Mercy Ships

Mercy Ships
The largest NGO hospital ship in the world providing free medical care to the forgotten poor

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Analalava Forest

One of the adventures I have been here in Mada is to the Analalava Forest. It is a small nature reserve with 26 different species of palm trees.  The nearest city, Foulpoint is about 90 minutes from Tamatave, but you have to walk the last 7 km to the reserve because the taxi-brousse doesn't go that far.

The plan was to leave Friday after work and head to the local bus station.  There we hopped on a taxi-brousse (think 10-15 passenger van, but filled with 18-20 people). About 10 minutes into the trip, we had to stop because the lights on the van weren't working. After waiting around for awhile, with no replacement bus in sight, we walked back to the station to get another bus. We finally made it successfully to Foulpoint (after some very bumpy roads) and, for about $8 each, stayed in a small bungalow near the beach.

Saturday morning we walked the 7 km to Analalava and spent the afternoon hiking in the reserve.

The road from Foulpoint to Analalava

Scenery on the walk to Analalava

My travel companions: Robert, Fred, Floor, and Alex

Some of the palm trees were huge!

Some of the palm trees in the reserve can be found no where else in the world!

I've never seen anything like this before.

We saw Flying Foxes: a species of bat that have furry bodies like a fox.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dress Ceremony

"The most dangerous thing an African woman will experience is childbirth."*

I heard this statement earlier this year and it came to mind as I joined in the celebration at the bi-monthly Dress Ceremony.  One of the most common medical issues here is obstetric fistula, which is a complication of childbirth which leaves women incontinent.  Obstetric fistulas are so common here because women who experience obstructed labor are often not able to have a Cesarean Section. This may be because they don't live close enough to a hospital, they cannot afford it, or they don't realize they need one. 

The tragedy of these women's stories is great; imagine the grief over losing a baby in addition to the shame of their incontinence.  At the dress ceremony, each woman is given a new dress to symbolize a new life after their surgery.  Many of the women who spoke at the dress ceremony I attended had been waiting for years for a surgery like the one they were able to receive on the ship.  Seven, 8, 12 years of smelling like urine because you are constantly leaking.

The dress ceremony is a joyous celebration with lots of singing and dancing. It is a beautiful picture of God bringing hope and restoration in the midst of pain and sorrow.  

Approximately 50,000 women in Madagascar need surgery to repair obstetric fistulas. This is an overwhelming number and the ship will only be able to make a small dent in it. The good news is that our doctors and nurses are training and mentoring locals who will continue the work after we leave. In partnership with another organization, Freedom From Fistula, we will leave behind a fully equipped fistula clinic to continue to serve the needs of the women of Madagascar. 

*In Western countries, the lifetime risk of dying in pregnancy is approximately 1/3300. In Africa it is 1/40.