Ria is a Dutch nurse and a part of the team that screens all the patients. She spends her days looking for people that Mercy Ships can help, while having to tell “no” to those we cannot. She often brings me radical stories of happenings in the screening tent.
On this day, in late August, she meets me on the dock and pulls me under the patient tent.
“This patient will likely stay at the Hope Center for many months; he has a double cleft lip and is severely malnourished.” She tells me this as we approach a woman who has a nervous look on her face and a small bundle of cloth in her arms.
“This is Paul,” Ria says with a great amount of pride. The mother unwraps the top half of her bundle and shows me Paul.
It takes me several seconds to determine what I am looking at. ‘Severely malnourished’ is a correct description, but understated and far too clean and polite.
So allow me be coarse in my honest assessment – the child looking back at me is teetering on the lip of the grave.
Paul’s state of starvation is at a point where I struggle to piece together his face into something that is human. The double cleft he was born with made it impossible for him to feed.
It is crude to describe; it was difficult to see; and it has been something from the realm of awe to witness the life breathed back into Paul across the past four months.
He used to lack the strength to hold up his head.
Now his head swivels about as he curiously explores his surroundings.
He used to have flaps of skin where his muscles and bones were not enough to fill in.
Now he has little rolls of fat on his arms and legs.
He used to be observed warily from afar by the other patients.
Now he is a cherished member of the Hope Center community.