Under the shade of a group of Queneen trees sits a pristine elementary school near the rural Togo-Benin border. Thirteen-year-old Sassou walks out of his classroom surrounded by 20 chatty classmates. He breathes a deep sigh of relief. His exam is finally over, and hopefully he has passed the 5th grade.
Sassou’s father, Efoe, is there to greet him. It is time to return to the ship for a post-operative check up. Though he is tired from 4 hours of writing, Sassou looks at his father with his one good eye and a glimmer of excitement. “To the ship?” Sassou asks. “Yes, let’s go to the ship,” his father responds.
When Sassou was born he had a small pimple on the inside of his eye. His father took him one hospital, which referred him to another hospital, and yet another. None of the doctors could do anything to help. Efoe kept spending money, but sadly saw no results. Eventually, he gave up.
By the time Sassou was 10-years-old the problem area had spread to his eye lid and began to push his eye to one side. It was difficult for him to see the chalkboard at school and his classmates would always ask him why he looked that way. Usually, Sassou would just look down and walk away. The answer was he did not know why he looked different than everyone else.
One day, Sassou’s teacher told his father there was a ship coming to Lomé that offers free surgery.
“You should go and take Sassou to the ship,” said the teacher, “And see if they can help him.” Sure enough, the doctors at the Mercy Ships screening were able to help Sassou, and scheduled him for surgery a few months later.
Before they departed their village, Agokpame, to go to Lomé for surgery, Sassou expressed that he was worried he might not be able to take his test at the end of the school year. His father told him they could work it out, but truthfully, he didn’t know what would happen on the ship, so it was hard to say.
The day after arrival on the ship Sassou went into surgery. Afterwards, the doctor explained to Efoe that he, unfortunately, was forced to remove Sassou’s eye in order to take out the entire tumor.
In the western world losing an eye would be a devastating loss. Efoe, however, has a positive outlook in the midst of such tragedy. “It is hard that he will not have both eyes,” Efoe says, “But, this is ok. The area on his eye was getting larger and without Mercy Ships it may have taken over his whole face. He can live with only one eye. I am so grateful. Words do not come to me to express my thankfulness.”
The Chief of Sassou and Efoe’s village is just as thankful for all that Mercy Ships has done. “Here in our village no one has money to see a doctor. Sassou was having a hard time with his eye and we could all see that. When we heard Mercy Ships was coming we were so grateful that you can help. Everyone here knows the wonderful thing you have done for Sassou.”
It was arranged with the post-op doctors that Sassou could go home, take his test, and come back for his check-up afterwards. He was able to take his test after all, and he was very relieved.
Sitting in his classroom in his school uniform Sassou looked just like all the other kids.
Among his friends coming out of his exam, Sassou looked proud. Though it is hard for him to imagine a great life with only one eye, he remembers the encouragement he received from one Mercy Ships volunteer, Caleb Yoda:
“God has big plans for you, Sassou. I know you are disheartened now, but God has given you the chance to have the tumor removed. You have survived that hardship, and now you are off to do great things in life.”
Yes, Sassou thought, great things indeed.