I'm Emily Pinna, a visual storyteller who's been living in Yaounde for almost 2 years now. My friend Idriss, a Dr. in Pharmacy, offered me to take me to his village for a 3 day, 2 night trip to discover the beautiful west of Cameroon. We took off to Bangangte mid January, and stayed at Idriss' grandma's house, together with Gaetan, Idriss' cousin who is in his final year of Dental studies. Together we are TEAM STEPHANE.
The three of us were visiting the beautiful surroundings of Bangangte, the chefferies, the University and the Gatcha Foundation and while stopping to drink some water this happened:
We spotted a boy selling avocados...who had an unusally shaped belly- a very very big belly. It was not one of malnourished children. We approached the boy and bought some of his avocados, and asked if he had put a pillow under his jacket-that's what we really thought it was. Turns out he was born this way- and that he had seen some doctors in the past who suggested a surgery but that his family couldn't afford it. We took his mom's phone number and told the boy we'd call his mom.
The next morning we met with Stephan's mom and baby brother. Mama Modestine told us a bit more about the struggles she faced, trying to find a solution to her son's pain and swollen belly. She had seen a few doctors and traditional healers. Some years ago she had seen a doctor in nearby Baffousam who had done some bloodwork and had proposed one surgery for 230.000 XFA (about $400) but the family had no money. WE took pictures of Stephane and any medical file she had with the promise we would show it to doctors in Yaounde upon our return, but she had to commit sending her son to school immediately. Turned out that she couldn't afford the school either of 4.000 XFA a year ( $6) so we went straight to the public school and signed Stephane up. After that we went to Stephane's house only to find out that his 8 year old sister Jessica was also not in school, so we went back and signed her up as well. Then we took both kids to buy school books, and well, I've never seen happier kids being excited about school books. It was heart melting.
Upon our return to Yaounde Idriss went to some Doctors he knew who directed him to some other doctors. After a lot of footwork and lots of waiting he finally met Professor Mouafo who is specialized in malformation in children. He looked through the medical file we brought and was pretty convinced that Stephane had a very rare disease, called the Hirschsprung syndrome, which is a congenital mega-colon, meaning that part of his colon had no nerves so its unable to push the stool through the digestive system. The doctor said he wanted to see the boy within the next 24 hours as his colon could explode any minute and he could die.
We called Mama Modestine and the next day they were on their way to Yaounde. The doctor received them just a few hours after arriving and did some more testing and assessments. And then we got the good and bad news: yes we could save Stephane. But he'd need 3 surgeries, immediately and even though the Doctor would perform his surgeries for free, the cost of all the exams, transfusions, medicine, hospital stay, material for the surgery (literally everything from gloves to needles etc etc) would be around 4.2 million XFA *around $8.000).
We were in total shock. We did not expect that nor did we know what to do next.
After some hours however the energy got back and we said: YES WE CAN. We will do anything to save Stephane!
We created a crowdfunding website, created a little video, we did some Facebook entries, set up mobile money and started emailing basically everyone we know telling them about Stephane. The response was overwhelming. We had people taking out their wallets in front if us, giving his whatever they could.
The videos were shared and shared and money started coming in. Student organizations came to visit and bring money, a church group stopped by and a representative of an organization of Cameroonian's in Germany stopped by.
Our local network supported us in any way possible, from people cooking for Stephane and family to sending us a teacher to the hospital to help Stephane catch up on school work....and and and.