A week away: Congo

Look, I love my job and I’m pretty sure that they love me. But this needs to be said, their views are not the views of this blog.  K? K.

The other week I went to the Congo. Where to begin….

First of all, you should know there are two Congo’s. There is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which you frequently hear about in the news because of the atrocities, mostly. And there is the Republic of Congo, where I was, a small and oil rich country on the West Coast of Central Africa. There was no civil war anywhere near me and more wealth than anywhere else I’ve seen in Africa, aside from Nairobi. It wasn’t the Congo you’re probably thinking of.



I spent my time in Pointe Noire, Congo aboard the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship. Let me tell you about this ship. It’s giant. It is home to a fully functioning hospital with 5 operating theatres and an 82 bed ward. This hospital ship goes into countries in West Africa for 10 months at a time with the honourable and humble goal of leaving the nation better than when they arrived. They do orthopaedic surgeries, remove tumours, repair cleft palates, vaginal fistulas, use plastic surgery to fix burn wounds and remove cataracts so people can see. Among other things. One of these other things being training local doctors, nurses and workers so the healing can continue for years to come. Cool, right?

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It’s also home to 450 volunteers from around the world. Did you ever live in residence at university? It’s like that, but the volunteers range in age from 18-75, plus the children of the families on board. Of those 450 volunteers, many are doctors and nurses, but many more are support workers. There are people who cook, clean, serve food, take photos, write stories, every tradesman there is, and even a hair stylist. Again, cool, right?

After nearly two years working as a fundraiser/story teller/Canadian advocate for this amazing organization, they finally sent me to the ship and see things first hand. Let me tell you, it was cool. Can I share some stories?

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Dr. Woodame is a ophthalmologist from Togo. I spent about an hour and a half watching him perform and supervise surgeries removing cataracts and ptergyium from people’s eyes. While they were awake. It was super gross/intense. Dr. Woodame used to do 400 surgeries a year. Then a few years ago he received advanced training when the ship was docked in Togo and now he’s doing 2000 a year. That’s 2000 more people that can now see  every year because of this man. Plus he has dedicated his life to training others and spends time every year volunteering on the ship.

Benjamine is the most beautiful girl you’ll ever see. When she was a seven, she fell in a fire in a pretty bad way. When her body healed it’s burns, as bodies do, she didn’t have the burn care she needed, so her arms “healed” themselves adhered them to her torso. And her chin “healed” itself and adhered itself to her neck and chest. And so was her life. She couldn’t use her arms or mouth. Imagine.  And then she got surgery. And she hasn’t stopped smiling since. For obvious legal reasons I can’t put pictures of patients on my personal blog, but you can get to know Benjamine a little better here. 

An unamed woman who I didn’t actually meet, but whose story touched me. She had a vescovaginal fistula.  When she went into labour she needed to have a caesarean, but it wasn’t available and complications arose. Her baby died and her uterus-vagina-colon-bladder completely tore and for the next 30 years of her life she leaked urine and faeces and became completely ostrased from her family and community. When she heard there was the chance she could receive a  surgery that would heal her and that it would be free, she did what she could to get to the coast. She worked odd jobs until could afford travel to the next town. Then she did it again. And then again. It took her 5 weeks what should have taken her 2 days, but she made it. And she got surgery and she no longer leaked. A volunteer on board asked her what she was most looking forward to when she returned to her home (the 2 day trip would be funded by my organization). Her response? Now people will sit beside me.

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2 thoughts on “A week away: Congo

  1. I’ve spent a lot of time in Mpondwe–a Ugandan/DRC border town, but that’s all I’ve seen of DRC. It was very different from Pointe Noire, Congo, both in the culture and the landscape. Didn’t get called Mzungu once in Pointe Noire! 🙂

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