Identical twin nurses Lisa and Cherie Chalmers are undertaking a new humanitarian journey, inspired by their faith and a determination to step into a new season in 2022. The women depart New Zealand early January for five months, paying their own way to volunteer with Mercy Ships as part of the 400-strong international crew on the surgical hospital ship Africa Mercy, sailing to Senegal, West Africa.
Mercy Ships paused their field service in Senegal in March 2020 when COVID-19 caused global disruption. Cherie and Lisa will be aboard the 16,000 gross-tonne Africa Mercy as the hospital ship returns in early 2021.
The volunteer crew will be providing free essential surgical services not usually available within the low income countries in sub-Saharan Africa that Mercy Ships serves – cleft lip and palate reconstruction, paediatric orthopaedic surgery, burns scar release and plastic surgery, women’s health surgery and general paediatric surgery. Alongside these surgical services, training courses and healthcare mentoring courses programmes are offered to help sustainably strengthen the capacity of local health care partners.
The Paraparaumu sisters trained at Whitireia Community Polytechnic in Porirua, and have worked at Eldon Lodge together for eight years.
Leaving New Zealand in the first few days of the New Year, they will sail with the Mercy Ship Africa Mercy on the voyage to West Africa. Cherie is volunteering on board in the hospitality team which will be very busy preparing cabins and welcoming the influx of international recruits arriving to volunteer for the start of the field service which will last most of the year.
Lisa will fill a role that everyone wishes was not necessary. She will be on the Palliative Care Nursing team, caring for terminal patients that Mercy Ships is unable to treat. Health care and wellbeing support at home is offered to a small number of local patients who came to Mercy Ships hoping for treatment, only to discover their condition is life-ending and inoperable.
The sisters were inspired to volunteer after a friend shared a video about the work of Mercy Ships with them. “It gave us goose bumps, says Lisa. “We kept watching more – one of the stories was about a little boy who had cataract and how surgery had changed his life. Something stirred in our hearts and we wanted to go and help- we have always had a heart for vulnerable populations. We have learnt so many skills working up at the rest home caring for the elderly at the end of their life and felt we could take these skills to the ship.”
Cherie explains that she is volunteering in one of the many support roles on board the hospital ship. “When applying there were limited positions in nursing with our skillset in palliative nursing. I was willing to take on any other roles as it felt like the right time to be going. Both of us are looking forward to learning about the people of Africa and their culture, spending time with the people, and journeying with them during their time on Mercy Ships. We also look forward to learning the basics of a new language and meeting other volunteers from different countries and nations.”
Kiwis from all over the country are volunteering aboard the Africa Mercy in 2022 in a variety of roles; information technology, catering, human resources and engineering as well as in a wide range of health care roles.
As the newly built, big-sister hospital ship Global Mercy arrives in Senegal for her first field service, the capacity of Mercy Ships to deliver free surgical services and medical capacity-building courses will be multiplied. With more than 600 volunteers from all over the globe, there are many opportunities to make your mark for good.
WATCH Tresor’s story that inspired the Chalmers sisters to volunteer their skills to help other children needing essential surgery in low-income countries
READ the article in the Kapiti News on Stuff about Lisa and Cherie’s intrepid adventures