGE I was unaware of and I didn’t miss my flight after all!!

I ran to my gate, and they were boarding the plane! I have never been so excited to board a plane with 100 Africans who don’t smell so good for a 5 hour trip to arrive in a third world country. God knew I wouldn’t survive if I had to stay in Casablanca for the night, so he helped me out on that one!!

At 5am, 3 days and 5 time zones later, I walk off the plane in Lomé feeling exhausted, sweaty and mentally drained but so relieved to finally be here. My bag didn’t make it [bummer #5], but I didn’t care. I walk through the door and see Lewis Swann standing on the other side and I simply look at him and say, “I need a hug."

From a world traveller whom I know well:
“Your plane debacle will be something you remember forever. You have officially stepped into the big leagues of 'shit country' travel!! No more Ritz for my little Claire.”
Well said, Woodward.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Claire, Why are you in Africa?

It dawned on me that I should probably inform my readers (all 5 of them) why am I in Africa.

When I went to get my MBA I had 2 goals:
1) To learn more about business and open some doors, and
2) To figure out what I want to do with my life.

I can say with 100% certainty that I achieved both of those goals. While at TCU I worked with Catholic Charities Diocese of Fort Worth and it is an amazing organization. That experience really inspired me to work for a non-profit.

Also, while at TCU, I was able to go on 2 wicked study abroad trips, one of which was in Cape Town, South Africa with Dr. Garry Bruton. That trip truly changed my life. After I returned home, I knew I wanted to work for a non-profit organization with an international aspect—particularly in Africa. (below are a few pics from the trip...)

The South Africa crew about to head to seal island.

Sunset at Camps bay, 12 Apostles (name of the mountains) in the background.

Safari Time!

From the over-look in Khyaelitsha, a township outside of Cape Town.

Enter Mercy Ships. I heard about Mercy Ships growing up in Tyler, but I didn’t know much about it. I visited their International Operations Center (or, the IOC) and was blown away at how many nationalities were represented on this beautiful campus in Van, TX [of all places!]. I met with the marketing director, and told her I wanted to work on the ship. Initially, she said that there were no marketing positions until Jan. 2011. Bummed out, I continued to search for jobs as graduation quickly approached.

The first week of April I received a call from Mercy Ships saying that they have a position for me on the ship as a writer! I was blown away. The catch? It’s for 3 months, and we need you May 1!

Shocked and speechless I was running through the list of things I had to do before I could leave, and GRADUATION was at the top of that list!! I worked things out so that I could leave a week after my graduation. The next 4 weeks was filled with wrapping up school, packing my apartment, preparing for Africa, getting immunizations, plane ticket, brushing up on my French, graduating and then moving all my belongings to Tyler.

On May 14 I boarded a plane for Paris and that’s when the real adventure started…..

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

10 things I've learned in the first week

I have officially been in Togo for 7 days now. Adjustment has been a bit difficult, but I'm finally getting the hang of community living!

A few things to note regarding living on a Hospital Ship in Togo:

1) The A.C. on the ship works extremely well on deck 4 only. Lucky for me that is where I sleep. Everywhere else, I sweat constantly.
2) African food night is on Tuesdays. Tried it tonight---I'll grab a PB&J next week.
3) Wash your hands a gazillion times a day. Sicknesses spread here like a Lady Gaga song on the radio.
   3b) When you get sick, you are confined to your cabin and that can get boring.
4) Never trust Air Moroc with your luggage.
5) Incorporate the work 'wicked' into your vocabulary. Such as, "I heard there's a movie playing in the Queen's Lounge tonight." "Wicked, I'll be there."
6) Togo is a warm country. Not as in climate, but as in they are accepting of others and always including them in conversations and such. USA is a cold country. There, it's all about me me me. Warm countries are refreshing.
7) There are children on the hospital ward on deck 3 that will make your heart melt. If ever I feel icky or tired or need a boost, onto deck 3 I go. Their laughter will make any troubles you have fade away.
8) I was running last night in front of the ship and I saw a rat the size of an armadillo. I thought I was at camp fern walking behind the kitchen at midnight. Scared the ever loving daylights out of me.
9) My favorite patient, Komi, had surgery yesterday to remove his thyroid tumor. We played Jenga together tonight and talked about soccer. Kids are kids no matter where they are in this world.
10) I was in ward a few days ago talking with some nurses and I looked up at the TV and low and behold the MAVS were playing. An old game, yes, but it made me realize: It really is a small world afterall.

I just spent 2 years getting my MBA to figure out that I wanted to work in a job that doesn't require an MBA. There is palpable irony there. However, I have never been so excited about a job in my life. I'm a writer on the ship, but I'm not a writer in real life! Yet, I have found something I love to do and pray that I will be able to continue it for a very long time :) 

It's all about serving others. Think of someone other than yourself---you will have a satisfaction within that you cannot find anywhere else!! :)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

3 graduations in 4 days

The weekend started off with a bang with my Neeley MBA graduation at TCU on Friday night at 6pm. Reception, then dinner, then out on the town to say goodbye to my classmates and friends whom I've come to love and adore the past 2 years.

Saturday morning came all too soon, and by 9 we were in the car headed to Tyler for graduation number 2. At 1pm we watched Gretchen walk across the stage at UTTyler, receiving her diploma for Masters in Educational Administration. After lunch, and a 30 minute power nap we were back on the road to Dallas, where we had a fabulous dinner at Nonna to celebrate GOB's accomplishments.

Sunday morning the 5am wake-up call was answered with a seriously disgruntled face. We made our 7:40am flight to Atlanta, but not without a hitch---Gretchen left her ID in Tyler. It took about 1 hour, but they finally let her through security. ATL here we come! Checked into the hotel, ate a great lunch, and then it was NAP TIME. Had to rally for the next great meal at Haven.

Monday morning we had another early wake-up call---6am to be exact. 15,000 attendees were estimated at the Emory Graduation and the Terminator (otherwise known as the Governor of California, Arnold Schwartzenegger) was the commencement speaker. Miraculously, we made it to the Graduation and even got a seat! It was cold, but the brunch at the B-School had coffee and mimosas...perfect! Then, we made it to the FINAL event---Cason's diploma ceremony.

Whew, what a weekend! Now its time to pack up my home, and move it onto Gretch's new house in Tyler. Never a dull moment.

OH, and I leave for Togo in 3 days!!!!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Luck is on my side

Tomorrow starts a serious countdown:
5 days 'till graduation
12 days 'till departure for Lomé, Togo.

Things have been pretty busy athe past few days, but I've managed to pack many boxes and figure out all the things I need to take to Africa. I've gotten all my prescriptions filled, and necessities taken care of. The plane ticket has been purchased, and now I just have to make if through the next 2 crazy weeks.

I was able to go to Mercy Ships last week for a 4 hour session to listen to Don Stephens, founder and CEO of Mercy Ships, record his famous "Mercy Minutes." Part of my job on the ship will be to write a certain amount of Mercy Minutes per month, and by listening to the recording sessions, I was able to get a good grasp on what the scripts entail. Above all, the session made me realize how incredibly lucky I am to be involved with such an amazing and truly international organization. My hope is to work for, or be involved with, Mercy Ships for a very long time. Hopefully for the rest of my life.

And I'd like to end this post with a moment of Awesome. I read the blog "1000 Awesome Things" almost daily. Its a great message that has now been made into a book! Every weekday they author writes about a small yet significant event that can happen that is truly awesome. Today, I had one of those moments. I washed an old pair of pants that I want to take to Africa and when I reached in the washing machine to transfer them to the dryer I saw a soggy $20 bill in the bottom of the washer!

.....and now I can eat for the rest of the week.