Meet Hawa. Hawa is a young mom of 4, married off at a young age in her village in Sierra Leone. But Hawa had unknowingly been infected with a parasite by a common biting black fly, resulting in the blockage of her lymph system. This condition is called elephantiasis due to the immense swelling of the foot (or other body parts) and the change in the skin’s texture in the affected part, making it look like an elephant’s skin. The swelling causes a lot of pain, makes the leg very heavy, and eventually will cause the leg to burst and leak lymph fluid constantly, creating secondary infections and illness. It is easily prevented, and when treated early will not result in such severe damage. But not everyone knows that.
Hawa’s family, who had little access to education or health care, believed that Hawa had been cursed, and that she was bringing a curse on their whole family. Her husband left her, and her family shunned her. Hawa continued to work hard, persevering through the physical pain of her swollen leg, the emotional pain of rejection, humiliation and shame, and the social pain of ostracism. Additionally, Hawa came from a Muslim background and didn’t know of a good God who loved her, causing spiritual pain as she believed that God had cursed her for some unknown reason. She grew vegetables and sold them in the town 3 miles away, walking painfully to and from the town each day, hiding her swollen leg and foot under a long skirt or wrap.
Besides the long-term issue of her elephantiasis and disability, Hawa’s family was hit hard during the recent Ebola crisis. She lost 7 family members to Ebola, including her sister, who left behind 4 children that Hawa now cares for. At one point, during one of her THREE 21-day quarantine periods, Hawa’s 4-year-old daughter was bitten by a rabid dog. She broke quarantine to bring her daughter into town and ask Women of Hope for help, knowing that she could be arrested for leaving her home during a quarantine. But she also knew that without help, her daughter would surely die a terrible death from rabies. She came to the only people she knew would help her, Women of Hope staff, and though the risks were high, they did assist in getting her daughter rabies vaccine to save her life.
She found acceptance at Women of Hope, gaining new friends, new training and new joy, but life was still difficult and painful. As her leg continued to swell, she begged for help in getting an amputation. Another woman in the program had had a similar experience and when she had her leg amputated, she got her life back, succeeding in ways she had never imagined. Eventually, the pain from the leg and the secondary infections in her foot caused her to become very sick – in body and in spirit. Hawa despaired of life itself and just begged to die.
The Women of Hope team came around her and mobilized resources to find a way to get Hawa the amputation surgery that she needed. Such a surgery is a complicated process in Sierra Leone. Besides being more expensive than an average village woman like Hawa could afford, it requires a minimum of 6 weeks in the hospital where someone has to live with you to care for you and cook for you, since hospitals in Sierra Leone don’t provide food to patients. So not only did Hawa have to find people to watch her young children for at least 6 weeks, she also had to have a family member go with her and stay with her. To further complicate matters, the orthopedic hospital which offered the surgery at a subsidized cost was several hours away, and Hawa didn’t have a way to get there.
Through the assistance of Women of Hope and various partners, Hawa was finally able to get to the hospital, along with her mother who accompanied her to care for her. Her surgery and hospital stay were paid for in full, and she was provided with some money to buy the food she and her mother would need while she was hospitalized. Neither of them would be able to work the farm while she was in the hospital, erasing all of their meager day-to-day income for over 2 months.
The surgery was successful, though unfortunately the tissue damage was so severe that they had to amputate above the knee. Hawa began the slow road to recovery.But the best outcome of the process, was that though Hawa had heard the Gospel before, through her years of involvement with Women of Hope, seeing the love of Jesus tangibly displayed to her in the midst of her crisis made Christ real to her in a new way. She suddenly realized that God loved HER, and she put her faith in Jesus. Not only does Hawa have a new lease on life, without the pain and encumbrance of her diseased leg, she has New Life in Christ as well! Additionally, her mother, who had believed Hawa to be a curse on their family, saw people caring for her daughter with love, and began to rethink the value of this beloved woman who bears the image of God. She also became curious about Christ, as she witnessed His Body coming around her daughter.
Please continue to pray for Hawa, and her long journey of recovery and rehabilitation. She will have a difficult road ahead of her, but Hawa is spunky and tenacious – and now she also has the power of the Holy Spirit to help her!