Do you remember the joy of spinning in circles as a child? Perhaps it was while holding hands with a playmate, or on a ride at the fair, dancing in pirouettes, or simply turning on the spot – it was a thrill to send our surroundings into a kaleidoscope and then collapse in a dizzy fit of giggles. Do you remember?
Four years ago, Jaka was spinning around in circles with some other children while her mother was at the market. Around and around, arms out, chin up, her face full of smiles. But when Jaka lost her balance, she fell into her aunt’s cooking fire with her arm up. A pot of boiling water spilled over Jaka’s shoulders, arms and back.
Jaka’s mother, Fanta, couldn’t afford to pay the 1.5 million Guinea Francs – just over $200 – that the hospital demanded at the gate. For the next eight months, Jaka lay on her little stomach, tethered to the ground by unimaginable pain while her mother fanned her.
As Jaka’s burns healed without medical care or rehabilitation, her left shoulder and arm contracted. Jaka’s skin began to grow back in such a way that her arm became stuck to her side from her armpit to elbow. By the time her wounds had healed, Jaka had lost the ability to move her arm.
Today, nine-year-old Jaka is recovering from a free plastic surgery that released her arm and grafted skin. Deep burn marks still cover her entire upper body – her head, neck, shoulders, back and arms – but you wouldn’t notice. It’s hard to see past her adorable gap-toothed smile.
Sweeping, and washing – these are the activities Jaka says she will get to do with her restored arm. Laundry might not be appealing to many, but participating in household chores is something Jaka has never been able to do. “I am so happy,” Jaka says. “When I go home, I will work all the time because I can.” (Fanta admits she is glad for this enthusiasm.) Free of her deformity, Jaka will also now be able to go to school for the first time.
From her hospital bed on board the Africa Mercy, Jaka is all giggles – she can hardly contain her excitement for her now-bright future of playing, going to school and watching cars drive by her house with her nine siblings. But Jaka’s favourite part about her restorative surgery and rehabilitation is even simpler than that: “Clapping!” she exclaims. With her arm free, Jaka can finally clap with both hands.
Now there’s a happy ending worthy of applause!