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Book Review: Florencia: An Accidental Story

Mozambique - just the sound of that word feels exotic. But that's not the country's current status. Years and years of civil war have taken its toll, both on the landscape but more importantly, the people. Recovery has been slow for the country but for the survivors left maimed and missing limbs life is a daily torture.

The authors of Florencia: An Accidental Story, Douglas Bowman and John Mullen, come from different backgrounds. John is an entrepreneur who made and lost millions. Douglas is a polio survivor who faced death a second time later in life yet survived again. This unlikely duo became friends as they travelled together to Mozambique in 2002 as part of a humanitarian mission. During the trip they both fell in love with the people of Mozambique.

After the mission they lost touch until a chance encounter brought them back together in 2015. They started a daily walk that led to a book idea about their experiences in Mozambique. The idea was eclipsed when they heard about the land mines in the country, the thousands who were maimed by them, and in particular Florencia – also called “the flower of Macachula”.

The authors captured my attention right away with their beautiful prose as they describe the torturous life of Florencia, for instance, "The well was almost completely dry, and so was Florencia's spirit." In some places the writing was a bit amateurish but I have to say it didn’t distract me too long or take away from the story in any way.

While the story centers on how to get a new leg for Florencia, hers was blown off by a landmine, we meet a number of people who help in amazing ways through the journey. There is the story of Dr. Mehta, the man who created the artificial limbs, for example. He comes across as the “Gandhi” of prosthetics in India and even now, in his mid-seventies, he is still working to give limbs to all those who need. The most startling fact is that he does this at no cost to the recipient. But the story takes place with many generous people over three continents.

It is also a story about grit and determination. The authors faced numerous hurdles in their desire to help Florencia walk again. At many points through the story it seems unlikely that they will succeed. But they kept trying, asking for help, looking for different ways to get the result. And in the beginning it really was about helping one person walk. For Florencia it was also her story of grit and determination. At first it was about learning to navigate her world with one leg. Not an easy feat with a young child who wants to be lifted by mommy. Nor when one has to walk long distances for water or food. Having accepted the offer of a new leg she also shows her determination in learning to retrain herself to walk on it, holding strong through the pain, and without the crutch she had grown used to.

The authors, Douglas and John, have now broadened their perspective. The focus is still on helping one person at a time only this time they see the 10,000 Mozambicans who are in need. They have set up a fund and are using this book and story to help raise awareness for their cause. They say one person needs an average of eight legs in their life. Their website is Help One Walk International - take a look if you feel moved to help.

Overall, I liked this book. It’s an easy read, inspiring, and a true story. It demonstrates how helping one person can lead to such joy and happiness to both the giver and receiver. For that reason alone I would recommend it. Here's the link.

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