Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Each week for the first 6 weeks of this new field service we have had what is called cultural briefings where we learn about the culture, history, do's and don'ts, and healthcare system of Cameroon. My good friend Anne was smart and took some notes in one of our previous briefings so here are some things that we have learned about Cameroon.

"Cameroon is called the “Melting Pot” of Africa due to its diverse people and environment. There are over 275 ethnic groups and languages in the country as well as at least seven unique climate zones ranging from rain forest to savanna. The rainy season lasts pretty much all year, with areas of the country receiving up to 12 feet of rain per year. There are several active volcanoes here, the largest being Mt. Cameroon, which last erupted in 2000. Due to the variation in climate zones, Cameroon also has great biodiversity. There are over 20 reserves in the country to protect animals and about half of all the species in Africa can be found somewhere in the country.

Because it's the rainy season Mt. Cameroon has only showed herself a few times but she is right outside our doorstep :)
The city of Douala, where the ship is docked, is the largest city in Cameroon. We are on the Wari River, which means that our muddy brown water view is quite different than the ocean views of Benin and Madagascar. Yaoundé, the capital city is about four hours away from us by car. There are over three million people living in Douala, which was named the most expensive city in Africa in 2015. There is a high ex-pat population here related to business, politics, etc, which leads to a higher standard of living than many African cities. However, there is still a lot of disparity between the wealthy and poor, which also contributes to an increased crime rate in the city.

Wari River
Cameroon also has one of the best economies in Sub-Saharan Africa with oil being the number one export. Despite the good economy and connections, though, Cameroon is a struggling nation. There is corruption in the local government and when there is corruption, people suffer. The UN Human Development Index measures average achievement in factors needed for human development such as living a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable, and having a decent standard of living. With factors such as a life expectancy of fifty six years, an average ten years of education, and increased malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis mortality, Cameroon is rated 153/188 countries."

One of the most common questions I receive when talking about Mercy Ships is why are the diseases, deformities, and tumors that you see in Africa so extreme? Why do we not see those things in America? When I here this question I often sigh because it feels impossible to answer that question succinctly and efficiently. And sometimes I think to myself don't you understand what is happening?Don't you get it? Sorry, I know that sounds terrible and completely out of line. But I promise I'm getting better at curbing these thoughts. Before you unsubscribe from my blog let me give you some statistics that might make this a little more clear.

The number of trained surgical specialists, anesthesiologists and obstetric providers per 100,000 people are as follows: Switzerland- 98, UK- 92, US- 62, Australia- 49, Benin-1.8, Cameroon- 1.15, Madagascar- 0.5 (source World Bank). This means that for every 100,000 people in Cameroon there is only 1.15 trained surgical specialists. Talk about being understaffed and overworked!!  

And more specific statistics for Cameroon. For a population of 23.4 million people they have
83 surgeons, 24 anesthesiologist, 2099 medical doctors and 200 nurses/midwives/ anesthetists technicians. This is for 23.4 million people. Now you are probably sitting back thinking of a host of questions and comments. One being what am I supposed to do with these statistics? and man Africa is lacking so much. Poor Africa. My main reason for sharing these statistics is just to give you a clear picture of the disparity between the worlds that clash before my eyes everyday. One being my home, the way I was raised, the opportunities I received, the abundance and healthcare that is so easily accessible. The other being the worlds of Zambia, Madagascar, Benin and now Cameroon that I have been invited into to learn from and grow in so many ways.

Which leads me to my next point. I don't want you to sit back and have pity on Africa. I don't want you to only see the lack, disparity, and gaps. I hope that along the way I have conveyed how much I have learned from this culture. How much each patient has taught me and how big my heart has grown over these months. How many times I have thought to myself how can these people be so courageous, bold, beautiful and content? They never cease to amaze me with their perseverance, and love for family and friends around them. I have learned to slow down, make connections and that the people in front of me are more important than my to-do list, and schedule. I'm learning to balance the facts and reality around me but also continue to learn from the love, contentment and joy that each patient displays. I hope that in some way I have helped you do the same.

Meet the Mercy Ships nurses! See a familiar face in the front ;) 

One final statistic. The Lancet Commission on Global Health found that 5 billion people lack access to timely, safe and affordable surgical care.

This I believe can be the shortest and most efficient answer to the question why are the diseases, tumors and deformities seen in Africa so extreme. If each person had access to safe, timely and affordable surgical care, tumors the size of watermelons wouldn't grow. Kids with extreme bowed legs wouldn't be found. Severe burns would be treated immediately. Obstetric fistulas caused by prolonged labor wouldn't exist.

This is also an answer to the questions why Cameroon? why a surgical ship? Why serve with Mercy Ships? Because 5 billion people lack surgical care and Mercy Ships is playing its part in those areas most affected. Performing surgery but also training local surgeons, doctors and nurses so that when the Africa Mercy departs that country can go on to sustain and continue to increase the capacity of its healthcare system.

I guess the answer to the original question wasn't that difficult after all and maybe a better question is what is all of this for? 

"Instead of asking 'Why this suffering?'- the world changes when we ask 'What's this suffering for?' And the answer is always for such a time as now. 
For such a time as now, we eradicate divisions and incarnate passion. 
For such a time as now, we show up even when it seems small because this is how we love large. 
For such a time as now, we love just one, like we'd absolutely love to love everyone. Like we would love to be loved. 
For such a time as now, we live shaped like a cross, reaching right out, because this is how He begins to reshape the world." Ann Voskamp

Mercy Ships Response to Global Surgical Need

Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships

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