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The Woman Who Forged Her Way Through Walls: Florence Bangura’s Story

Florence Bangura’s history with Mercy Ships spans 20 years, covering two countries, three ships, and four field services

At the age of 29, Florence worked as a welder on board the very first Mercy Ships hospital ship, the Anastasis, just a week after becoming officially certified in her trade. She later came on board the Africa Mercy® as a national day crewmember when it visited her home country of Sierra Leone in 2011, and in 2018 returned to the ship during its field service in the neighboring nation of Guinea.

Florence’s journey from oldest to newest Mercy Ship came full circle when she met the Global Mercy™ in 2023, the same year that the purpose-built hospital ship began welcoming its patients on board. Today, you can find Florence, now 49 years old, down in the engine room as a hotel engineering assistant – and she says being on board again brings her back in time.

“When I am on the ship, it is like I am just 18 years of age. There is nothing too hard for me. They call me ‘Iron Lady.’”

A Guiding Light to New Purpose

Florence’s strength was forged by a lifetime of refining challenges. “I faced a lot of terrible problems in my life,” she reflected. Married off at a young age and barred from working by her father, Florence sought purpose in an education. This prospect was upended by the outbreak of the Sierra Leone Civil War in 1991. However, Florence found new hope in 2000 when she enrolled in a welding school. She was finally set to graduate in 2003, but could hardly afford to have shoes on her feet then, much less the gown required to attend the graduation ceremony.

It was then that Florence first crossed paths with Mercy Ships, meeting a group of volunteers who encouraged and supported her journey toward graduation and even attended the ceremony to cheer Florence on.

“She came a long way from when she was a young girl,” Mercy Ships chief engineer Irik Mallie explained. The Canadian volunteer only met Florence on the Africa Mercy years later, but he had heard her origin stories. Supervising her work, Irik found, “This is not somebody that you have to urge on. She does it because she wants to.”

Florence moved throughout the department over the years, working with volunteers from across the world.

“Over 40 nations, we come together. We work in the same place. We are all one family, and you have your own talents, I have my own—we put them together. I learned a lot, and if you work with Mercy Ships, you will learn a lot.”

Sharing Skills to Help Others Grow

Between working as a day crewmember during field services with Mercy Ships, Florence took odd jobs in other fields until she found another passion: managing a farm. In a village upcountry without a hospital, school, or shops, Florence’s mission is to support the isolated community through sustainable development. “I help them because I really love to help people, even though I don’t have [much myself],” she said. “I will equip others. I will train others so that they also will do something in the future. That’s my goal.”

Florence holds this mentality on the ship as well, where she is recognized as a leader among her colleagues. She explained, “When somebody is coming up, trying to do something, if you have the opportunity, help that person. Maybe it will be better for the whole world tomorrow.”

Especially important to Florence is fostering opportunities of growth for other women.

“What men can do, women also can,” she cites from experience. “I want to bring ladies on board so that I can teach them. We work together so that they will not depend upon outsiders.”

The model is clear to her daughter Esther, whom Florence supports in her dream to become a lawyer. “She is very, very hardworking. She can work under stress, under pressure,” Esther reflected. “I learned from her that you cannot give up. It’s not time to give up.”

Like Florence, do you feel called to apply your determination and talents to bring hope and healing to those who need it most? There are so many ways to use your skills with Mercy Ships.  Find your place, your purpose, and your people on board today.

Find your own place on board

Want to be part of making a tangible impact during this exciting season in Madagascar? There’s still time – and still space for you on board! Volunteers are needed across each deck, including in the operating room, the hospital ward, the galley, the engine room, and the communications office. Find your place on board today to help bring hope and healing in the model of Jesus.

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