Vernel is a wily six-year-old who is probably up to something that he’ll most likely get away with. Why will he get away with it? Because when he looks up at you, with that lovable, mischievous grin, he mesmerises you with his sweetness. Your only conscious thought is about how adorable he is. Were you about to reprimand him? You can’t remember.

We call this “The Vernel Effect.”

Vernel’s story begins in a fishing village eight hours from Congo’s port city of Pointe Noire. The cleft on the right side of his upper lip revealed his pink gums and front teeth as it stretched toward his nostril. Vernel was bullied for looking different. The other children in their village teased him to the point that he would come home crying.

Supporters like you helped to provide the operation that Vernel needed. Thank you!

Vernel’s father brought him to the Africa Mercy, a specialised surgical hospital ship staffed by volunteers from over 40 nations. In an environment where people with cleft lips are embraced, Vernel quickly came into his own. He never had to worry about being teased; the crew loved Vernel from the moment he stepped into the Admissions Tent. We made him balloons, we let him play with the Djembe drums, and we discovered that he is a clown in front of the camera. On this ship in Africa, Vernel finally found his audience: our volunteers who have eyes to see beyond his deformity. By the time surgeons repaired Vernel’s cleft lip, he’d forgotten he had it.

But Vernel couldn’t stay on the ship forever. Eventually, he had to return home.

Vernel’s village had no idea what they were in for. When it was time for Vernel to be discharged, he called his grandmother to tell her he was coming home. “I’m a handsome boy now,” he said.

Vernel was not the first (or the last) patient to undergo a transformation here. But history will remember the crew onboard the Africa Mercy in Congo as the enablers of The Vernel Effect. It was because of the love shown to him that he realised his charm.

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