Teaching in a school at sea

Judy bow portrait close lo sq

Judy Harding’s short daily commute from her Dargaville home to her Primary School classroom was always a bonus, but that has been topped in a way she never expected.

In September, Ms Harding flew to the Canary Islands to join the volunteer crew of the Mercy Ship Africa Mercy for two years. She is part of the teaching team in the on board international school. The Academy meets the preschool, primary and high school education requirements of the long-term medical, maritime and operational volunteers’ children. Teaching Grade 2 in the Elementary School, she is already halfway through the northern hemisphere academic year.

“My commute from my cabin to my classroom is 2 flights of stairs and 32 steps – from Deck 4 to Deck 6. From my cabin to the dining room is about 100 steps. I’ve lost count every time because we crew members greet each other, so we are chatting away.”

“Our Elementary trip to the beach at Las Palmas near where the hospital ship is docked has been one of the school year highlights so far. We played Frisbee and made sand sculptures. We made a huge hole and buried kids up their necks,” she laughs. Although the ship children live on board, so this trip was a treat for everyone because ports don’t have beaches.

Ms Harding says other stand-out moments have been when her class learns from other crew members’ roles on board. “Visiting the captain for a session on magnetics and compasses was fantastic. He is a great teacher who had us all enthralled.”

“Sailing on a ‘normal’ school day was far from normal – spending time watching dolphins, watching the pilot jump from the tug boat onto the ship, watching the tug boat push us into place against the dock at Puerto de Granadilla.”

Currently with a roll of 30 children school, the Africa Mercy Academy will have up to 50 children from all over the world as the hospital ship crew prepares to sail for the next field service Senegal, West Africa in early 2022.

“Things are starting to happen to ready ourselves for the Senegal field service. The machines in the ship’s hospital are all being calibrated and the hospital has had a deep clean. I am so looking forward to seeing the first patient walk up the gangway, and even more so the first patient walk down the gangway after receiving the healing promised over 18 months ago (when the field service was paused due to COVID-19). I can imagine there will be emotional moments.”

The Senegal field service will last most of 2022, when Mercy Ships will provide essential surgery to patients of all ages from across all 14 regions of the West African country. Many patients have been waiting to receive life-changing care since the start of the pandemic. With the help of local partners and volunteer professionals from around the world, Mercy Ships is honoured to fulfil complete our promise to return.

In addition, collaboration with local healthcare professionals aims to further strengthen Senegal’s own capacity and assist the Minister of Health in creating a dynamic national surgical plan.

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