Paediatric nurse Sarah Ford loved volunteering onboard so much she turned all her goodbyes into SEE YOU LATERs!
Read Sarah’s story in the Taranaki Daily News here
MiNDFOOD: A heartwarming story has come to light of two nurses who served on hospital ships a century apart, as we mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Read the MiNDFOOD article here
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 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.’
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.’
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.
“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.
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.’
Hannah Peters’ huge heart took her to Benin, Madagascar and Cameroon caring for people with devastating conditions. She shares the remarkable transformation that occurs on the inside and outside of her patients, and Marthe in particular. Read Hannah’s story in That’s Life magazine here
A hospital ship in West Africa is a world away from the family farm at Rua Roa under the Ruahine Rangers. A lot of water has passed under the bridge, taking Helen Trainor on the journey of a lifetime – eventually to volunteer her surgical skills aboard the Mercy Ship in Cameroon
Ms Trainor developed a deep love for animals as she grew up on the farm, and after high school, she trained as a veterinary nurse and developed a keen interest in anaesthesia while working in animal surgery. This, in turn, inspired her to retrain as an anaesthesia technician. ‘I moved from veterinary nursing to anaesthetising people because it was always such a fascinatingly part of the vet nursing job, but anaesthetics is quite limited with animals. So I moved to humans!’ Helen worked in the cardiothoracic and ear, nose and throat specialities in Auckland before heading to the U.K. to work in a large London hospital where she heard about the world’s largest civilian hospital ship operation, by the not-for-profit Mercy Ships, providing essential surgery for some of Africa’s poorest people.
Read Helen’s story in The Manuwatu Standard here
What does a Purser do? Meet Matamata’s Janine Boyes who has served onboard for eight years, and has some remarkable stories to tell about life onboard a Mercy Ship!
Read Janie’s story here
Thanks to the Matamata Chronicle
NZ Woman’s Weekly story of Auckland nurse Steph Clark’s volunteer work on the hospital ship Africa Mercy, providing free hospital care to developing countries. She and her husband Jonathan will return to serve with Mercy Ships later this year in Guinea, West Africa. Read the article here
Steph specialises in the care of children
Information and technology expert from Half Moon Bay, Auckland uses her power for good in Cameroon, West Africa. Yida Zou volunteered for 3 months as an AV technician. Read about Yida Zou’s experiences in the ship’s IT team here