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Ellen from Waipu helped care for Paul Bernard onboard after the reconstructive surgery that restored his ability to use his badly burned arm. The career nurse was deeply touched by this resilient young man, who had suffered with this condition since he was a toddler. Here’s a behind the scenes glimpse into Paul’s journey to healing.

Ellen explains, ‘I first came to know Paul in the treatment room – at the end of the ward corridor on the ship’s hospital deck – a sterile area where all wound care is carried out. Paul Bernard entered hesitantly, not really knowing what to expect. His burn scars were quite extensive, involving both his hands and forearms. The scars he’d had for most of his childhood required surgical release and skin grafting before he would regain the ability to move his arms and hands freely.

Paul was understandably nervous when we removed his dressings (bandages) for the first time after his reconstructive surgery. He sat there quietly gritting his teeth and breathing deeply in anticipation, but with the help of the medical team translator who accompanied him, and with encouragement and reassurance from us all, he slowly relaxed. This treatment took an hour every two days.

Although Paul Bernard was always a little shy and very quiet, we soon learned what music he liked, and as long as that was playing when he came into the treatment room, he relaxed.

Paul’s smile grew as he saw the healing that was taking place, and he started to regain use of his hands.  With healing, his confidence grew. Very soon he was playing games with other patients and would wave as I walked past the ward.

I left the Africa Mercy before Paul Bernard was discharged and other volunteers completed the journey to healing alongside him, so it is heartwarming to read that he made such a great recovery. He is getting on with his life.’

Ellen passed the baton on to others in the Mercy Ships medical crew, confident that Paul Bernard would continue to receive tending loving care of the highest professional standard. But there were many others that were also involved in Paul Bernard’s transformation – electricians, technology specialists, physios, cooks and cleaners. It’s a big team that makes mercy happen!

See Paul Bernard’s transformation story here

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: Changing Lives in Senegal, One at a Time 

Mercy Ships has long been committed to strengthening health systems and providing direct medical services through surgical intervention onboard our hospital ships. But did you know, Mercy Ships is also dedicated to whole-person care?

Since 1997, Mercy Ships has provided education to help participants rebuild, restore, and renew their land and communities through organic agriculture development. Today, we call this life-changing training program Food for Life.

How Food for Life Transforms Communities

The program provides in-depth agricultural training, with special focuses on nutrition and business entrepreneurship. As course participants discover which crops to plant and best tending practices, they also learn how to produce, process, market, and sell their crops.

The result? A sustainable approach to agriculture that has the potential to transform individuals as well as communities. Since 2007, Mercy Ships has led Food for Life courses in 9 African countries, training more than 800 participants.

The impact of the course doesn’t end with its participants. By the end of the program, participants have also learned how to train others with their fresh skills and business acumen. Food for Life graduates are given the resources and tools to go back into their communities and create a ripple effect of transformation as they share their knowledge with other aspiring farmers. This “train-the-trainer” approach is key to our sustainable health systems strengthening model.

In 2021, we will provide another Food for Life training program in Senegal as well as Benin, where we are also partnering with Phaz Compassion to renovate a regional Food for Life campus.

Meet Birima, a Food for Life Student in Senegal

For program participants like Birima, a Food for Life student in Senegal, the opportunity to learn about organic agriculture has been transformational on every level.

The program was Birima’s solution to years of searching. He had looked far and wide for a successful job, even traveling from his home country of Senegal to Morocco. When he heard of an opportunity to participate in the Food for Life training program in late 2019, he decided to join. Throughout the 22-week course, Birima — along with a group of more than 30 fellow students — developed a foundation in the world of agriculture, including agroecology, nutrition, and food processing.

“Having this knowledge allows me to be independent and take care of my own food supply,” says Birima. The course has empowered him to begin his own food production business. He started his venture with the equivalent of $40 — and it has already blossomed into a successful, sustainable business. Currently, Birima’s business produces moringa, a leaf-based powder that’s rich in heart-healthy antioxidants. He is also working on setting up a unit to process other local products, like fresh bissap and baobab juices.

Transforming Communities Through Agriculture

The COVID-19 crisis hasn’t stopped Birima from dreaming big. His plan is to eventually produce infant feeding flour, a product that will help with babies’ strength and early development. Malnutrition is a factor in many of the pediatric cases we treat onboard our ships, often contributing to weakened bones and orthopaedic conditions. By implementing effective agricultural training programs in the nations we serve, Mercy Ships aims to tackle this issue from its root. It is our hope that by collaborating with farmers, food producers, and agroecological workers, we can see better nutrition and healthier food systems in rural areas. Birima’s dream will become part of carrying out this vision for his community in Senegal.

Birima’s greatest lesson wasn’t anything that could be taught in the classroom. It was learning how to train other community members that transformed him with a new confidence. “Because of the training, everywhere I go, everyone listens to me. People ask about and are very interested in agroecology.”

“I was challenged by circumstances,” says Birima, “but through this opportunity to learn how to grow and process food, I have now built a vision for my life.”

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While the COVID-19 pandemic caused us to temporarily pause surgical operations onboard our hospital ship in Africa, we’re as steadfast as ever in our mission to serve those in need. In addition to leading virtual medical training courses and donating vital personal protective equipment (PPE) to our partner nations in Africa, we have expanded our on-the-ground operations with a new partnership. We are collaborating with CURE International — a Christian nonprofit organisation that operates a global network of pediatric surgical hospitals — in a joint effort to provide expanded specialised surgical care to children with disabilities in Africa.

Dr Sarah Kwok Brings Her Skills to CURE Hospital in Uganda

As part of this collaboration, Mercy Ships sent several long-time volunteers to share their skills and experience with CURE hospitals across Africa.

Dr Sarah Kwok, a British volunteer anaesthesiologist, spent six weeks volunteering at the CURE Children’s Hospital of Uganda, where she treated patients in need of specialised neurological care.

Dr Sarah has served with Mercy Ships as the Anesthesia Supervisor since June 2019. Her decision to join the long-term crew came after spending just two weeks volunteering onboard. The experience was so impacting that she felt compelled to resign from her job as an anaesthetic consultant in the U.K. in order to serve on board full time.

As part of CURE International’s team in eastern Uganda, Dr Sarah worked alongside the anaesthesia team to provide high-quality intensive care for young patients, which she says was an eye-opening experience. “The children often have complex neurological problems, which makes caring for them challenging. By walking alongside the team here, we are setting high standards of care and ensuring the patients get the very best they deserve. The team is transforming lives and giving patients a future filled with hope and expectations of a normal life.”

In addition to treating patients, Dr Sarah helped to train nurses and doctors at the hospital, as well as medical students at the local university. This desire to leave a lasting impact is central to the mission and vision of Mercy Ships, and it’s a goal that CURE International shares. The CURE Children’s Hospital of Uganda is a teaching centre for paediatric neurosurgery in sub-Saharan Africa. “The hospital is a regional centre of excellence and frequently has visitors from all over Africa coming to learn their surgical techniques,” said Dr Sarah. “CURE Uganda is dedicated to training the next generation of doctors, neurosurgeons, and anaesthesiologists.”

The ability to continue helping under-served patients during this time is an experience Dr Sarah doesn’t take for granted: “I’m so grateful that Mercy Ships has collaborated with CURE so that together, we can continue to provide medical care to the forgotten poor in various countries in Africa.”

By sharing our resources with CURE International, we can offer further treatment to vulnerable children in African countries that lack the medical infrastructure and safe surgical care they need. Without proper medical resources, many children living with disabilities can’t afford vital care, leading to a long and expensive wait for surgery. Our partnership with CURE International means that both of our organisations can continue addressing the global surgery crisis and provide essential services to patients who need immediate, life-changing care.

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Hope hung by a thread for Paul Bernard’s family.

When he was only 3, an accident caused severe burns that eventually immobilised Paul Bernard’s arm because he couldn’t access the medical treatment he needed.

Now 11, Paul Bernard’s story is one of courage, overcoming and the great gift that love brings. You can be part of the Mercy Ships team helping provide free essential surgery for children like Paul

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on World Health Day: 

On April 7, people around the world will celebrate World Health Day by amplifying this year’s theme: building a healthier, fairer world. It’s a mission that strikes a particularly resonant chord with Mercy Ships. We are founded on the belief that everyone deserves safe, timely, and affordable surgery. For more than 40 years, we have been committed to meeting the global surgery crisis and providing life-saving and life-changing care to those who would otherwise lack access. The dream of a healthier, fairer world ignited Mercy Ships — and it continues to guide us forward.

Lucy Quist, Mercy Ships international board member and the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Morgan Stanley, understands the vitality of this vision. With roots in both Ghana and the U.K., Lucy has published a book — The Bold New Normal: Creating The Africa Where Everyone Prospers — speaking directly to the dream of a healthier, fairer world.

In Lucy’s words, providing free surgery isn’t the finish line. It is just the beginning. For the patients we treat, surgery means more than you can imagine.

“Before they get surgery, a patient’s day-to-day life is really about survival,” says Lucy. “Many of these surgeries are critical. Their life is about not dying, not getting sick from another disease, not working, relying on others for help, trying to survive day to day. By having this surgical intervention, they have a real chance at thriving. Some people have surgery and can now go to school; go to work; look after their families.

“Really, an intervention isn’t just life-changing because their body changes. Their whole life changes. Suddenly, they can become a functioning member of their community and make a real contribution, as opposed to being dependent.”

Working Together to Build Sustainable, Stronger Healthcare Systems

We know that real, sustainable change can only happen when we work together.

This is why Mercy Ships Medical Capacity Building (MCB) programs partner with governments, hospitals, and medical professionals in the African nations we serve in order to strengthen and support the existing healthcare systems. These programs often continue long after the ships have sailed away from our host nation’s port.

“By being a part of this initiative, healthcare professionals have the opportunity to learn best practices that they can take back to their communities and local hospitals. Some of these best practices are basic, some are more complicated — but they all matter,” said Lucy. “In healthcare provision, every step matters. It’s not just about having one person with a big surgical brain. Knowing the right hygiene protocol among all healthcare workers, for example, makes a difference for patient outcomes.”

Doubling the Impact with a New Purpose-Built Ship

In addition to providing training and mentoring programs, we strive to make an impact in Africa through our hospital ships. The Global Mercy™, our newest vessel, will soon be fully equipped to join our flagship, the Africa Mercy®. As both a floating hospital and a floating training center with a state-of-the-art simulation lab, Global Mercy will blend surgery and training in an unprecedented way. As a result, Mercy Ships will be able to share hope like never before.

“The world has had a hard time in 2020,” said Lucy. “The need remains great and is perhaps even greater after the pandemic. Now, Mercy Ships is doubling down. By God’s grace, Mercy Ships is going to do more than we usually do.”

Together, we can share the hope of a healthier, fairer world. Together, we can transform healthcare systems on an individual and community level. Together, this is only the beginning.

Want to join us in sharing hope and transforming lives? There are plenty of ways to get involved.

 

 

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children’s documentary series.

When a hospital ship is your home, and you live in a different country every year.

Fride’s parents are crew on the Africa Mercy. Fride and her brother and sister go to school on board with the other international crew children.

MY MERCY BOX is a series of 10-minute adventures for children; a glimpse into life on a Mercy Ship, and the wonder of living in Africa . It’s like nothing you or your kids have ever seen before!

This inspirational little girl and her toy dog Captain Sabertooth take us on light-hearted yet inspiring journeys aboard Mercy Ships in Benin. Fride has all kinds of adventures on and off the ship; meeting new friends and discovering amazing things about life in West Africa.

Fride’s curious questions and typically-8-year-old comments make the series fun for all the family.

Starts Thursday April 8, 7am and 4pm

Click for the TV and online details, or to download the app to watch on the go.

There are free activity packs for primary school or Sunday school classes for each episode, and colouring book for the littlies. Download the complimentary resources

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Providing Medical Capacity Building programmes through a different lens

Mariam Ibrahim, Palliative Care Nurse, teaches at a Palliative Care Course

When 2020 began, Mercy Ships had a full slate of our regular in-country medical training programmes in the pipeline. Of course, like many others around the world, we had to adapt our plans when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out early in the year. We quickly realised that 2020 would look very different than we originally expected — and that our medical capacity building (MCB) programs would be more vital than ever.

While the Africa Mercy® temporarily paused surgical operations in Senegal, we were committed to finding a way to safely continue our transformative training of healthcare professionals in many of our partnering African nations. The need is simply too great to wait.

Mercy Ships launched several new eLearning programmes to ensure that participants could still access vital education and training, through a screen instead of in person. We’re thankful to share that even during a year of uncertainty and turmoil, an even greater number of participants were involved in virtual training than we had originally planned.

A glimpse into 2020’s eLearning successes

Mercy Ships MCB team ran three different eLearning projects during 2020, each of which took place entirely virtually. Overall, 196 eLearning participants received training for a total of more than 2,100 participant hours.

The eLearning programs included

  • Mental Health course, which trained 73 West African participants to effectively care for the mental wellbeing of their frontline workers. Participants in these courses included professionals from many different nations we’ve visited during our 30 years in Africa, such as Togo, Liberia, Benin, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Mental Health Principles and Practices eLearning course, which exceeded its target participant range. While the program was expected to train between 30 and 40 participants, the 720-hour course ended up training 48 professionals from afar
  •  45-hour Palliative Care Practices and Principles virtual course. The course trained 39 participants to strengthen their palliative care structure and technique in order to improve the quality of care for terminally ill patients

Overall, according to palliative care student surveys, every respondent felt that the course affected them in some way, with 100% of surveyed students expressing increased confidence in their ability to apply the skills they had learned through the training. Every respondent said they plan to share the information they learned with others.

One student explained, “I recommend this course because it’s full of information that we need in our day-to-day life, where we have patients that need our support and comfort.”

While another student shared, “My approach to care has changed with the new skills I am learning… I wish others could learn also.”

Adapting in-person courses to a virtual classroom

In addition to entirely virtual courses, Mercy Ships provided crucial medical capacity mentoring programmes in Senegal and Guinea. The following programmes were planned in person but were successfully adapted to a virtual delivery:

  • Clubfoot: 4 participants received 18.5 hours of Clubfoot mentoring in Senegal
  • Biomedical: 3 participants completed 7.5 hours of Biomedical mentoring in Guinea
  • Dental: 11 seventh year dental students were mentored in Guinea for a total of 392 hours

In 2020 Mercy Ships continued the training and mentoring of 107 student participants at the Gamal Abdel Nasser University dental clinic in Guinea. These students completed more than 9,300 student mentoring hours and were involved in 2,742 dental procedures.

Bringing eLearning forward into 2021

Due to the challenges and uncertainty faced on a global scale throughout 2020, it comes as little surprise that our Mental Health eLearning programmes hit a uniquely relevant note to the participants. As we head into a new year, Mercy Ships will continue to focus our 2021 eLearning plans on the topic of mental health.

The next mental health programme, designed for a virtual classroom of up to 40 participants, will continue to build our emphasis on maintaining personal safety and mental well-being. Participants will learn not just to take care of themselves, but how to train others to do the same. The goal of our continued programme is two-fold:

  1. Equip participants with strategies and skills to reduce burnout during a crisis
  2. Broaden access to mental health services by empowering service providers to identify and manage the mental impact of trauma and disease, leading to stronger communities

Through programmes like these, we aim to empower communities, strengthen healthcare systems and see a lasting impact in the nations we serve. Our goal is to support sustainable development in our host nations, and we see MCB as a foundation for this. By providing African healthcare professionals with the additional skills and training they are asking for, we continue to serve and encourage their increasingly effective work in local communities for many years to come.

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French is the commonly spoken language in many of the Sub-Saharian nations Mercy Ships serves, and many of our patients also speak other languages. Our translators mainly use French to explain to our patients all that is happening around them and to gain their consent for treatment every step of the way in their journey to healing. 

Alexandra Klauke – also known as “Miss Alex” – volunteered in Guinea and Senegal as the French teacher in our onboard school, and she explains the value of learning someone’s language.

As a native French speaker, Alex taught the language to the primary school students onboard the Africa Mercy. The children, whose parents serve as volunteers onboard the ship, come from countries all over the world. She explains, ‘For some of them it meant learning their second foreign language because they were already learning English, the language of communication of the volunteers on the ship. It is always impressive to see how fast children pick things up. What they learned in class, they could use when visiting patients in the ward or with the local people in town.’

Students in the Academy aren’t the only ones who benefit from learning to speak French. Volunteers onboard have also discovered the value of communicating with people in our host nations in their own language. ‘The best example is what happens when I start speaking French to a patient or a member of the day crew for the first time. The day crew consist of locals who work on the ship and have all kinds of jobs like translating, cooking, cleaning, and driving.  When I say “Bonjour, ça va?” and they find out I speak French, they immediately light up and start talking. Understanding each other without the need of a translator definitely helps with communication, and connections are made more easily. I think that is a good reason to learn at least a few words.’

Mercy Ships tries to facilitate volunteers connecting with people in their own languages so volunteers often sign up for optional tutoring, weekly classes, and conversational French groups onboard. And in countries like Senegal, where French is not the commonly spoken language, there is the opportunity to learn native languages like Wolof.

It may be clear that, as a visitor, learning a language is necessary. But there is also a personal gain in doing so: ‘If you go to the market or if you are in a taxi, it is pretty convenient to speak the language, even if it is just a bit. It makes you feel more comfortable when travelling. Also,’ stated Alexandra, a true teacher, ‘it is good for your brain to learn a second or third language — learning keeps it flexible.’

Find out more about volunteer teaching roles onboard

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

The Mercy Ships Academy is the crew children’s onboard school, from preschool to the end of high school. The school’s emphasis on French learning is beautifully explained by the words of British author John le Carré, who writes:  The decision to learn a foreign language is to me an act of friendship. It is indeed a holding out of the hand. It’s not just a route to negotiation. It’s also to get to know you better, to draw closer to you and your culture, your social manners and your way of thinking.

 

 

 

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Onboard a Mercy Ship

As Mercy Ships prepares to return our fleet to Africa, we’re also in the process of staffing both of our ships with an international crew. Our lifesaving, life-changing work wouldn’t be possible without incredible volunteers coming from around the world to serve onboard.

Of course, we have had to adapt life onboard our ships to ensure we can return to our work in Africa while protecting the health and safety of everyone onboard. Here are some of the key measures we’re taking to keep our community safe in light of COVID-19.
Varied COVID-19 Prevention Methods

The health and safety of everyone onboard is a top priority to us. Our COVID-19 prevention methods include:

  • Regular testing:  Our full-time crew volunteers and local day crew to be tested regularly.
  • Health screenings: In addition to conducting health screenings and medical checks, we will proactively keep our community safe through health monitoring and temperature checks.
  • Care onboard: The crew clinic onboard will provide fast and free medical care to crew as needed.
  • Frequent communication: Regular meetings, digital signage, and Captain’s noticeboard announcements keep crew informed of the latest health recommendations.

Socially Distanced Community Life

Community is a major part of life onboard our ships. After a particularly isolating and challenging year for many, we’re thrilled that our ships can be a place of connection and purpose for our international crew once again. We have taken several different steps to foster a vibrant community while still facilitating social distancing.

Some of these changes include:

  • Limiting our cabin capacities to a maximum of four people per cabin.
  • Eliminating self-service in the dining rooms, instead offering plating and service from the dining room staff.
  • Implementing social distancing practices in our dining room and cafe areas.
  • Requiring that all persons onboard the ships wear masks in public spaces.
  • Encouraging regular and thorough hand-washing and hand sanitisation.

There will still be plenty of opportunities to engage with others and relax a safe, socially distanced way. Crew will be able to grab a coffee at the Starbucks Cafe, browse books and movies at the library, and stock up on essential items at the Ship Shop onboard. There are also plenty of opportunities to get some fresh air outdoors, like Deck 7 and the pool and playground areas on Deck 8, as well as on the dockside.

Review our COVID-19 FAQs to Learn More

Any prospective or returning crew looking for further information can visit our FAQ page to learn more.

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Ly Cheick’s Story

Ly Cheick

Ly Cheick was full of dreams for the future. However, he had a problem — one that was only getting worse over time. the 24-year-old student had noticed a bump growing in his mouth that was becoming larger and more visible as time went by.

After a recommendation from his doctor, he decided to pay a visit to the dental clinic at Gamal Abdel Nasser University in 2020. The newly renovated clinic* had become an epicentre of training and hands-on learning in the port city of Conakry, Guinea.

Thanks to donated state of the art medical technology, the clinic’s team was able to provide a panoramic radiograph and determine that the cause of Ly Cheick’s swelling was a maxillary tumour. While the tumour was slightly larger than a golf ball at this stage, it had already begun to cause discomfort and affect Ly Cheick’s quality of life. Left unchecked, it would have continued to grow unabated.

With a diagnosis in hand, Professor Raphiou Diallo — a local maxillofacial surgeon and long-time partner of Mercy Ships — was able to perform life-changing surgery to remove Ly Cheick’s tumour.

“He is fortunate that there is a panoramic X-ray machine that has been installed at the university which currently makes it possible, at a very low cost, to establish the radiological diagnosis in particular tumours,” explained Dr Diallo.

A straightforward journey to healing

Because Ly’s case was caught and treated early, the student has a straightforward recovery ahead of him. He hasn’t had to drop out of uni or stop working because of the tumour’s effect on his health. In many ways, he is one of the lucky ones.

Unfortunately, this happy ending hasn’t always been the case in this context. As Professor Diallo explains, many patients in Guinea aren’t able to seek quality medical assistance due to limited resources in-country, a lack of financial means, or geographical distance from care. As a result, many people turn to traditional practitioners who lack the ability to diagnose and treat them properly. In a tragic number of cases, this story ends with inoperable tumours and early deaths. This is exactly the outcome that the dental clinic’s team — including Professor Diallo and our Mercy Ships staff on the ground — is trying to prevent.

The life-changing impact of early treatment

Ly Cheick’s case is a powerful case in point. “It means a big thing to me,” he said, referring to the surgery to remove his tumour. “It means a change in my life. In fact, I am living a new life without a tumour. It makes me happy deep down.”

“I am sure that if the project continues, it will enable us to equip the cities of Guinea with excellent dentists, who will not only be able to prevent patients from complications at very advanced stages but also to diagnose benign and malignant tumours at very early stages,” says Professor Diallo. “I am very proud of what is done by Mercy Ships.”

Ly Cheick is just one example of the importance of lasting impact. While the Mercy Ships medical crew typically perform more than a thousand surgical procedures onboard during each field service, our impact doesn’t end when we sail away. Thanks to surgeon mentoring and ongoing training programs, like the dental school in Guinea, the hope for safe and affordable surgery can continue to change lives long after our ships depart.

*led in partnership between Mercy Ships staff and the university’s administration