Kiwi Crew Stories (Demo)

Kiwi Crew Stories (Demo)

There is nothing more heartbreaking for a parent than watching their child struggle through basic tasks because of something they can’t control. Ibrahima knows this pain well, from watching not one, but two of his children suffer from an orthopaedic condition known as Genu Varum or bowed legs. This malady, often a result of malnutrition, causes the bones in the legs to bend outwards — making it increasingly difficult and even painful to walk.

For years, Ibrahima prayed for a way to take away his children’s pain, and in 2012 he heard the news that he so desperately needed. Mercy Ships had arrived in Guinea offering to provide safe and free medical care to those in need. During that time, he was able to bring his older son to the Africa Mercy to correct his legs — an answered prayer for Ibrahima.

Unfortunately, for his younger daughter, N’nady, healing was still out of reach. At the time, she was staying with relatives in a remote village deep in the rugged country and wasn’t able to travel to the ship in time for surgery.

Years passed, and while he was grateful for his son’s healing, Ibrahima felt both grief and guilt that he wasn’t able to provide the same for his daughter.

N’nady continued to struggle with her condition, and soon her pain became more than physical. N’nady was teased relentlessly and the mockery she faced caused

Ibrahima even more distress. ‘I fight for her every day. I tell the other kids off for making her cry,’ he said. ‘Everyone teases her.’

While it was difficult to see his daughter in pain, he never gave up hope that the ship would return and that N’nady would have a chance for healing. Six years later, the Africa Mercy returned to Guinea, and N’nady’s family rejoiced.

‘I’m so happy I can’t even eat… I’m so excited to see her healed,’ Ibrahima exclaimed.

The enthusiasm he felt must have been contagious because, after surgery, N’nady shot through her recovery at lightning speed tackling her rehab exercises with the same sweet, shy smile she always wore.

Emma, a physiotherapist from Havelock North, worked closely with N’Nady during her rehabilitation and says, ‘N’nady was a quiet achiever. She did all of her exercises with determination and grace and never gave up. N’nady also loved a hug or was quick with a smile, but when she came to rehab she was there to work and nothing was too difficult. I loved working with her.’

By the time N’Nady and her Dad left the ship to return home, many weeks had passed, yet Ibrahima looked years younger, sharing his overwhelming gratitude.

‘I am forever thankful to have two children healed on Mercy Ships,’ he said. ‘It has changed my family, and changed my life.’

Now, with N’nady’s legs straightened, it is easier for her to walk without being in pain or mocked. N’nady and her father both agree that she’ll be going back to school as soon as possible — although they have different opinions about what comes next. Ibrahima dreams of his daughter becoming a doctor, but N’nady dreams of one day becoming a tailor and making dresses. Whatever she becomes, N’Nady finds joy in knowing that her options are wider than ever.

Kiwi Crew Stories (Demo)

When M’Mah was born, her mother had a simple wish for her daughter’s life. ‘I want her to be like a diamond — to shine bright,’ she said.

Unfortunately for most of M’Mah’s life, the light inside her was overshadowed by the neurofibroma growing on her face.

When she was just a baby, her parents noticed a small lump and dark hairs growing above her left eye. By the time she was five years old, M’Mah’s neurofibroma was drooping over her forehead like a sac and beginning to dislocate her eye.

Over time, more lumps started to develop on her skull and upper lip, causing severe swelling. Even at her young age, other kids noticed M’Mah’s differences, which led to bullying and name-calling. They would call her ‘sick’ and avoid playing with her because they were afraid of her.

As a result, she was spending her childhood on the sidelines. She refused to go to school, even though her parents desperately wanted her to have an education. ‘She was so scared… she said everybody would laugh at her,’ said M’Mah’s mother.

With a heavy shroud of insecurity and fear surrounding M’Mah, it was hard to see the sweet, playful girl inside, waiting to be let out.

The family was poor and struggled to provide enough food for their two children, so an expensive, complicated surgery was out of the question. Her parents prayed every day for healing for their daughter.

When they heard about Mercy Ships, M’Mah’s mother was overjoyed. It was the first time that she’d dared to believe her daughter might receive surgery. The family travelled for hours to get to the Africa Mercy, but the end goal was worth every arduous mile.

Soon, a volunteer plastic surgeon specialising in neurofibromas removed the tumour M’Mah had carried for years.

Receptionist Esther Harrington with M-Mah

In the weeks following her operation, M’Mah spent time on board being showered in love and friendship by the nurses, crew and other patients. Esther from Taupo spent many hours playing with the little girl to help her pass away the hours as she recovered from her massive surgery. Freed from worry, the sweet five-year-old slowly emerged from her shell, and her inner diamond began ‘to shine through.

Esther says that on days when I couldn’t make it down to the hospital to play with her, M’Mah asked the translators where her special friend was.

‘One day I went to the hospital just to cuddle her because she was having a bad day. Things were sore, and she was tired. My heart broke as I held her, listening to her deep sobs, and feeling her tears on my arm. But she knew she was safe there. We sat in our own little bubble, and that was enough. I’ve learnt so much about courage and bravery from these little warriors.’

Thanks to her growing confidence, M’Mah is no longer afraid to start school and will begin her education next year.

‘When we came to the ship for the first time, I was just thanking God over and over,’ said M’Mah’s mother. ‘There is no gift greater than good health.’

Written by: Rose Talbot

Kiwi Crew Stories (Demo)

Operating Theatre Nurse from Glendene.

She was still in nursing school when the Mercy Ship bug first bit Lindsey. ‘I was instantly drawn to the vision of Mercy Ships and I just knew I had to serve on board one day,’ she reflects.

In November 2018, the dreamed-of opportunity was finally a reality as Lindsey flew into Conakry, Guinea to join the crew as an operating theatre nurse for three weeks. She was rostered onto duty in each of the hospital ship’s five operating theatres that were performing orthopaedic and maxilla-facial surgery at the time. She loved working with the crew from so many different nations. Some shifts she was assigned to Dr Neil Thomson’s operating theatre, and her take away from that experience was, ‘I can truthfully say he is the nicest surgeon I have ever worked with.’

The highlights for Lindsey included the opportunity to get to know the patients outside of theatre, while they were awake – a very unusual experience for an operating theatre nurse!

‘I recall a female teenager we operated on who had a large, growing parotid gland to the right of her face,’ explains Lindsey. ‘I went to visit her in the ward during the evening. Her face was bandaged, and she told me her story. The tumour had been was growing for the past seven years and had socially impacted her life. She enjoyed studying science and English but stopped attending school because she was ridiculed and stared at by her peers. As I was speaking with her, a shy smile appeared on her face. She told me that when she leaves the hospital she is going to return to school because then she will look beautiful and nobody will stare at her.

‘I was reminded of why I do what I do. It was such a beautiful moment that I shared with her.’


Kiwi Crew Stories (Demo)

Sign up to be the first notified of the broadcast date of TVNZ’s SUNDAY feature, recently filmed onboard the Africa Mercy in Guinea

Watch here for broadcast details of the SUNDAY Mercy Ships feature, due to air early in 2019.

Miriama Kamo and TVNZ’s SUNDAY team present a weekly in-depth current affairs, bringing viewers award-winning investigations into the stories that matter.

They are kicking off 2019 with a special filmed on board the Mercy Ship in Conakry, Guinea. Producer Chris Cooke, reporter Tania Page and videographer Gary Hopper had the experience of a lifetime as they followed the journey of a dozen Kiwis volunteering on the Africa Mercy, and met the courageous patients receiving free essential surgery onboard.

Why not receive a notification of the TVNZ free-to-air programme airdate by joining Mercy Ships NZ’s monthly EDM (you can unsubscribe at any time), and then you can plan to have a few friends over to watch along with you!

Kiwi Crew Stories (Demo)

Kiwi Crew Stories (Demo)

Kiwi Crew Stories (Demo)

Bill and Lynda Williams, Mechanical Fitter and OR Nurse.

When operating theatre nurse Lynda Williams learned about Mercy Ships providing free essential surgeries provided to Africa’s poor, she was immediately engaged and interested in volunteering. What came as a big surprise was that her husband Bill’s trade skills were also in high demand on the hospital ship and they loved the idea of serving as a husband and wife team.

The Fielding couple has returned this week from a six-week tour-of-duty aboard the 16,000 tonne Africa Mercy currently docked in Conakry, West Africa. Bill sums it up as ‘Hard work that’s great for the inner soul.’

Lynda was rostered on duty in the vessel’s six operating theatres. Her surgical teams performed tumour removal for large benign yet often life-threatening tumours, and more recently ophthalmic surgery for patients of all ages. ‘The last two weeks I contributed to the healing of people of Guinea who are blinded by cataracts by scrubbing every day in the eye theatre. Although the hours are long, and some of the cases are all day long, the crew we work with are great – surgeons and anaesthetic people even helping to mop the floors, take out the rubbish and saying thank you often!

Bill Williams, Mechanic/Fitter.

Bill has a lifetime of trade skills in including industrial refrigeration engineering and plumbing. This experience proved to be invaluable on the Mercy Ship which not only contains a self-sufficient surgical hospital and axillary services, but is also home to  450 crew from more than 40 nations. The Africa mercy is large a town where the main industry is a hospital. Therefore Bill’s work crossed between industrial and jobs that were more domestic in nature. Bills explains, ‘I learned a lot while on board but I also brought a lifetime of engineering skills which became very useful and benefitted the ships engineering department.’

Both Lynda was impacted by the level of need they witnessed ashore Guinea.  ‘There are many people in Guinea who cannot afford safe and timely medical care, as 55% of the population live on less than NZ$2.50 a day. There is a shortage of trained doctors and nurses (less than 1 surgeon per 100,000 people). Many people are malnourished and need to have vitamin supplements before and after surgery. Some children also need special feeding programmes so they are healthy enough to enable a successful surgical outcome. Infections, non-cancerous growths, and deformities, (which are not seen in the western world), can kill and maim people who have no healthcare. Children with deformities and severe burns struggle to lead a normal life and are often shamed into covering up or becoming outcasts.’

OR Nurse, Lynda Williams, leads an eye patient out of the OR.

While Bill was keeping things running behind the scenes, Lynda particularly enjoyed interfacing with the patients before and after surgery. ‘I was most impressed with the very first patient that entered the maxilla-facial theatre on the first day of surgery this year.  I was privileged to be the scrub nurse for her operation to remove a cyst from her jaw. The 14-year-old girl walked into the operating room by herself, turned and gave a smile and a little wave before climbing up onto the operating table for her operation. She displayed a total trust and bravery that we would be unlikely to see in our own country.’

‘All the personnel on board were there to achieve the same goal – and it wasn’t about earning money. The experience made me more humble and thankful as to where I was born and live,’ reflects Bill, who has a challenge for Kiwi tradies. ‘We are short of people in the trades to carry out maintenance work – engineers, plumbers, electricians, refrigeration engineers, welders and more.’

Lynda concludes, Volunteering with Mercy Ships has made me realise how easy it is to become comfortable and insular in my lifestyle.  I have much to offer others who have so little. Getting to know faithful people from around the globe has been a highlight of this experience.’

Kiwi Crew Stories (Demo)

It all started with a toothache when Salematu was 24. As a first-year nursing student, she knew she should go to the dentist, but she was struggling. She had just lost her husband unexpectedly, leaving her with two young daughters. Money was low, and medical costs were high.

But the pain in her mouth grew worse. Eventually, waiting was no longer an option. After examination, the doctor’s news was not good — she was told it was a tumour that was growing slowly but steadily.

Over the next two years, she watched helplessly as it took over her face, pressing into her mouth and making it more difficult to speak or swallow. It twisted her nose. It began to creep closer to her left eye, threatening her vision.

All the while, Salematu was told the same thing by doctors: there was nothing they could do. They did not have the medical capacity to help her. Over time, she was forced to abandon her dream of finishing nursing school. What use was it to continue studying if her tumour kept her from working?

Tired of the looks and comments from strangers in the street, she stopped going out. She became relegated to her home, spending most of her time with her two young daughters. She was ashamed to be seen, embarrassed to let even her daughters witness her changing face.

Kiwi nurse Shali Clemant helps care for Salematu post surgery

“I felt helpless. I shouldn’t look like this,” she said.

The first glimmer of hope came the day her uncle called her with news from the port city of Conakry — a hospital ship was arriving to perform free surgeries! Her heart was filled with happiness at the hope of release from the tumour. Salematu got on a bus and made the journey to the capital city alone, leaving her daughters behind with their grandmother.

It was hard to say goodbye not knowing how long it might be until she saw them again, especially without a way to keep in contact. But she knew that this surgery would not only save her life — it would save her daughters from growing up as orphans.

The day she walked up the gangway to receive her operation, Salematu said she felt joy down to her bones.

The next two weeks in the hospital were a blur. After her successful surgery, she bonded with the nurses who gave her around-the-clock care. “The nurses are my favourite,” Salematu said. “They are so kind to me. They have all become my friends.”

After a few days, she was able to look into the mirror and see her new face for the first time after surgery.

“I feel beautiful. I feel good. I feel hopeful,” she marvelled.

During her stay on the Africa Mercy, Salematu couldn’t stop thinking about the moment she would be reunited with her daughters, when they would finally see her without the tumour that had hindered her smile for two long years. Without a way to send them photos, she knew the transformation would be overwhelming.

“They will see me soon, and they will not believe it,” Salematu smiled. “They will be so happy!”

Friendly nurses kept monitoring her progress. She was moving closer to the finish line — the countdown had begun.

The day she was told she could return home, Salematu said she felt like dancing! She was so excited to finally hold her daughters close, and to return to pursuing her dreams of finishing nursing school, with the hope of one-day pouring love and care into others.

These plans for a life that once felt powerless now felt full of limitless possibility. Salematu’s miracle changed her life, and she couldn’t wait to share her joy with the world.

Kiwi Crew Stories (Demo)

Motorcycle courier, bookbinder, English as a second language teacher, telephonist, wife and mother – Heather Provan calls herself a ‘Jill of all trades’.  Shipmate is the latest role the ‘70-plus’ year-old with a thirst for adventure has added to her repertoire of experiences.  Not satisfied with anything dull and routine, Mrs Provan’s most recent undertaking sees her volunteering on the crew of the world’s largest civilian hospital ship – the 16,000 tonne Africa Mercy.

This is the second tour-of-duty for Mrs Provan on the Mercy Ship which provides free essential surgery to people in poverty on Africa’s West Coast. She is aboard for three months working in the hospital ship’s laundry. ‘I am a very small cog in a huge organisation, but without the small cogs working efficiently the hospital wouldn’t be possible,’ she explains.

This is the second time Mrs Provan has volunteered on board – last year she served in the dining room team 6 weeks. This year her voluntary work saw her fly into Cameroon, West Africa towards the end of the vessel’s field service.

During that 10 months in Cameroon, the Mercy Ship had provided 2,746 essential surgeries with rehabilitation services, treated more than 10,000 dental patients, and invested in the local health care structure with 1,475 local people attending Medical Capacity Building courses participants.

‘The ship is completely run on donations and by volunteer workers,’ she describes. ‘I work with people from many nations, different cultures and languages – all working in harmony,’

As the Mercy Ship was due to enter a maintenance period in the Canary Islands during her service period Mrs Provan was also able to enjoy time at sea. She had the unusual nautical experience of sailing through the Prime Meridian, crossing the Equator at 0,0. ‘Not just any old bit of the Equator,’ she states, now able to claim the title of Royal Diamond Shellback for the rare feat, with a certificate to prove it.

With support from Mahurangi Presbyterian Church, Mrs Provan will continue her volunteer work through the maintenance period in The Canary Islands, the return sea voyage to Africa, and conclude after the vessel has arrived in the new field service location of Guinea.

‘This experience satisfies my desire to help others and has given me amazing experiences and adventures,’ she reflects. ‘I feel each day is a gift from God and I must make the most of it. God is still teaching me. He has given me such blessings during my lifetime; I want to be a blessing to others who are less fortunate.’