The afternoon light peered through the open doorway, revealing brilliant reds, yellows and blues. Yavovi shared one after another of his colorful poster paintings from his dusty portfolio. His art was like a map of his life. Some images were wild others more subdued. All with a touch of discipline and care that only comes from creating something by hand.
I had the privilege of connecting with this very special artist in Lomé, Togo. Yawovi had been a hernia patient on Mercy Ships and we were invited to his home to see how his recovery was coming along.
On the ride over I read information on him and realized he too was an artist. We met and after a bit of chit chat I asked about his work. Yawovi pulled out his gouache to show us his art supplies. I exclaimed, "Moi aussi!" (the national language in Togo is French) pulling out my water colors, pencils and sketchbook. Though we had never met, there was a bridge between us.
Yawovi had been a teacher by profession. The problem was that he taught in a private school and it would be months before he would receive a paycheck. He and his wife Atikpo Akouvi decided that he should seek out his artistic passions and more steady income. Yawovi landed apprenticeship for two years under a local print maker named Petron Pomnidou. There he would learn skills to become a graphic designer. Because there is a lack of machinery to mass produce graphic design in Togo Yawovi learned the art of letter forms and typography to make hand painted signs. The two year program cost 100,000 CFA ($200 US). Atikpo Akouvi's job as a fish monger was not enough to sustain the family. Yawovi drove a zimmi john (motorcycle taxi) and rented out a room in his home to earn income and pay for his training. Disciplined, hard working and passionate, Yawovi quickly gained the respect of his mentor and peers.
Unfortunately Yawovi found that the market for graphic designers in Togo just wasn't what he hoped. In addition he developed a painful hernia in 2005 which prevented him from being able to lift and do hard manual labor. He tried various treatments but nothing relieved the constant pain. His situation looked bleak.
One day his father got wind in the local market that Mercy Ships was on its way to Togo. Excited at the possibility of being healed, Yawovi showed up at 3am on February 1st, screening day. He was one of the first people to line up as well as to receive an appointment card for surgery for March 21st aboard the Africa Mercy. He and his family were thrilled.
The surgery went quicker and smoother than he expected. The pain subsided immediately. Yawovi shared with his wife of the great experience he had with the medical crew aboard the Africa Mercy and is so thankful for the operation he received.
We all have gifts that we have been given. Free from pain, Yawovi can now use his gifts to create with his hands and provide for his family.
© 2012 Mercy Ships-Photos by Ryan Chen