priscilla: before + after

In the last few years I’ve had the privilege of watching several operations to correct bowed legs. What always astonishes me is that the process is fairly straightforward and the surgery itself doesn’t take that long. Maybe it’s because our awesome ortho-surgeon Dr. Frank just makes it all look easy…but I leave thinking “well, that wasn’t so bad?”

I guess what I’ve realized is that when we get the right people and resources and put them together on a boat ship to treat patients who need help…it’s a pretty remarkable thing. Of course, a lot of hard work (by medical staff, caregivers, translators, therapists, and the patient) went into achieving this before and after, but when I look around I can’t help but notice that, after so many years in the field, the Africa Mercy hospital is a well-oiled machine. They’ve got this bowed leg thing figured out, which is why there are many more photos like these in our future:


Have a great weekend, everyone.

Photos by Justine Forrest and Katie Keegan for Mercy Ships.



Next time you have 4 minutes to spare, I’d love to tell you an incredible story about a fashion designer in Congo who once was blind.
(Happy Ending Alert: he isn’t anymore.)

Eyes of the Beholder on

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy



The Beauties of Ward B


There are parties, and then there are parties.

On the Africa Mercy, no one does a party quite like Ward B.

You may remember that I’ve written before about VVF (vesico-vaginal fistula) – a childbirth injury sustained in regions where emergency obstetric care is unavailable. A very rough description would be that, often after several days of labor, women develop a hole in their birth canal that leaks urine. In short, these women need C-sections and when they can’t have them the damage leaves them incontinent, if not dead. They almost always lose the child they were carrying from the trauma of the birth. There are approximately 2 million women in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia who live with VVF, according to the WHOTwo million.

When you are incontinent, you smell. When you smell, people avoid you. In several days’ time, these young women go from being expectant mothers to grieving, injured, and outcast. Over and over again I hear from VVF patients that they have been left by their husbands and rejected by their communities. In all my time in Africa, nothing has moved me as much as the plight of a woman with VVF. She has suffered in ways few of us will ever understand. I think these women must be made of God’s strongest fabric.

After obstetric surgery, our VVF patients stay on Ward B for several weeks recovering. Do you know what happens when you place a bunch of women who have suffered for years in solitude together in the setting of a great big sleepover? While they rejoice over the fact that they’ve just won the healthcare lottery and will receive free surgery that will change their lives forever? Can you imagine this? Well, I’ll tell you: it is a non-stop musical hen party. They braid hair, do crafts, and parade in the hallway singing. I walked in a few days ago to find that they had pushed their beds together. Seriously. Like in The Parent Trap. Then they redecorated the entire ward. If we don’t leave soon there will be a sorority house where the hospital used to be.

When these incredible women are ready to be discharged, we throw a hell of a party. We call it a Dress Ceremony. With full hearts and dry skirts, the patients sing and dance and celebrate their re-entry to society and the emotional restoration they have found through the care and counseling of our amazing medical staff. It’s the happy ending after  a long road of suffering that began because they needed a doctor and didn’t have access to one.

This week, we celebrated the journeys of eight patients who no longer suffer with VVF. I’m writing a story about one of these patients named Gisele, so I followed her day from start to finish. Gisele has lived with VVF for more than 20 years. When I saw her yesterday morning, she hugged me and said, “aujord’hui, c’est bon.” Today is good. And  it was. It was so good.

It is my great honor to introduce our debutantes, the Beauties of Ward B. 



Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014




Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014



Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; Dress Ceremony 30 April 2014; Gisele


Catherine Clarke Murphy

DRESS CEREMONY; Catherine Clarke Murphy with Giselle in Congo.

Catherine Clarke Murphy with Giselle in Congo.

Catherine Clarke Murphy photographs VVF patients in Congo

Thanks for reading.

Photography by Catherine Murphy
(+ nifty behind the scenes footage by Josh Callow)
Copyright Mercy Ships 2014

Ravette: Before and After

Back around Thanksgiving I wrote a about Ravette – the little girl with the enormous smile who had surgery to correct her inverted knees. Well, now our little lady is out of her casts and done with her physical therapy. Not only do her knees bend the right way, but she could out-strut us all in a walk-off. Someone get this girl a runway.

Needless to say, Ravette’s before and after photos are orthopedic gold. Take a look:



Are you smiling at your computer screen like a total softie now? 

Ya me too.


 Photos by Josh Callow, Copyright Mercy Ships 2014

the anatomy of a goodbye hug

On Monday we waved goodbye to Benjamine, a 12-year-old burn patient who has been on board for several months. It was beautifully bittersweet.

Benjamine has been our resident Miss Congeniality. For a while after her surgery she was in an airplane splint, which meant that both arms were stuck out to her sides. Did that hurt? Yes. Did she complain? Nope.

Even though each day was Benjamine vs. Door Frame,  she always had a darling smile on her face. We are going to miss having her around.

I watched as some of the wonderful medical staff who cared for Benjamine said au revoir yesterday. 

These are their hugs.



Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy








The End. Thanks for reading.

Today’s photos are by yours truly.
Copyright Mercy Ships 2014.

For more updates from Africa: @clarkemurphy
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hi again. remember me?

my new years resolution was to blog more. oops?

I’m in Texas right now packing for Africa, I go back next week. It’s been wonderful to be here for the holidays, but I can’t wait to get home to Congo. I guess my blogging hiatus is because my life in Texas consists mostly of eating Mexican food and playing with my dog. Maybe not quite as cool as be-bopping around Africa, but still pretty cool. 

Alrighty. I really just came here to say hi and debunk any rumors that I’ve been eaten by a crocodile or something. 

Oh, and if you’re looking for a good read today, hop over to Parcel & Journey’s website – you might see a familiar face. Thanks P&J!

Catherine Clarke Murphy

“We came to Africa for the work, we stayed for the people.”

Tonight on a quiet street in Congo, 16 people sat around a long table on a warm patio. In their group were people from Canada, Australia, Norway, The Netherlands, England, Scotland, and the U.S. The mosquitoes were biting, but it didn’t rain. 

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy;

To humor the Americans on the night before Thanksgiving, everyone went around the table and said what we were thankful for:


10 a.m. coffee breaks.

Air conditioning.

Our families who miss us, but love us enough to let us go.


(…and Toyotas with winches.)

The responsibility we’ve been trusted with to do the things we do…and the privilege.

The little moments when we enjoy something that reminds us of home.

The people we live and work with who make us happy.

And a little girl named Ravette.


“We came to Africa for the work, we stayed for the people.”



Ravette is a 9-year-old orthopedics patient who always has a smile on her face. Always.

When Ravette was little she suffered from a leg deformity caused by quinine, a drug used to treat malaria. When the medicine was mistakenly injected into her nerve instead of the muscle, it caused her knees to grow in the wrong direction. Ravette is still in casts, but she’s learning to walk again.

This morning Ravette hobbled to my office. To get here from the hospital, you have to walk through a common area we call the café. It’s unusual to have patients walk through this part of the ship, so she quickly snagged everyone’s attention. That’s when the clapping started. Each table she walked past gave a little cheer. I’ve never seen a child with a smile as big as hers was today. 

If she had been at our table tonight, Ravette would have said she was thankful to walk again. Then she would have giggled as she listened to 16 people go around and say what they were thankful for. 

Because they were all thankful for Ravette.

What are you thankful for this year? 

Hello, handsome.

The Fairest of Them All

This is 3-year-old Dieuveil. He’s had surgery on the Africa Mercy to repair his cleft lip. Once his bandages came off, a nurse held up a hand mirror. Dieuveil was so fascinated with his new look that he couldn’t stop staring at his reflection.

Neither could we. 



Photo by Michelle Murrey, Copyright Mercy Ships 2013

Guaranteed Chills

In case you’ve forgotten, I’m in the Southern HemisphereSo while those of you in America are heading for a winter wonderland, we’re getting ready to have ourselves some summertime. But the really dandy thing about Texas and Africa is that seasons are irrelevant. It’s just hot.

However, some friends of mine in Australia shared the link to a trailer for the documentary they made on Mercy Ships. And guess what? Even while living under a glorious African sun, I got chills. It’s just that good. 


 If you are in Australia, be sure to lookout for The Surgery Ship in December. Also be sure to like The Surgery Ship on Facebook.

Congrats to Madeleine, Paul, Judd, and Eric + all at Media Stockade! We miss you guys.

Found in Translation

The tumor on Grace’s face had been growing for nine years. It was shocking. On Tuesday, September 10, she had surgery in the operating theater that is down the hall from me as I write this.

Grace is a spunky 17-year-old. From the beginning, she said she was willing to share her story about coming to Mercy Ships. We interviewed Grace and her family and later a short feature about her was posted on Mercy Ships Facebook page. The response was overwhelming, there has since been a great interest in Grace’s progress. 

When I went to visit Grace in the hospital the night after her surgery, I could tell she was hurting. It was late and my translator was long gone. Help? Who here speaks Lingala? A nice man named Chadley came over.

“Grace had her photo taken the other day, does she remember?” I ask.

I hear my words slip into the local language. Grace nods from behind a lot of bandages and gauze. Her lips are chapped.

“Well, Mercy Ships put up the photo on Facebook and I want her to know that there are lots of people all over the world – thousands – who know about her and are hoping that she gets well soon.”

As Chadley relays this, Christine, Grace’s mother, nods and smiles. She looks as if the magnitude of support is not unexpected. She says something to Chadley.

– “Yes, they know. Those people came before the surgery to see Grace,” he says to me. Grace has closed her eyes.

“Well, no, I’m talking about tens of thousands of people in Switzerland, all over Europe, Canada, the States, Australia – everywhere. There were thousands of people who saw Grace’s photograph on the Internet. They are all thinking about Grace and hoping she recovers. They are praying for her.”

Christine and Chadley speak again.

– “She knows about them,” Chadley insists. “She already knows those people. She is very thankful.”

Hmm. It seems that my message isn’t getting through. Were some zeros lost in translation? Does Christine know about the audience of more than 80,000, according to our analytics report, that has overwhelmed Mercy Ships Facebook page? Does she know about the thousands of likes and supportive comments? I look over at Grace, she’s fallen asleep, so I decide to let it go. I’ll try to explain again tomorrow. Maybe I should print out the post.

Perhaps sensing my disbelief, Christine says something to Chadley.

– “…She says she knows about them because those people came to Grace’s bedside. She saw people come and sometimes they would sit. Some people would put a hand on Grace to comfort her. There were many.”

Christine was smiling. I saw how touched she was, and suddenly it didn’t matter that we were talking about two different groups of people. I thanked Chadley and said goodnight.

The people Christine was referring to were some of the 390 volunteers from 40 different countries that live and work here. They had sat in my very spot. They had come to love Grace, to comfort her, to reach out and touch her. I’ve long admired these nurses, doctors, engineers, and crew-members who keep this place afloat. In fact, I’ve known for a while that they are pretty amazing.


So it was fitting then, that in a bedside conversation in Africa, their kindness was mistaken for that of 80,000.

It was the best thing I’ve ever found in translation.


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