Teacher’s mission of mercy at sea

Judy 2 April2021 lo crop
Dargaville teacher Judy Harding is swapping the classroom for life onboard one of the Mercy Ships’ humanitarian aid fleet, sailing to bring medical care and infrastructural support to developing nations.

“After investing her teaching career into the children at Dargaville Primary School, Judy Harding is swapping her rural classroom for a floating school. She will be volunteering on board a Mercy Ship as it provides essential healthcare and surgical services for sub-Saharan Africa’s under-served poor,” says Sharon Walls, Mercy Ships New Zealand’s communications manager.

Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 55 developing countries, crewed by volunteers from more than 60 nations.

Mrs Harding says she loves her class of year three and four students at Dargaville Primary School and admits it’s a wrench to leave them and the school she has given almost 20 years to. However, even in her departure, Whaea Judy has found an opportunity to bring new understanding and broaden her students’ horizons.

“I showed most classes at the school a Mercy Ships video. Everyone was fascinated and did not know such ships existed. It has created a lot of excitement,” she says. 

“My family and friends have been very supportive of my new adventure too.” 

Ms Harding also has been supported by her church, Dargaville Baptist Community Church, in her preparations for the two-year tour of duty, living alongside 26 families on board the Mercy Ship, Africa Mercy.  

“My role on board is that of a year four teacher in the academy,” says Judy.  

“School starts on October 4, and I will remain with the ship until the end of the school year in June 2023. I’m looking forward to a smaller class of no more than six students and teaching a Christian curriculum. The students are from different countries and cultures, which will be so interesting.”

Mrs Harding says she hopes her new class of international children will call her Whaea Judy too, as a special reminder on a daily basis of the children in Dargaville who will be keenly waiting for news of her life-changing mission.

“There are 13 teachers in the Africa Mercy Academy, teaching from what Amercians call Kindergarten through to Year 12. The children’s parents serve in a range of positions such as surgeons, engineers, principals, and IT professionals. So we are a part of the big picture,” says Judy. “Having the Academy enables families to stay together on this amazing mission.”

As well as the jobs already listed, each of the large Mercy Ships fleet can carry dentists, nurses, healthcare trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, technicians and agriculturalists, who donate their time and skills. Judy is going one step further, and helping to pay for her own food and supplies for the entire two year mission. 

Over the years, Mercy Ships have brought more than $2.5 billion in aid, materials and skills to the poorest nations on Earth, helping bring communities out of poverty by bringing a ‘floating city’ of skilled people and their tools right into harbour. You can find out more about their mission at mercyships.org.nz

By Andy Bryenton, Published with permission from The Kaipapra LifeStyler magazine

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships