Jemal and Fhami became Project Harar Ethiopia’s first patients when they received surgical care in 2002
Jemal was born to a very poor family in a remote village 50kms from Harar, a historic Ethiopian town near the Somalian border. At a very young age he developed chicken pox and his immune system was badly weakened. Without a local doctor and with no available antibiotics, Jemal developed noma.
His family was unable to look after him financially. They also had superstitious beliefs and thought that Jemal’s affliction was an act of god and he was a source of bad fortune. Left to fend for himself, he turned to the streets for his survival.
During a photography expedition to Ethiopia in April 2001, Jonathan Crown discovered Jemal begging in a bustling market with his face concealed by a veil. As he passed through the crowds, a fleeting gap in the fabric showed a face consumed by noma. Jemal disappeared but Jonathan was moved immediately to do something to help. He set about searching for the boy and discovered another boy in distress, Fhami aged 11.
Fhami had lead a normal childhood in the outskirts of Harar until, after a short period of famine, hyenas entered his village at dusk to scrounge for food. They found the small boy and badly mauled him.
Fhami tried to run into his home, but the animal caught him and clamped its jaw around Fhami’s head. In an instant his right eye was lost, the right-side of his face was paralysed permanently, his skull was crushed, his right ear was dislodged and the ear drum burst.
Fhami was fortunate to survive the animal attack but suffered constant pain and his wounds were in extreme danger of infection. Like Jemal, his family, of whom only his mother survives, was unable to look after him so he came to Harar to beg where he was found by Jemal’s search party.
Jemal and Fhami became Project Harar Ethiopia’s first two patients.
After months spent organising birth certificates (which neither boy possessed), medical reports, tickets, ID papers, passports, and visas – including an intervention from the Ethiopian Ambassador to the UK – the two boys and Jonathan travelled to Gambia via London for surgery by Tony Giles aboard the hospital ship, MV Anastasis.
Fhami underwent two procedures, the first of which lasted seven hours.
A piece of rib was used to rebuild his eye socket and cheekbone. A new eyelid was constructed. The position and skin of the ear was restored and he was given a full head of a hair. Unfortunately, due to the paralysis in his face, a glass eye could not be installed. Happily, the wounds healed well and are no longer liable to infection. His recovery was speedy and his happy nature and laughter filled the ward. Fhami was very popular with the nurses.
In three highly complex operations, a whole new nose and upper lip was created for Jemal. The operation required several skin grafts, a tracheotomy and some 200 stitches. After one month spent healing, function was restored to his face, enabling him to eat and speak. His face has been transformed. Jemal has the independence he longed for and he no longer hides himself from view.
Return to Harar
After three months docked in Gambia, Fhami and Jemal returned to Harar. Project Harar Ethiopia continues to check on their good progress and the boys know Project Harar Ethiopia will support them if they need further medical attention.