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SEKOUBA HAD NO HOPE OF GETTING THE SURGERY HE REQUIRED

The benign tumour was growing and becoming life-threatening

It was just an ordinary morning when Sekouba first noticed a little button-sized growth in his mouth. He showed his mother who told him not to worry about it, that it would probably go away.

He tried to forget about the rapidly growing lump it but that didn’t make it go away. In just 12 months it was as big as a tennis ball, filling Sekouba’s cheek, significantly impacting young Sekouba’s life.

People taunted him and the tumour drew endless stares. ‘What’s that in your mouth?’ they asked, and curiosity soon turned into scornful laughter.

As Sebouba was mercilessly teased, school became unbearable so he stayed at home..  His friends refused to play and even his brothers were ashamed to be seen with him. Every day Sekouba was painfully aware that he was the only boy his age in the village NOT going to school—and everyday school was the only place he wanted to be.

Thousands of people came to Mercy Ships hoping for help

Hoping to find medical care, Sekouba’s distraught family took him to the largest hospital in their region, but no one who could help. But their cries for a cure were miraculously answered when they heard that the hospital ship was coming to Guinea, West Africa.

On the day he came to Mercy Ships, 12-year-old Sekouba held a faded photograph with frayed edges. It showed was a younger, smiling boy with an unblemished face.

‘This used to be me,’ Sekouba sadly explained.

When the Mercy Ships medical screening team accessed him for surgery,  the future changed; Sekouba was handed an appointment card for a free operation onboard the Africa Mercy to remove the benign tumour that had turned his life upside down.

 

 ‘EVERY TIME I PRAY I THANK GOD FOR THIS SHIP’

 

When Sekouba’s mum saw his restored face she was overwhelmed with joy.

‘Every time I pray, I thank God for this ship,’ she declared. ‘I don’t know what we would have done without it.’

This is just one example of how you can help change the life of a little boy who was facing a very bleak future.

Sekouba was only onboard the ship for month for his surgery and recovery — but in that time, you helped change his life forever. With his tumour gone and his face healed, Sekouba’s future is looking very bright indeed.

 

MT EDEN NURSE PLAYS A KEY ROLE IN FINDING PATIENTS NEEDING SURGERY

Mt Eden nurse Vivien helped Sekpuba access essential surgery

 

The Mercy Ships Screening Team goes mobile to find isolated people. Vivien (left) from Auckland explains there is lots of travelling on bumpy roads and long hours, to reach out-of-the-way, desperate people in West Africa’s interior towns and villages. People lack money and transport for even basic healthcare, which often ends up becoming a much bigger problem if left untreated. Something that would be an inconvenience for us in New Zealand can become life-threatening here.’

Despite the overwhelming need, Vivien has great hope. ‘The longer I am with Mercy Ships, the more I realise what is going on behind the scenes – the people involved in making things work,’ she explained.

Vivien has volunteered three times with Mercy Ships, most recently for a 10-month tour-of-duty during which time she met Sekouba.

Right now there are many more people waiting for essential surgery in our next port.

Can we count on you to help us provide life-changing surgery for more children like Sekouba? Could you find $35, or $75 or perhaps $100 to help provide a life changing operation?

Kiwi Crew Stories (Demo)

A passion for ships and a love for a good cause pointed former Commander Larry Robbins towards Mercy Ships, a charity dedicated to medical treatment in the world’s poorest countries. He talks to Navy Today about his work.

The Africa Mercy is the world's largest civilian hospital ship, and the maritime crew play a vital role in the delivery of healthcare services to Africa's poor
Larry Robbins served as navigation officer for the voyage from Tenerife to Brazziville, Republic of Congo

In 2009, when Larry Robbins was asked if he’d like to be on the board of Mercy Ships NZ, he didn’t have to think about it for long.

The retired naval officer and former Commanding Officer of HMNZS MONOWAI had been a long-time “modest” supporter of Mercy Ships, both during his 26-year naval career and after, as Chief Executive Officer of the New Zealand Maritime Museum.

Mercy Ships is a 40-year-old international charity that deploys hospital ships to countries where medical treatment is scarce. They deliver free healthcare services – including surgical treatment.

In 2005 Mr Robbins met Lord Ian McColl, a Vice-Chairman with Mercy Ships International, at the museum. His lordship, also a surgeon volunteer on hospital ships at the time, made a strong impression on him. Later, after retiring from the museum, Mr Robbins was invited to a MSNZ  function and met the Director of Mercy Ships New Zealand. They realised they had met before, in 1997 when MONOWAI was about to be decommissioned and Mercy Ships were eyeing up whether to bid to take her over. A short while after the function he was approached to join the board.

 

Each Mercy Ships volunteer crew member has a passion to serve the poor and uses their skills to help the hospital ship achieve that end
Larry Robbins greets Ebenezer, a maxillofacial patient

“I didn’t have to think about it very much,” says Mr Robbins. “My wife and I had been supporters, and I had met Lord McColl. He was such a lovely man. I

thought, if he’s the mark of the organisation, it’s worth belonging to.”

But three years in, he realised he was the only board member who hadn’t done a crew stint on MV Africa Mercy, the largest and newest ship in the Mercy Ships fleet, and the largest non-governmental floating hospital in the world. The ship spends 10 months a year in Africa, performing up to 2,000 surgeries. It is currently in Guinea; next year it will be in Senegal.

Mr Robbins had a Second Mate’s qualification, albeit 40 years out of date, courtesy of his time in the British Merchant Navy in the seventies. Fed up with unions, he had emigrated to New Zealand in 1974 to join the Royal New Zealand Navy, full of “the optimism of youth”, he says. “So I spoke to Maritime New Zealand and did some courses to get my second mate’s ticket revalidated.”

He ended up doing five tours of duty in Africa Mercy, with tours lasting for up to three months. In total, he’s done 13 months at sea over five years. He’s been Third Officer, Second Officer and – for five glorious weeks in the Canary Islands – second officer, acting Chief Officer, and acting Master. “It was great fun being a second officer, and using my navigation skills. It was a lot more fun than being in command would have been, to be honest.”

 

Mercy Ships operates the world's largest civilian hospital shipOfficers have single cabins or family quarters on board, and there’s even a fully accredited school for children. But Mr Robbins’ wife says: “Ships are your thing.”

It meant Mr Robbins got to see, first hand, how Mercy Ships changed lives in Africa.

“It’s amazing seeing the work they do,” he says. “With Africa Mercy, the hospital and ship are very much intertwined. So as a deck officer, you walk through the hospital on rounds, you see the patients, and you see the horrendous conditions they come from.”

In the Congo, he remembers a woman called Grace, who had a massive facial tumour. “We were in the Congo for four months, and she was our first patient on board. She was reasonably philosophical about her tumour, but came to have it treated. She had an operation, and they rebuilt her jaw. She just blossomed afterwards. It was just wonderful to see.

“It’s the difference they make in the lives of people, who have very little in the way of health care. There’s a flow-on effect to families. For instance, if a child can’t walk, the parents put a lot of time and effort into looking after that child. They can’t go out and earn a living. One family we met, the father had cataracts, and the child couldn’t go school because he had to look after his father. His father got his sight back, and the kid could go to school.”

Mr Robbins observes that in New Zealand hospitals, nursing staff come and go. “On Africa Mercy, nurses have got the time to get to know the patients, because the nurses are living on the ship. Everybody on the ship can adopt a patient. I would talk to them as I was doing my rounds.”

On one trip there were 34 nationalities among the crew, with 12 New Zealanders on board. “There’s a tremendous sense of community and equality. The captain and officers mix and mingle with everybody, and it’s communal dining.”

The hardest volunteers to recruit are those in the technical trades, he says. “And officers need to have a merchant qualification.”

Mr Robbins has just retired as board chair of Mercy Ships NZ, a role he had for three years. His Second Mate’s ticket expired last year, and he doesn’t intend to renew. But his involvement with the charity continues, with speaking tours. He’s qualified as a ship’s security officer and hopes to return to Africa Mercy in that capacity. “I just like ships,” he says.

 

As of last month, Mercy Ships has provided 100,000 free surgical procedures in 40 years of service. These include cleft lip and palate repairs, cataract removal, orthopaedic procedures, facial reconstruction and obstetric fistula repairs.

Each year, around 1,000 people from up to 40 nations, including New Zealand, volunteer their skills and expertise with Mercy Ships. Professionals like officers, seamen, engineers, surgeons, dentists, nurses, healthcare trainers, cooks, and teachers donate their time and skills to the effort.

Mercy Ships are always in need of maritime crew. Opportunities are both short term (a couple of months) through to long term for the senior and management roles.

BY ANDREW BONALLACK, PUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION FROM NAVY TODAY

Maritime and naval-trained volunteers help mercy Ships provide free essential surgery for Africa's poor

 

Kiwi Crew Stories (Demo)

IT TAKES MORE THAN DOCTORS AND NURSES TO FLOAT A MERCY SHIP

Maritime compliance is an important part of mercy Ships commitment to excellence and professionalism.

As part of their preparation for life at sea for the next couple of years, New Zealanders Karin and Islay are learning the ropes at the International Support Centre in Texas, where fellow Kiwi Andrew is the Senior Chaplain.

Basic safety training, fire fighting and first aid are just some of the practical classes they are attending with other new recruits from across the globe. The cohort are becoming familiar with our organisation’s values and learning more about God’s heart for the vulnerable.

Karin will be teaching the in the onboard school for crew children, and Islay working will be with the volunteer crew application processes in the HR office. Both their roles are behind the scenes and a hugely essential part of the Mercy Ships ship-board community.

 

 

Before they head to the Africa Mercy as crew for the very first time, Andrew was delighted to speak Kiwi, share lollycake and tell the new volunteers about some of his adventures in Mercy Ships over the past 20+years.

Islay and Karin will be joined by more than 40 other New Zealanders who are volunteering in medical, maritime and operational roles on board the Mercy Ship during the 10-month field assignment in Senegal, West Africa.

There’s a fabulous adventure ahead folks, enjoy the ride!

School teachers and HR personnel are important roles with Mercy Ships

Teachers and human resources personnel volunteer in essential roles with Mercy Ships

Kiwi Crew Stories (Demo)

If you are looking for a change and a chance to pay it forward, working for a few months as a volunteer electrician, engineer or technician on the world’s largest civilian hospital ship in Africa could be just what you need, says Sharon Walls from Mercy Ships.

Mercy Ships is now recruiting for places like Senegal and Liberia where the faith-based charity will be delivering free, world-class healthcare services to needy people in the developing world.

Walls says volunteering on the Mercy Ship is an immensely rewarding experience building both career and character.

“We are looking for skilled, self-sufficient people who can adapt to the challenges of keeping our electrical systems working to support our medical teams in the life-saving operations they perform.”

Electronics technician, Filips Jansons from Allandale near Christchurch, completed a six-month tour recently where he volunteered on Africa Mercy in the electrical engineering department, while the hospital ship was docked in Guinea, West Africa.

He says volunteering on the ship has benefited him greatly and he liked living and working in the on-board community made up of people from different cultures and beliefs.

“We were are able to work alongside each other. I think that’s something you don’t get anywhere else, with such a broad spectrum of age and experience.”

Jansons says he had the opportunity to involve himself in many areas of the ship and work on a variety of systems, machines and equipment, ranging from auto fire detection systems, fuel purifiers, cranes, main distribution switchboards, medical air monitoring systems, many marine electronics, and much more.

“My days on the ship were never the same. As a technician back home, I would need to work for several different industries to gain that sort of experience.”

Filips Jansons, Electronics Technician, at work onboard the Mercy Ship

Over its 40 years of operation, Mercy Ships has performed more than 100,000 free, life-changing or life-saving surgical procedures such as cleft lip and palate repairs, cataract removal, orthopaedic procedures, facial reconstruction and obstetric fistula repairs. Services and materials valued at more than $2.33 billion have directly benefitted more than 2.71 million people in 70 nations.

Sharon Walls says each year, around 1,000 volunteers from up to 40 nations volunteer with Mercy Ships and are supported by 16 offices around the world, including Auckland.

Volunteers for Africa Mercy are volunteers in every sense of the word, raising funds or paying their own way to the African port, and $1000 per month for room and board on the ship. Walls says with everyone contributing to their own way of getting there, every cent donated helps provide essential surgical services for the poor.

Africa Mercy is a 16,000 tonne vessel about the size of a Cook Strait ferry. It has five operating theatres on board and five wards, along with consulting and treatment spaces. The ship generates all its own power and diagnostic equipment connects to experts around the world via satellite.

Walls says everyone works a 45-hour week with rostered time off. Mercy Ships has an immediate vacancy for electrical crew, and vacancies for two or three more in 2020.

From Electrolink magazine, reposted with permission

More about electrical and electronics roles on board Mercy Ships here 

Africa Mercy in the Port of Conakry, with members of Deck & Engineering on the bow.

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Kiwi Crew Stories (Demo)

The National Awards for Fundraising Excellence has recognised the Mercy Ships NZ capital campaign as the best 2019 design and implementation of a planned giving campaign that truly connected with our major donors and increased the number of significant gifts to our charity.

The judges’ comments were;

Love that this campaign is primarily volunteer-led. Really like how much they pushed themselves to achieve their target. A solid, best-practice campaign.

 An outstanding campaign and very detailed submission; they really told the story how a small fundraising team faced down a major fundraising challenge and learnt a lot along the way. A successful capital project,  and a good example of how to work with high net worth donors on a large scale project.

 

Our grateful thanks to the Fundraising Institute of New Zealand (FINZ)to  Moceanic for sponsoring the award, our awesome partners at Giving Architects, and to our amazing, huge-hearted Capital Campaign Cabinet who have so passionately and successfully shared the story.

      Capital Campaign Cabinet, Mercy Ships NZ

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.

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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.’


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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!