By John Clynes
If ever there W.A.S a perfect lifestyle of work and play, this is it.
Whether working full time, retired or semi-retired volunteering with Mercy Ships is a rewarding opportunity.
Take a 150-metre ship and turn it into a fully equipped first world state of the art surgical hospital. Fill it with accommodation for 450 crew from around the world and berth it against a wharf to serve the poorest of the poor in sub-Saharan West African countries to provide free life giving surgical procedures and you have this amazing Mercy Ships vessel, the Africa Mercy.
The World Health Organisation realised that five billion people in the world do not have direct access to safe, affordable and timely surgery. The lowest-ranked countries for poverty in the world are generally found just above the African equator and down the west coast of Africa. Hidden behind such people groups living there are those suffering even poorer health still. Marginalised, there are hidden faces, kept away in hiding, ashamed, cursed and die miserable lives with no chance at all for essential life-giving surgery.
The international charity Mercy Ships (check out www.mercyships.org.au ) is the organisation dedicated to bring hope and healing to the poorest of the poor and it takes on board volunteer crew from around the world to utilise their skills dedicated to the cause. Kiwis punch above their weight per capita for crew on the Africa Mercy in various positions throughout the vessel. To keep the ship running smoothly there is a 50 strong team of deck and engineering to keep the whole operation afloat. The Mercy Ship stays in field service against a government-approved secure berth in one country for 10 months of a year, then sails away for maintenance (usually The Canary Islands) and returns to another country for her next season.
My wife Sue, an operating theatre nurse, and myself an engineer joined the crew for two and a half years fulltime, but volunteers can go for a little as a month depending on the position filled. There are heaps of positions from any of the 150 strong surgical / hospital team, lab technicians, physiotherapists etc, to hotel, housekeeping, stores, galley, dining room, teaching ( yes there are families on ship who go to the school academy on board). So a combo of husband and wife with your own cabin is very rewarding, or you could bunk in as an individual with other shipmates from around the world. You will find that this volunteer work and adventure and lifestyle W.A.S is one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever find in your life.
It was also very humbling to see the depravity of humanity and how some of the people from developing nations live a life of subsistence and to have a medical condition requiring surgery is virtually a death sentence. Bringing hope and healing to some of these people is truly an amazing thing to see in both their eyes and ours. Instead of pouring in misdirected monetary aid we need to be hands-on, sleeves rolled up, engineering a better way fighting the inequality of life. We cannot right all the wrongs but we can do something to restore their dignity as fellow human beings. Life on ship was great belonging to a community with purpose.
Mercy Ships is bringing another purpose-built hospital ship into service within the next few years. There is a need for more volunteers to fill the additional positions with professional people. Volunteer crew are the glue to provide the passion and love in what they do and if you are contemplating an overseas experience of work and adventure with security W.A.S, the richness and reward is multiplied back on you in countless ways. Don’t hesitate to volunteer your skills and talent.