West Africa is a completely different world to ours. It smells different, it looks different, the traffic is chaotic with motorbikes coming from all directions. One of the most significant differences, however, concerns the health system. It is basic and insufficient to serve the people of the country, not to mention that accessing even the most basic healthcare services can lead families into bankruptcy. Most people just learn to live with preventable and treatable conditions.
This year I had the opportunity to volunteer my time and IT skills in a West African country called Benin. I volunteered as an IT support specialist for an organisation called Mercy Ships, on board the Africa Mercy for three months. The Africa Mercy is a hospital ship which provides free surgeries and medical training to countries along the West African coast. Providing medical capacity building, surgical procedures and post-operative care to the highest standard, the Africa Mercy impacts thousands of lives in each country they dock in.
My time was spent fixing all sorts of IT equipment on the ship. The ship is a unique environment in terms of IT support. It contains a hospital, ship engine room, school, café/shop, hair salon, library, church, bank, and 450 crew members with plenty of personal devices on board. The rest of the IT team and I had to be well-organised and inventive to handle all the technology issues that were thrown at us. Our mission was to make a first-world hospital run smoothly on a first-world ship in a third world country. By working and living on the ship 24/7,when you do a job for someone you not only feel that you are helping the people of Benin but you also feel like you are helping out friends. This gave me a real sense of accomplishment in my job.
Volunteering for Mercy Ships has reminded me that customers and patients are the main reason I come into work every day. The effort I put into developing quality software will ultimately result in a better experience for those consumers and patients. I have also realized how blessed we are in New Zealand to have a reliable and affordable health system. There are so many factors in Benin preventing people from getting the care that they need. So let us be thankful this Christmas that we have the facilities and resources needed to have a safe and enjoyable holiday.
by Jonathan Clark, Software Developer at Orion Health
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