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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Madagascar Life

We didn't really know what to expect coming to Madagascar, we knew it was part of Africa but somehow it was VERY different to the West Africa we had come to know.
At the beginning the crew spends some weeks getting orientated to a new country with a series of talks on various subjects with guest local speakers.  So armed with our very limited Malagasy terms "Salama Tompoko" (greeting), "Veloma" (goodbye) & "Misaotra" (thank you) and making sure we don't use Sharon's "greeting" that is specifically for her day crew friends that she knows well, we venture out.

When we walk out of the port gate we feel like we are being transported into Asia/Africa.  Yes it's still hot but the main thing you immediately hear is the call for you to come ride in the Pousse Pousse or the Tuk Tuk.  This is our main form of transport, it's actually kind of hard to find a taxi, and it is really good fun! There is a feeling of calm with no busy traffic jams.  
(Cost: about $1-2 per journey)

The crew clubbed together to buy 2 "Mercy Ships Tuk-Tuk's" to run people to and from the port gates.  We all buy a monthly "travel" ticket which pays for fuel, a job for a local and the vehicle.   It can be a long walk for a 7 year olds legs!
The Bicycle Pousse Pousse (meaning push push)
(Cost: 80 cents/£0.50 per journey)

We feel guilty riding in these whilst somebody works so hard as we sit lounging in the back because we're too lazy to walk, but on the other hand we want to use them so they can earn a wage for their family.  These guys are tough and are very aware of how "fat" you look.  They will very freely refuse to take two people that are on the larger size!  To be honest we don't blame them especially when you have to push that bike around.  We took one (actually two, due to previous "fat" comment!), one day and didn't have a clue what "long" a distance we had to go to get to our destination.  They really earned their money and the poor guys decided to rest and wait for us to finish our visit and take us all the way back.  We even bought them water because we felt so bad for them.
The market is a pleasant calm experience, you don't need to jostle through the crowds to get that one thing you want to buy only to have to haggle for another half hour.  The stalls are filled with spices galore, vanilla pods are sold by bunches at such a cheap price that vanilla essence is just a waste of time when you can have the "real" thing.  
You can buy branches with fresh lychees in the right season and they are so good, nothing compared to the tinned type you've probably experienced in the local Chinese restaurant. 
 There is even a local chocolatier (http://www.chocolaterierobert.com/en/welcome) selling hand made chocolates, Tim has become quite the romantic, stopping by the shop if he has a meeting ashore, and producing them on arrival in the cabin.

We also had the chance to go to a local lemur park where many lemurs roam around you in the trees.
 little white frog
So that's a little of life here outside the ship.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Madagascar Screening

Where did December go? - sorry we've let the blog slip a little this past month, many reasons which we will share over a few posts/newsletters.

This last half of the year has been very different, after several location changes for our field of services, our advance team that goes ahead of us to prepare our visit had been very stretched.  This year they started making preparations for Guinea then Ebola hit and we knew there was no way we could cope with the scale that the outbreak became.  So they concentrated their efforts on Benin and just a month short of our arrival date, Ebola was starting to spread in the neighbouring country of Nigeria.  With that they packed up and un-did everything they had put together and flew over to Madagacar.  They are truly special people and had been through a lot.  Usually the team has about 4-5 months to get things ready, we gave them 6 weeks in Madagascar.  They did an amazing job but of course not everything could get done.  So these last months have been taken setting up things, renovating the buildings that will house our Hope Centre and Eye Clinic.  Waiting for container supplies to arrive that had been redirected from Benin.  On top of this we needed to get the patient selection process started.
Hope Centre Before Renovation
Hope Centre After Mercy Ships Renovation
Eye Clinic before
Eye Clinic After Mercy Ships Renovation
We aren't in the capital city, in fact all our crew that arrive at the airport have to be driven over to us on an 8 hour bus ride, so you can see the scale of the land we need to cover.  So we didn't want people walking for days only to be told we can't help you.  So Mercy Ships carried out several screening periods so many people had access.  We are also using technology by setting up a Facebook page and people can send their pictures in so we can assess if they are potentially suitable for surgery or sending info via cell phones.
In the first months we held screenings in Tamatave over several weeks, initially we were getting large numbers but only few were good candidates but gradually word starting getting around what we could and couldn't treat and so more numbers were accepted.
2 months on, things are now starting to flow, the Hope Centre container arrived at the end of December with all the patient beds (these had already travelled from Congo to Benin then to Madagascar!) and the wards are starting to fill up.  We also have screening teams reaching further out and have partnered with local cell phone companies to raise money through SMS to help pay for all the transport costs for these patients, some having to travel 2 days by bus.
We started off with Paediatric Orthopedic patients, dealing mainly with club feet & bowed legs.  Latex glove balloons were once again being tossed in the air to entertain them.  Before we know it these kids will be up and about running after a ball with a whole different life.

It's amazing what is possible when you apply a little bit of plaster, know-how and time to feet! For many babies throughout the world born with clubfoot, this has been the recipe for healing: the Ponseti method. Developed by Dr. Ignacio Ponseti in the 1950’s, doctors love the Ponseti method because it is cost-effective (especially useful in developing countries), non-invasive (allows great long-term outcomes) and has a 98 percent success rate (WHO). It is the best available treatment for clubfeet. 

So how does it work? The child’s foot is maneuvered into a more correct position and held there by a cast. This process is repeated until the foot is much improved. Often this is followed by a slight cut to the Achilles tendon to release tension. A brace is then used to maintain the foot or feet at the correct angle and prevent clubfoot from recurring. Thank you Dr. Ponseti for devising a way for us to help so many with clubfoot!

So you may be thinking, that's a lot of work for just 6 months.  Yes it is, but the great thing is:

1.  Many lives will be touched with the love of God
2.  Mercy Ships will return after the ship yard period in South Africa for another 10 months.

Well worth it!