After a ten day volunteer trip to a hospital ship in West Africa, a South African plastic surgeon returns home with more than travel stories to share with his wife. The experience of helping the poorest of the poor has reconstructed his future plans - and will change their relationship in ways she never dared imagine.

Meanwhile, three Beninese are struggling with severe physical abnormalities that, without access to funds and specialist physicians, will be with them for life.

When Hyacinthe was a baby he crawled over a pile of hot ash that had been covered with leaves. The injury resulted in a severe burn contracture - his skin growing over both the upper and lower limb and fusing it in a folded position. His mother sends him to live with his uncle in a far off Vodun village where he can later attend school. Now as a ten year old, mischievous schoolboy he uses a small crutch to play soccer and climb trees - determined to overcome the school bullies with his fiery personality. He has not seen his mother for three years. His weary uncle, the sole caregiver, is exasperated with Hyacinthe's playground fist fights.

Fadila, a quiet and mature eleven year old devout Muslim girl from Niger, is now living on the Nigerian - Benin border. She was born with defects in an eyelid and her nose that make her the subject of many school yard jokes. She chooses to spend time with the less critical: adults and small children. Though gentle and shy she has a deep hurt and resentment towards those who have ostracized her.

In the chaotic city of Cotonou, Ambroise is a cool 31 year old motorcycle taxi driver and a family man. As a baby he developed a tiny bump of abnormal arteries that has now spread and disfigured his entire arm. For his adult life he has worn long sleeves in the West African heat - not even revealing the tumor to his wife before they are married. As the arteries slowly infiltrate his muscles it becomes increasingly painful and difficult to continue to ride the streets of Cotonou.

On hearing of an international hospital ship's arrival in Benin, all three patients attend the screening day to seek a free surgery. Thousands, from all over Benin, are lined up and it is clear that not all can be helped in the 9 months the ship will be docked in the port. Dr Tertius Venter is one of the 450 international crew members on the Mercy Ship, the Africa Mercy, who is paying to volunteer in order to provide free specialized surgery to the poor.

Even though Dr Venter's wife would love to join him and the ship can accommodate her, he firmly believes that as much as he loves her - he must do this alone. His hurt and confused wife, Trudi, tries to make sense of only seeing her husband 3 months a year.

Hyacinthe and his mother, almost strangers, are thrown together for the duration of his hospital stay. His mother struggles to show affection while his post surgery immobility makes him increasingly difficult and frustrated. How can he let his defenses down when he knows she will leave him again when he recovers?