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New National Director

for Mercy Ships New Zealand

Toni-Maree Carnie on leading Mercy Ships NZ

“It is the right time and the right place,” Toni-Maree Carnie explains, as she steps from a remarkable five years with Volleyball New Zealand. Her team developed the sport to become the fastest-growing secondary school sport in the country. After delivering a new level of success and participation growth, Ms Carnie brings her skills and experience to a whole new charity code.


As the incoming New Zealand CEO of the international hospital ship charity Mercy Ships, Ms Carnie says she felt “A heart-tug to do something that makes a real difference in vulnerable people’s lives, a role with a purpose.” She replaces Graeme Walls, who has served with Mercy Ships internationally for 40 years.

Mercy Ships New Zealand Board Chair, Lee Tait says, “With strengths in developing relationships, managing volunteers, and running effective not-for-profit organisations including most recently Volleyball New Zealand, Toni-Maree certainly has the credentials to increase the charity’s financial and volunteer provision for two hospital ships and ongoing work in Africa. This is a new phase for Mercy Ships, putting international COVID interruptions behind us and building up fundraising for operating two hospital ships in Africa. We are excited for what Mercy Ships in New Zealand can do through Toni-Maree’s leadership.”

“Mercy Ships is making a huge impact in the poorest parts of the world,” Ms Carnie explains. “In the most challenging situations and conditions, Mercy Ships is making a life-transforming difference in individuals’ lives. I couldn’t help but be moved by the poor access to healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa – Mercy Ships’ field of service. Being able to provide life-changing surgery means people who had been forced to the fringes of society by their conditions can return to school, get a job, and simply BE in public. Free essential surgery is a connector.”

“Sport is all about people and relationships, growing the whole person not just their physical capability in the sport. Holistic people need support, development and growth – all the things Mercy Ships brings on a medical and well-being level to the low-income nations served.”

Sierra Leone, Mercy Ships’ present nation of service, was ranked 181 out of 191 countries; the lowest end of the Human Development Index (2020).

43% of Sierra Leoneans lived below the poverty line, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2022.

A great need

Mercy Ships typically spends 10 months at a time in a sub-Saharan Africa port, with the volunteer crews providing otherwise inaccessible surgical care, and focused training and medical mentoring for national health care professionals. Medical, maritime, and operational volunteers serve for weeks, months or even years at a time.

The 36,000-tonne Global Mercy™ and her volunteer crew of 640, and the 16,000-tonne Africa Mercy with her volunteer crew of 460, resemble floating villages where the main industry is a surgical hospital. The hospital ships have a combined total of 280 hospital ward beds, 11 operating theatres, ICU, and all the required auxiliary health care services like radiology, physiotherapy, and pharmacy. This transportable surgical care system enables Mercy Ships to provide first-world medical services in low-income countries, for some of the world’s poorest people. The services provided free of charge on board include paediatric orthopaedic surgery, burns surgery with plastic reconstruction, cleft lip and palate operations, obstetric fistula surgery, massive yet benign tumour removal, ophthalmic and dental clinical work. Alongside the surgical work, there is a sustained focus on education training and advocacy to strengthen the national health care systems in the nations we serve.

Mercy Ships New Zealand, which began in 2001, is one of 16 Mercy Ships national offices around the world. Ms Carnie’s team generates donations to operate the hospital ships, recruits volunteers from medical, maritime and operational sectors, and raises local awareness of Mercy Ships’ work. 

“The principles of running any business or charity are the same,” explains Ms Carnie. “Value people, providing an opportunity for people to pursue their passion – with great communication and excellent practice. Any charity that has volunteers provides an opportunity for people to make an impact and help improve other people’s lives. This is what motivates me too.”

“A successful charity relies on great people at all levels – people who share their skills, some share great stories, and some play a super game. Everyone plays a critical part that’s essential for success.”

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