Painted legs

Hamsatou was born with clubfoot on both of her feet. She spent several months with us at the hospital while she was being treated. We all missed her so much when she left. She has such a great (and serious) personality. We always counted it a victory if we managed to get her to laugh or smile. It’s not because she’s an unhappy child, she’s just extremely laid back and confident as well.

She recently came back to the hospital for a check-up. Everyone was so excited to see her again and squeeze her cute cheeks. When she came to art therapy, she was very clear in what she wanted. She asked to get her legs painted. I was confused because we’d painted her casts many times before, but now she didn’t have casts because she was done with her treatment and her legs were perfectly straight. She looked at me like I was obviously not catching on. Of course she knew she no longer had casts. She wanted her actual legs painted. So, that’s what we did!

She sat so still and didn’t budge as she got each leg painted. Once we were done, she broke out in a huge (unprovoked) smile. We were overjoyed. She was excited to go back to her mother at the patient guesthouse to show her. It’s as though she had been planning to get her legs painted ever since she knew she would be coming back to the hospital. As though to have closure with this experience. I thought about it and I really like the idea of painting on the actual skin once the treatment is finished. It’s a way of emphasizing the beautiful legs that have just been healed and it’s a way of saying, you are beautiful and we want to celebrate that beauty and bring as much positive attention and celebration around your healing.

Sometimes the kids are a step ahead of me when it comes to truly knowing how to comemmorate the beauty in their lives. I learn from them every day.

 

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With casts on her legs (and fabric tied around her feet to protect them when she crawled).

 

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Those chubby little legs!

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Being her sassy self ;)

 

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Happy to have her legs painted.

 

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St. Patrick’s Day in Niger

What do you do when you get a bunch of St. Patrick’s Day party supplies donated to the hospital? Have a photo shoot. Obviously. One of the kids said, “Are we celebrating CURE?” when he saw all the green stuff. I said, “Sure!” because we’re always celebrating over here. With each healed child, we celebrate. So happy St. Paddy’s Day and happy CURE Day, too! :)

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Aramatou’s last surgery

Aramatou has been at the hospital now for exactly a year and a half. In just a couple weeks she will undergo her final surgery. She has had many surgeries over the course of her stay at the hospital and she can’t stop talking about how excited she is for the 24th of February (the scheduled surgery date). Almost every time I see Aramatou, she brings it up. She can’t wait to go home and show everyone her straight legs. She said, “I can’t believe my legs used to be so crooked. When you look at my legs now, it’s even too hard for me to believe what they used to look like!” We talked about how each day that she has been at the hospital has been one step closer to her full recovery and each day she waits for her last surgery is like a little celebration because she’s that much closer to being fully healed.

We decided in an art therapy session this week that what better way to count down to her last surgery than to make a calendar that she can mark off each day until she reaches the big day. She was so excited as we made the calendar together. She kept saying, “I will be so excited to wake up each morning so that I can cross off the day! It will even be hard for me to sleep, knowing I get to cross off another day the next morning.” I can’t imagine what it must be like living in a hospital for over a year without any family members around. Aramatou is probably the strongest person I know. She has come through so much and she is fighting through to the last days with more strength and energy than when she first came.

Let’s cheer her on as she is so close to being done. Will you remember to pray for her in these next few weeks? Mark your calendars everyone! February 24th, and in the days leading up – Say a prayer for Aramatou!

Aramatou with her calendar.

Aramatou with her calendar.

 

 

 

 

 

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Gotcha Day #2

It’s been two years since Leon joined our family and it’s been the wildest two years of our lives. Leon has brought more love, spice, and flavor into our home than we ever knew was possible. He was just 4 months old when we got him… he was a fireball then, and he’s a fireball now. Happy Gotcha Day, Leon!

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Apparently these guys got the memo about the party colors!

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When Leon saw me put the sign up, he immediately said, “Oh, cake!” (not knowing I had made a cake). He is certain the two go together.

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Leon was fast asleep for his own party. When he woke up, Ethan and Zara went to get him out of bed. I don’t think he’s ever been happier to wake up from a nap.

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Leon was mostly into the candy corn.

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He’s getting used to this “blowing out the candles” thing: So far, 2 Birthdays & 2 Gotcha days.

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We sang, “Happy Gotcha day to you…”

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Leon sometimes acts shy for very quick, flash before your eyes, split seconds.

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821 Drawings

Aramatou has created 821 pieces of artwork since arriving at the hospital 15 months ago. Aramatou is from Mali and she came to the hospital in August 2013 with legs bowed and feet turned completely backward . We have already written about her before. When she arrived, Aramatou was solemn and withdrawn. She has been through a lot in her life, and it was clear that she needed healing that went beyond surgery on her legs. In the past 15 months, everything about her has turned around. After several surgeries and a lot of physical therapy, her legs have been straightened out and her feet are facing in the right direction. Though she still has a ways to go in the healing process, she has come so far. Aside from the physical transformation, her spirit has changed in the process as well. She is no longer solemn or withdrawn – she is the life of the party! Aramatou is so full of joy that it permeates throughout the hospital and is completely infectious. It is hard not to smile when you’re around her.

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Before Aramatou was admitted to the hospital.

Aramatou has been coming to art therapy sessions since day one, and from the beginning she has been making beautiful drawings. She loves to draw flowers, and has been drawing flowers from the start. She draws very interesting flowers, with intricate motifs and designs. Today we sat down and counted – she has done 821 drawings. That is a lot, and actually the real number is higher, because she has probably given away around 100 drawings to staff, visitors and other patients. Aramatou doesn’t have any money, and obviously cannot buy presents for anyone, but she regularly gives away drawings. She is proud of her work, and enjoys giving it away, and even with all that she has given away, she still has 821. She said that she wants to reach at least 1,000 before she returns to Mali. She also said that she plans to take her artwork back with her when she is done here so that she can decorate her whole house with it. Her artwork has been an important part of her stay here in Niger, and she wants to show her family and friends back in Mali the work she did during her long stay in the hospital.

We decided to lay out all of her work on the ground so that we could see it all at once. It took us over an hour just to spread it all out. When we first started lining up the drawings, I thought,”Uh oh we’re going to be here all day.” But I’m so glad we did it. Aramatou was so excited to see her work laid out in that way, and it was visually striking. She kept saying, “I can’t believe I did all this.” It was a powerful image, not just of the fact that she made some pretty pictures, but of all that she has accomplished, and of the fact that she has changed, she has grown and she has blossomed just like the flowers that she loves to draw. After we finished taking pictures of her work she said that she is so excited to be able to show people back home what she has done while she’s been here. It has given her a confidence a boost and she now knows that she is capable of so much. Aramatou will be leaving with new, beautiful legs as well as a whole stack of beautiful drawings.

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Aramatou and friend, Binta laying out her artwork.

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Laying the artwork out in rows made it a lot easier to count.

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The artwork took up almost all 3 sides of the play area outside the art therapy room.

 

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She loves to pose!

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A closeup of some of her work.

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Child-like

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” (Matt. 19:14) NIV.

Dr. Stefano Bolongaro is our new pediatric orthopedic surgeon at the hospital. He arrived in Niger a few months ago and it’s been great having him here. We are excited about the increased capacity we have as a hospital with his arrival, about his skills and talents, but most of all by his caring heart. Today he came by the art therapy room to give me some colored surgical tape because he thought that we might be able to use it and there was some extra. I was very excited to get it because sometimes it is hard to figure out how to decorate bandages, and this kind of colored surgical tape is perfect. The casts are easy, but when our patients have bandages and not casts, we want to make sure they do not feel left out.

As soon as Stefano came to the room, the children in the room called him to come in. They started shouting, “Doctor! Doctor!” After some coaxing, he stepped in. That wasn’t enough for the kids, and they told him that they wanted him to draw a picture. He immediately got on the floor and started to draw. The kids loved it.

They thought it was great that he was drawing along side them, and they each wanted a picture from him. After he finished drawing, he stayed for a bit and joked around with them. But after a few minutes, he told them that he needed to go back to work, since the consultation would begin soon. But the children didn’t want him to leave. They kept trying to get him to stay, and it was so clear that they truly love him and were very comfortable with him. It was beautiful to see. He kept making them laugh with funny faces, and they couldn’t stop laughing and giggling. When I reached for the camera to take a picture of the group, one of the patients jumped into his lap.

Dr. Stefano didn’t spend that much time in the art therapy room. Maybe a total of 20 minutes. But it meant so much to the children. Where else do doctors get down on the floor to play and draw with their patients? That is what I love about CURE, and what I love about the people I get to work with.

At CURE we talk a lot about our values as an organization, and some of them are being child-like and Christ-like. That might seem kind of vague and hard to pin down or define. Someone might reasonably ask, what does it mean to be child-like or Christ-like.

This.

This is what we mean by being child-like and Christ-like. This is what it looks like. This is creating an environment that is healing and full of hope. This is welcoming our patients and treating them like our own. Like family. This is what it looks like to treat our patients like our own sons and daughters, our own brothers and sisters. This is what it looks like to be a family. This is what it looks like to heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

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Dr. Stefano tracing Ibrahim's hands

Dr. Stefano tracing Ibrahim’s hands

Making funny faces

Making funny faces

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CURE cousins

Living far away from family is difficult, especially now that we have Leon. I often think about how much fun he would have with all his cousins and how much they would love him, and it makes me a little sad to think that he has so many cousins that he hasn’t met yet. To be honest, I dwell on this more than I should, but I am also reminded regularly that even though he isn’t around his family that lives far away, he is growing up in very unique circumstances, and is getting an experience that he wouldn’t have anywhere else. His cousins may be far away, but Leon has an entire family at CURE.

Every Friday morning I take him to the hospital. It’s our little ritual. He loves going and as soon as we pull up to the hospital gates he screams, “Opisol!!” (which is how he says hospital). He has so much fun playing with all the patients and they enjoy having him visit. They love playing with him, and love getting visitors, but also, they like him because he’s different. He is kind of a novelty to them. Many of the children here in Niger are so quiet and reserved, and he is pretty much the exact opposite of that. He is a bundle of energy – hyper, loud and spastic, and they think it is hilarious.

It makes me so happy that he has a big group of kids to play with whenever we come to the hospital, and it kind of serves as a play group, but it’s so much more than that. Leon is constantly interacting with other kids who are bandaged up from burns, or have limbs in casts, or have metal bars (external fixators) protruding from their legs. Since he has been coming to the hospital regularly for as long as he can remember, when he sees these things he is not surprised by them. Seeing all kinds of physical deformities is commonplace for him, but that does not mean that he doesn’t notice them, for he most certainly does. He always says, “Mama regard, ça fait mal!” (Mama look, that hurts) as he points to a leg or an arm. He’ll then lean in to whoever he’s looking at and say, “Bon guerisson” (get well).

You can see the real look of concern on his face, but he is not scared and does not shy away from them. He doesn’t treat them differently and look down on them or overlook them or avoid looking at them by averting his gaze. He doesn’t treat them differently because he hasn’t learned to do that yet. He is innocent in the best possible sense, and I hope he stays that way. Maybe he will, since he is learning it from such a young age. Maybe that is what it takes to inoculate people against the cruelty and discrimination that seems to come so naturally to us all. Leon sees these kids and realizes at his young age that they are hurting, but he also realizes that they are getting better. And most importantly, he realizes that they are fun to play with!

I love the fact that Leon is growing up with this as his normal.

Recently, he’s started to enjoy praying. He likes to pray around the dinner table, mostly because he loves to shout “Amen!” as loud as possible once the prayer is over. But he also likes to lead us in prayer. He will put his head down and mumble for awhile, tossing in a few words here and there, like, “thank you…(mumble)… papa…(mumble)… mama…(mumble)… food…(mumble)…eating…(mumble)… Amen!” The last few visits to the hospital, Leon has insisted on praying for some of the patients. He may not fully get the concept, but the fact that he wants to take the time to acknowledge the patient’s situation and “pray” for them is, I think, important and good. It’s as though he recognizes that their situation deserves some level of respect and reverence (to be punctuated, of course, with a loud “Amen!”).

So even though we aren’t around our family, I am glad that Leon has his CURE family, and that he is learning what it means to love and be loved. He is learning what it means to care for others, and he is learning to see everyone as they are: a child of God worthy of dignity and respect.

AMEN!!!

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Leon (1 year old) walking with his friend, Larwan 

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Leon (1.5 years old) pushing Aramatou in her wheelchair

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This was last week. Leon asked me to take their picture and wanted everyone lined up on the wall.

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Healing through Henna

We had a henna party at CURE today.

Henna is a plant that is commonly used to make a dye here in Niger and around the world. The leaves are crushed into a powder and mixed with water to make a kind of paste, which can then be applied to the skin, leaving a long-term (but temporary) tattoo. Here in Niger, women get henna tattoos for every possible celebration: a wedding, a baptism, a holiday, or for any kind of party, and sometimes I suspect for no real reason at all, other than the fact that it is beautiful.

I’ve wanted to get a henna tattoo for a while now and I happened to comment on one of our patient’s hennafied hands. Her name is Rashida, and she had an operation on her leg, which is now in an external fixator. She is already up on her feet and walking around with a walker, and seems to be on a quick road to recovery.

It was Rashida’s first session with me in the art therapy room, and she was very reserved and quiet. I told her I thought her hands looked pretty and she suddenly changed. She was very excited and said, “I do henna! Do you want me to do it for you one day?” I said yes. Rashida lives in Niamey and so she isn’t staying at the hospital, but comes in a couple times a week for dressing changes. She said, “I’ll come sometime and bring the supplies!”

This week Rashida came with a small plastic bag of henna, and got to work on my hands right away. Beth Van Hall, our new Executive Director’s wife, has been coming to the hospital to spend time with the kids. She came by the art therapy room and Rashida did her feet when she was done with my hands. Then Aramatou, another patient came and Rashida did her hands as well. We all had a lot of fun in the couple hours it took to finish all the decorating, and by the end Rashida was totally transformed. She was in her element, and was having a great time. It was really funny because she told us that she had never tried putting henna on a white person’s skin before, and she said that it was more difficult than usual because of the hair on my arms. I told her that she was lucky she wasn’t trying to do it on Josh’s arm!

It was obvious that the whole process was empowering for Rashida. I paint our patient’s hands and feet all the time when they are wearing casts. Now she was working on my hands and Beth’s feet. In a way, the tables had turned. And not only that, she was showing us a part of her heritage and tradition, and you could tell she was proud. It was a great way of expressing her creativity and her culture, and she was able to share something beautiful, and leave a part of herself on me, marking me by our encounter. That is what therapeutic exchange is all about, and in that way it was healing.

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Rashida working on Aramatou’s arm.

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Leon’s 2nd Birthday

We didn’t celebrate Independence Day this weekend, but we DID celebrate Leon’s birthday! He doesn’t turn two until the 19th, but some dear friends will be on holiday later in the month, so we decided it would be best to have his party early. We had such a great time and Leon loved having people all over the house. He didn’t realize the celebration was all about him… until we pulled out the cake and sang Happy Birthday to him. It was the cutest thing. He was acting shy, by burying his head into Josh’s chest every once in a while, but then kept looking up to watch everyone sing to him. He was trying to act modest, but he loved every second of it. He also knew the cake was for him because it was a giraffe. He believes that anything “giraffe” is most certainly his. He has been crazy about giraffes forever. I’m thankful that this is the animal that he’s chosen to love above all else since Niger is known for their wild giraffes. Josh and I were actually counting the amount of times we’ve been out to see the giraffes (about an hour drive outside the city) and we came to about 15. Leon has been maybe 6 or 7 times. He most likely only remembers going about 3 or 4 times. I’m glad we can take him to see his favorite animal out in the wild!

Back to the party… the awesome giraffe cake was made by the master-cake-maker, Renee. She not only made Leon’s cake, but she made it when she was in the midst of packing her whole family to move back to Canada. They left about a month ago, so we put it in the deep freezer and pulled it out on the day of the party and it was good to go! The beautiful decorations were from my dear friend, Laura who ordered them from the States, which her family brought to her in Israel so that she could bring them to us in Niger!

For the meal, we decided to go Nigerien-style and do a stuffed lamb Mechoui. It was so delicious, and Leon loved it. He kept calling it “chicken” and taking huge bites.

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Women’s Day 2014

Last week we celebrated Nigerien Women’s Day at the hospital. Every year the women at the hospital collect money and pick out a pagne (a colorful piece of material) in the market a few weeks before Women’s Day. They buy a pagne for every staff member, and everyone takes it and has an outfit made with it. It is always so exciting to see everyone’s  creativity and personality shine through the different designs. It really brings home the message that we are all cut from the same cloth, but all cut differently. A wonderful expression of solidarity and sisterhood, without sacrificing any individual sense of identity (or style!).

The women all worked really hard to prepare a delicious meal, and in the meantime everyone had fun listening to music and dancing. We also had the privilege of having Dr. Victor Nakah as a special visitor during Women’s Day, and he gave an address to the whole staff which was great. He spoke about how women are really under-appreciated, and about the strength and influence that women have. He reminded everyone of the saying, “If you educate a woman, you educate a nation,” and the women on staff were all nodding their heads in agreement. I am pretty sure someone even said, “Amen.”

Overall it was a great day and a really fun celebration. I look forward to next year.

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Dr. Nakah’s talk

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Photo credit: Anne Negrini

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Dr. Victor Nakah with the Executive, Medical, and Spiritual Directors

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Aicha and I decided we wanted to get matching outfits made. It was fun picking out a design together and then getting them made by her dad, the tailor.

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Anne had her outfit made by her night guard.

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The whole team

 

 

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