24 April 2020

Whether you partner with Mercy Ships through prayer, financial support, or as a volunteer, you are a vital part of our family. Your dedication and generosity have enabled Mercy Ships to provide free, life-changing surgeries to people in need for more than 40 years.

During this time of stress and uncertainty, we value our relationship with you more than ever, which is why we want to provide you with complete transparency surrounding our ongoing decisions during the evolving COVID-19 pandemic

 Where is the Africa Mercy now?

Currently, the Africa Mercy is docked in Tenerife, Spain. Here, following the mandatory quarantine required on entry, and in accordance with the advice set out by Spanish authorities, the ship will undergo the planned annual routine maintenance.  Once the global COVID-19 situation subsides, it is our hope to return to Africa as soon as possible to continue our mission of bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor.

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected volunteering with Mercy Ships?

Our ship’s crew hope to return to Africa as soon as it is feasible.  We are still taking online applications for crew to volunteer in the future with Mercy Ships so we can be ready to respond fully when the restrictions are lifted.   You can read more about how to volunteer here

How is Mercy Ships keeping in touch with partners in Africa and helping others at this time?

Through our Mercy Ships Africa Bureau and key contacts in Africa, we are exploring ways to best support our partner nations, crew, staff, volunteers, and day crew during these challenging times.

Currently, Mercy Ships is:

  • Transitioning key Medical Capacity Building programs to an online/remote delivery method to continue training medical professionals in Africa. These courses will focus on the care of critically ill patients, and teach skills that are integral to caring for both surgical patients and those infected with COVID-19.
  • Launching a preliminary six-week course for nurses and doctors managing the COVID-19 crisis. Participants in each facilitated learning group will improve their skills in identifying and managing critically ill patients (specifically for COVID-19 related illness) and applying personal mental health strategies to reduce risk of burnout during the crisis.
  • Providing continued support to the Gamal Dental School in Conakry, Guinea through remote online tools, and supporting renovation plans and facilities upgrades for the anaesthesia and dental classrooms.
  • Donating $150,000 to be used in the prevention and cure of COVID-19 cases in Senegal.
  • Additional equipment that was requested to help improve patient care was also donated to the Barthimée hospital in Senegal.
  • Donating $120,000 of medical supplies and PPE to partners in four African nations: Sierra Leone, Benin, Liberia, and Madagascar.
  • Donating medical supplies and masks to healthcare providers in both our Texas and Netherlands local support centres.

Will the Africa Mercy be used to bring relief during this crisis?

Although the Africa Mercy is a fully functional medical ship, it was designed as a surgical specialist unit and is not suited to provide the degree of care required for patients with highly contagious respiratory diseases such as COVID-19.

We depend on volunteers to operate the Africa Mercy. With current travel and other restrictions in place worldwide, it would be vastly challenging to arrange for our volunteers from 50 or more nations to travel to the ship.  Additionally, many of our medical volunteers have been asked to assist with the COVID-19 crisis in their home countries.

At this time, we remain supportive of our healthcare workers on the frontlines and patients suffering from this illness. Once this pandemic subsides, the suffering that patients in need of surgical intervention see every day will still be their reality.  They will be desperately waiting for our return, and we need your support now more than ever to continue bringing hope and healing.

Should I continue to support Mercy Ships?

Yes! As this crisis reaches wider and deeper than anyone could have predicted, it is even more important to support Mercy Ships.  What affects one of us, affects all of us.  Thank you for your ongoing commitment to help bring hope and healing to those with little or no access to vital healthcare. You can help us to strengthen healthcare system in Africa here

We pray for all those affected by COVID-19. We pray for wisdom for our world leaders to have the confidence and ability to deal with the situation as it continues to evolve.


March 30

The global COVID-19 situation has made it impossible for Mercy Ships to continue to carry out our surgical programs to the required standards while protecting against the possible spread of the virus. Therefore, in line with the measures taken by the President of Senegal and in consultation with the Ministry of Health, Mercy Ships has reviewed the activities associated with the Africa Mercy and made the decision to suspend the programmatic activities in Senegal.

Although the Africa Mercy is a medical ship, it is essentially a surgical specialist unit and is not suited to provide care for patients with highly contagious respiratory diseases. The current unprecedented situation has presented a unique operational challenge. With the global air transport shutdown, volunteer professionals were unable to come and serve on our vessel.  Additionally, many of our medical volunteers have been asked to assist with the COVID -19 crisis in their home countries.

We are now expediting the annual routine maintenance for the Africa Mercy with the aim to be back in Africa as soon as possible, and once the global COVID-19 situation allows, continuing our mission to bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor.

Our teams continue to evaluate the COVID-19 situation globally and research how we can best stand together with our partner nations, crew and staff in these challenging times. Actions taken include:

  • Working to transition key Medical Capacity Building programs to an on-line /remote delivery methodology in order to continue to train medical professionals in Africa. Specifically focused on content surrounding the care of critically ill patients.  These skills are integral to caring for both surgical patients and those with COVID -19 infections
  • Providing continued support to the Gamal Dental School capacity Building program by temporarily using remote on-line tools
  • Donation of USD $150,000.00 to the COVID-19 fund in Senegal to be used in the prevention and cure of COVID-19 cases
  • Repatriation of 180 or our crew, mostly medical professionals, back to their home countries
  • Donation of medical supplies from our logistic centre in the USA for use in local hospitals, fire departments, elderly homes, e.g.
  • Evaluation to donate medical and other supplies from our logistic centre in the Netherlands
  • Ongoing review of how best support global communities

For over 40 years, we focus on bringing hope and healing to those we serve. For the past 30 years, we have concentrated our efforts in Africa. During those three decades, we have worked to strengthen local healthcare systems.

We are encouraged by the good results we have realized through direct surgical care for patients and by training local healthcare professionals. Today these healthcare professional we trained in the past, are now frontline worker in the battle against COVID-19 in their respective countries.

As we face these challenging events, we would like to thank you for your ongoing prayers and support to our mission to bring hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor.


Have any COVID-19 infections been detected on the Africa Mercy?

Up to this point none of our patients nor crew onboard the Africa Mercy have presented with the COVID-19 infection. Crew shore leave was suspended and additional measures of hygiene and social interaction has been implemented in order to prevent infection onboard.

Why can’t the Mercy Ships be deployed to help against Coronavirus Spread?

Although the Africa Mercy is a hospital ship, it is essentially a surgical specialist unit. The vessel is not suited to take care of patients with a highly contagious respiratory disease.

Mercy Ships relies on a volunteer staffing model using professional medical volunteers from around the world. The current unprecedented situation has presented a unique operational challenge as many of our medical volunteers have been asked to assist with the COVID -19 crisis in their home countries. In addition, the global air transport shutdown has resulted in our inability to continue to operate the hospital facility safely.  Mercy Ships is also evaluating how the organization, given certain operational limitations, can be utilized to assist in the global COVID-19 response.

 How are the patients onboard?  What was accomplished in Senegal before the crisis hit?

The last patients and their caregivers left the vessel on March 23. Despite the suspension of our activities, we are grateful that during the Africa Mercy’s 8-month stay (we had planned to be in Senegal for  10 months) in the port of Dakar, Republic of Senegal, Mercy Ships provided over 1,400 life-changing surgeries onboard (from the planned 1,200-1,700). Volunteer medical professionals treated over 5,500 dental patients (we had planned for 4,000) at a land-based dental clinic as well as provided healthcare training to 1,270 local medical professionals (initial plans were from 1,000 to 1,500) through mentoring and courses in partnership with 17 hospitals throughout Senegal.

How are the patients who cannot have surgery now? 

This challenging situation worldwide means that some of our patients are now unable to have the surgery they had hoped for in Senegal. As we define options for our future programmatic activities in Africa, we take into account a possible return to Senegal to finish our mission once the restrictions ease.

What about the volunteers onboard?

After Mercy Ships reviewed the activities associated with the Africa Mercy and made the decision to suspend the programmatic activities in Senegal, no new patients were admitted. Following the decision not to take on further patients, a number of short-term crew volunteers and Senegalese day crew supported by Mercy Ships to return home to their countries and incoming volunteer travel cancelled. The crew onboard of the vessel today will sail the vessel to its next destination. We are grateful for their efforts in recent months in these uncertain times.

Is the Africa Mercy leaving Senegal and where is it going next?

Yes, the Africa Mercy is leaving Senegal two months earlier than planned to begin the ship’s yearly maintenance according to maritime regulations. Our aim is to use this advanced maintenance to bring the Africa Mercy back to Africa so that we can continue our mission to bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor once the restrictions ease.
Mercy Ships is also evaluating how, given our operational limitations, the ship can be utilized to assist in the global COVID-19 response

What can I do to support Mercy Ships at this time?

During this challenging season, we ask you to please pray for our crew and volunteers and for our offices around the world, many of whom are joining the ranks of those working from home and in lockdown situations within their countries. We also pray for our donors and friends around the world, knowing that these are uncertain times around the world. Your support, which is even more crucial now to help Mercy Ships so that we can continue provision of surgical care as soon as the situation permits.

Can I still reach the Mercy Ships Office in New Zealand?

Yes, the Mercy Ships New Zealand office is still available during office hours a telephone answering service being monitored at 0800637297.  If you leave a message with your query and full details, one of the Mercy Ships staff will call or email you back as soon as necessary.  Or you can email msnz@mercyships.org

Can I still visit the Mercy Ships office?

During the current pandemic, we have allowed or asked our staff to work from home as much as possible.  As the situation is changing weekly around the world, we request that contact can be made by telephone or email.

As we face these challenging events, we would like to thank you for your ongoing prayers and support to Mercy Ships and our mission to bring Hope and Healing to the world’s forgotten poor.


For questions or further information, please contact:

New Zealand communications manager, Sharon.walls@mercyships.org


International media liaison, diane.rickard@mercyships.org



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

Published with thanks to Navy Today

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.


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



It’s easy to see Ibrahim’s joyful spirit. His adorable grin is absolutely infectious, but as soon as the one-year-old tries to stand up, his twisted feet become evident.

His mother, Salimatou, noticed that something was wrong with Ibrahim’s feet as soon as he was born. Both of his feet were bent inwards, a condition which only worsened as Ibrahim grew. Once he began crawling and eventually attempted to walk, Salimatou’s fears grew stronger. She soon realised that something was wrong with her child — something she had no way to fix.

Ibrahim is the youngest of five boys, all of whom keep Salimatou on her feet from dawn to dusk. In order to keep Ibrahim safe, Salimatou would often keep him in a sling on her back, but, she knew that this wouldn’t work as he grew older. With his ability to walk becoming increasingly limited, Ibrahim was facing a future full of difficulties and few options.

One day, Salimatou and her husband heard a radio announcement about a hospital ship that would be sailing into Guinea. After travelling to the Africa Mercy, Ibrahim and his family were hopeful that this would be their chance to find healing for his legs.

Ibrahim was welcomed into the Mercy Ships Ponseti clinic and was soon undergoing treatment to heal his clubfoot. He spent seven weeks in casts, which gently manipulated his feet into a normal position, before undergoing a simple surgery to snip a tendon in his ankles. Afterwards, he was recast and given several more weeks to heal.

Halfway through Ibrahim’s treatment, his mother said, “I can see the difference in his feet already. His feet are getting straighter each week — we can all see it! It makes us so happy.”

While his time in casts was over after leaving the ship, Ibrahim still has some work to do before he is fully healed. He will continue to wear a nighttime brace for years, to ensure his feet stay straight, much like wearing a retainer after having braces removed.

The simplicity of Ibrahim’s treatment is encouraging for other children suffering from clubfoot. The Ponseti treatment doesn’t require a state-of-the-art operating room or cutting edge surgical equipment, but instead relies on time, plaster, patience, and proper training.

Clubfoot program manager Aisling Russell from the UK has brought several local Guinean medical professionals alongside their team throughout the Ponseti process. By providing local hands-on training and letting them be a part of every step of the journey, the Mercy Ships Ponseti team hopes that these locals will be able to continue treating children with clubfoot in Guinea long after the ship sails away.

You don’t have to look far to see the effects that this training is having. Mercy Ships was based in Cameroon the previous year, where the Ponseti team ran similar mentorship programs with local professionals. This year, they brought back a familiar face to lead Ibrahim’s tenotomy procedure: Dr Faustin Atemkeng Tsatedem, a Cameroonian orthopaedic surgeon who received this training during the last field service. He visited Guinea several times to assist with surgeries like Ibrahim’s and to help train a new batch of medical professionals.

“The Ponseti Method of treating clubfoot is the gold standard treatment method used worldwide. Children who complete treatment are then free from deformity and a life of disability,” said Aisling. “In the context of Guinea, this is even more poignant as there is a misunderstanding about the cause of physical deformities that brings shame and limited opportunities for work and marriage. The transformation is obvious, but the lifelong impact is that these children then have a chance to live a life free of shame and the opportunity to work and input to their community.”

He’ll be able to walk like other boys when he grows up. It makes me so happy to see him like this.

Ibrahim is so young that he won’t remember life before his Ponseti treatment. He’ll grow up with feet that carry him where he wants to go, with the only remnant of a former life being the brace he wears at night for the next several years — but his mother will never forget.


Let me tell you about how the remarkable began for Tene.

Mariam, a successful West African businesswoman, was passing through Tene’s Guinean village. She spotted a group of children by the side of the road, and she stopped to offer them a handful of sweets when her eyes landed on one girl in particular: three-year-old Tene.

With deep amber eyes and a smile that is quick to come and slow to leave, little Tene captured Mariam’s heart immediately. She watched the child playing for a while before she noticed Tene’s imbalanced gait and uneven feet. One was normal, but the other had an oversized ankle and foot. She would later learn that this condition was caused by an amniotic band — thin strands of tissue that wrap around forming body parts during pregnancy, restricting blood flow and affecting limb growth.

According to Dr Tertius Venter, a volunteer plastics reconstructive surgeon onboard the Africa Mercy, when treated soon after birth this condition can be cured with a relatively simple surgery. However, the longer it’s left untreated, the more complicated it becomes – and can even result in the loss of a limb.

“I was really sad … It was my first time seeing this kind of sickness,” Mariam said. “She’s just a baby.”

Like you, Mariam was touched by Tene’s plight but she didn’t stop at feeling sorry for the little girl. Mariam put her compassion into action and decided to do what she could to make a difference for Tene.

Mariam knew they needed something amazing to happen because fixing Tene’s leg seemed like an unobtainable dream. She began asking at local hospitals if anyone knew where help could be found.

An answer came. News of the upcoming arrival of the Africa Mercy had spread through Guinea, and Mariam set out to connect Tene with the Mercy Ship — hoping for a miracle.

Despite not speaking the same language, Mariam brought Tene and her mother, Saran, into her home only a few kilometres from where the Africa Mercy was docked in Conakry.

Tene was accessed by the Mercy Ships medical team. She met kind-hearted volunteers from New Zealand and around the world donating their skills to provide what had previously seemed impossible. Your generosity meant the whole medical process – from assessment and surgery to physiotherapy – would be provided without any cost to Tene’s family or to Mariam! Tene was admitted and had the operation on board to remove the amniotic band and cut away the swollen tissue.

After surgery, Tene’s foot gradually shrank back to normal proportions. Through regular rehab exercises, her clunky gait slowly grew into the confident walk of a curious three-year-old. Puzzle books, colourful toys and TLC from our crew members nurtured her through recovery.

Just a few months later Tene was able to wear regular shoes for the very first time.

Saran and Mariam watched on with pride knowing Tene would now grow up with the chance of a normal life. Thanks to the generosity of huge-hearted people like you, dreams became reality.

With her leg healed, Tene spent Christmas with her family. Now she can walk on two sturdy feet, run races without holding back, attend school and enjoy a carefree childhood without the condition that once defined her future.

This Christmas children like Tene are hoping for a gift that will change their future – the ability to hold a pencil, to see clearly or to stand with straight strong legs.

Thank you for being an answer to their prayers by making a gift today!


It was eight years earlier when Charity first met Sylvester. Even back then she strategically draped across her face in an effort to hide the tumour growing around her mouth.

At the time, Sylvester was in the remote Ghanaian village to work on a humanitarian construction project. His heart immediately went out to Charity, but when he offered to bring Charity to a hospital for surgery her family refused, deciding to use herbal medicines to help heal her.

In 2018 Charity saw Sylvester in her village again. The seven years in between had left their mark in the 39-year-old’s life. Charity’s tumour had continued to grow and was now larger than her head. This time when Sylvester he asked if he could like help, Charity bravely accepted.

Charity didn’t know about Mercy Ships and the free surgery that could change her life – but Sylvester did. He was no stranger to the ship, having coordinated for several patients to come for surgery during its 2016 field service in Benin through his organization, VARAS*. He knew how to arrange for Charity to be seen by the surgical screening team to determine if her tumour was operable, and VARAS even helped provide funds for the necessary airfare to reach the Africa Mercy.

Charity courageously undertook the journey to the ship despite having to encounter so many strangers along the way. Her enormous tumour drew curious looks and ridicule at every turn – but she wasn’t alone. Sylvester kindly accompanied her. After spending so long hiding her face from view, Charity wrestled with being seen by others. Having her passport picture taken to get on the plane from Ghana to Guinea took an inspiring amount of bravery —but she crossed every bridge necessary to bring her to healing.

‘She’s been laughed at, and people attach superstitions to her, explained Sylvester. She’s always indoors and told to cover herself. She has had to eat in a separate room from everybody else. I needed to be here with her.’ After spending so long hiding her face from view, Charity wrestled with being seen by others. Having her passport picture taken to get on the plane from Ghana to Guinea took an inspiring amount of bravery —but she crossed every bridge necessary to bring her to healing.

Once on board, even with the burden she was carrying, Charity’s smile was radiant as she met other patients in the Mercy Ship wards before surgery. On the day of her operation Charity was filled with nerves, and so was Sylvester. But soon after her successful surgery, the remarkable Charity was strong enough to get up and walk around the wards. Sylvester was so overcome he couldn’t stand, saying, ‘I was crying because of the shock of seeing her tumour gone.’

Despite the enormity of her tumour, Charity’s recovery was quick and uncomplicated, a blessing they both thanked God for. When her bandages were removed Charity couldn’t help but smile each time she glimpsed her tumour-free face in the mirror.

‘I’m looking forward to being welcomed back. The people who had negative thoughts about me will be surprised,’ declared Charity. ‘They will see that there’s nothing wrong with me, that it’s all been taken away. I am well,’ she stated. But Charity was more than well; she was transformed!

‘The effect of an untreated tumour in her case would be death. Now, Charity’s life is saved,’ reflects Sylvester.

Charity returned to her village where she was greeted by her husband and five excited children. They were amazed by her transformation. She was almost unrecognisable.The friendship between Charity and Sylvester won’t end here. He has arranged for VARAS to continue their support and provide capital for Charity to expand her farmland, they also hope to train her in further options to earn an income.

Charity’s future had once seemed dark, but is once again full of possibilities — and so much joy.

‘She can rejoin her community. We’re thankful to Mercy Ships for this miracle,’ says Charity’s Good Samaritan.

* Volunteers for Amelioration of Rural Areas (VARAS) is an NGO that seeks to help bridge the development gap between rural and urban communities.




A handful of Kiwis were amongst the crew vigorously waving flags from the ship’s deck as the Africa Mercy arrived in Dakar, Senegal for the vessel’s first field service; the former flagship Anastasis served here in 1993. This nation 3/4 the size of New Zealand with 3 times our population. It is one of the most stable democracies in Africa with a long history of peacekeeping, but the population struggles at the lowest end of the UN Human Development Index which measures the quality of life.


Senegal borders The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Mauritania. Senegalese people are 96% Muslim, and speak French, Wolof and many other dialects (we need lots of translators!)


More than 40 New Zealanders will volunteers their skills and expertise in medical, maritime and operational roles in Senegal over the next 10 months, helping to provide essential surgery for the nation’s poor.


Mercy Ships is providing free surgeries in Senegal

Why Mercy Ships is in Senegal

The Senegalese people

  • Have 7 physicians per 100,000, compared to NZ’s 285 per 100,000
  • Live in multidimensional poverty at 164/189 in the  UN Human Development Index
  • Lose their children to infant mortality 10x more often than in NZ
  • Have a life expectancy of 60 (M) or 64 (F); 20 years less than Kiwis
  • Typically earn $2,700 per year







Paul Pascal arrived as a feather-light bundle cradled in his desperate mother’s arms. His skin was paper-thin, his body tiny. At three months he weighed two kilos – less than a newborn

to God for the restored lives and new future for Paul Pascal and the multiplied thousands who have passed through the hearts and care of the crew on this vessel of mercy in the past 40 years



Mercy Ships dietitians help Mums of cleft palate babies learn to sucsesfully feed them



Paul Pascal was born with a cleft lip that disfigured his face and a cleft palate that made it impossible to breastfeed properly. His mother watched helplessly as he grew thinner and weaker. People around her called him a monster.

His mother was scared. ‘We thought he would die.’ But her love knew no bounds as she rocked her tiny, hungry, crying baby through long nights. Then she heard that hope had arrived in port.

As soon as the Africa Mercy medical crew in Cameroon examined Paul Pascal they recognised his condition was critical. They rushed him and his Mum on board before the hospital officially opened to monitor his temperature and feeding.

It was touch-and-go for a few days before the little boy began to turn the corner. Then once he was considered safe to leave the hospital, dieticians checked Paul Pascal regularly to track his growth, measure the size of his head, arms and legs, assess his feeding. They continued to encourage his Mum and suggest methods for her to help Paul Pascal have a healthy weight gain.





Gradually Paul began to change. His gaunt face grew round cheeks. His hair grew thick and healthy, and his listless eyes were now content as he grew stronger.

Only 3 months later and weighing 6.4 kg, Paul Pascal was strong enough to undergo the first surgery to restore his cleft lip. His Mum worked hard to help Paul Pascal gain catch-up weight and reach the normal height to weight ratio.

In another five months, he was the size of an average 11-month-old and strong enough to have his cleft palate restored. The operation connected the muscles of his soft palate and closed the gap in the roof of his mouth, enabling him to eat and speak normally as he grows up.


5/7 people in the world have no access to essential surgery
Paul Pascal with his mother ready to head home after his free surgeries.





Just a few weeks later in 2018, Paul Pascal’s post-op check saw him tip the scales at over 9 kg! No one would recognise the emaciated baby they had first seen. Paul Pascal’s journey to healing was complete and his future is changed forever.






               FELICIA HAD SUFFERED A LIFETIME OF REJECTIONDisease stole Felicia's nose when she was a young woman


She arrived at the Mercy Ship Anastasis with a definite air of expectation. For over 50 years Felisia had lived without a nose.


Since 1978 Mercy Ships volunteers have joyfully provided 100,000 free surgeries; changing the future people like Felicia living in poverty in developing nations


Felicia never dreamed she would get the surgery she needed


When she was just a teenager, a painful wound appeared on Felisia’s arm. She credits this as the beginning of her suffering. After three months the wound almost covered her entire arm. Felisia’s parents took her from one traditional healer to the next, and in the following three years spent all their money in the futile quest for help. She says her anguish was perpetrated by the treatment by the Beninese village witchdoctors.

When the wound on her arm seemed to be healing, Felisia felt a similar malaise on her head. Within days her nose throbbed with pain. After four years of suffering, the pain disappeared – along with her nose!



VOLUNTEER CREW PROVIDE FREE ESSENTIAL SURGERY the future looks so much brighter for Felicia


Through a series of operations onboard the Mercy Ship in 2000, volunteer surgeons reconstructed Felisia’s face. A scalping flap was created from her forehead to build her a completely new nose.

After the many weeks of healing, Felisia was thrilled with her restored face. She laughed and danced through the ships’ wards, flirting with the doctors and asking the men to marry her. ‘I never dreamed of this but now I will look beautiful!’ she declared.

When she finally descended the gangway, Felisia held her head high, proudly stepped out and pointed her nose in the direction of home.





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.




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 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?


Houssainatou, maxillofacial patient, before surgery.

Houssainatou lives in a town in the highlands of Guinea with her parents and her four siblings. The ten-year-old would say her childhood has been a happy one: she talks about playing jump rope with her friends, helping to take care of her little brother, and climbing the trees that speckled their neighbourhood.

Houssainatou’s father, Souleymane, has worked hard to protect this childhood free from fear — but his reality has been very different. The facial tumour protruding from Houssainatou’s mouth filled every day with worry that he would have to watch his daughter struggle and die at an early age.

The first sign of her condition came when Houssainatou felt pain in her mouth when she was just a toddler. It eventually became a lump that steadily grew over time.

Her family decided two years ago to keep Houssainatou home from school because of her health. Instead, she would stay home with her mother to help cook and clean the house. They worked hard to ensure their daughter was happy, and didn’t feel defined by her condition, but Souleymane says it was very difficult for them.

‘We’re all worried. We worry all the time,’ he said. ‘We have no money. The village clinic can’t help her. We can’t afford the kind of surgery she needs. We kept praying, and worrying, and looking for help.’

The maize farmer felt he was failing Houssainatou because he was unable to generate the funds needed for her medical care. ‘I can only get enough food to feed my family, but not extra,’ he said. ‘I’d never have the means to take care of surgery for my daughter.’

One day, a relative living in the port city of Conakry told Souleymane about Mercy Ships. He brought his daughter to several rounds of patient selection screenings — and eventually, she was accepted for free surgery onboard the Africa Mercy.

When the time came for them to walk the gangway to the ship, Souleymane called himself the happiest man in the world. Houssainatou’s bravery had never shone brighter — as she explored the place that would be her home for the next two weeks, a volunteer crew member asked her how she felt about her upcoming surgery. ‘I’m not nervous… I’ll be asleep through it all anyway,’ she said.

Houssainatou with her father after surgery

And what a transformation while she ‘slept’! After just one day — and a four-hour surgery — Houssainatou was down in the wards of the Africa Mercy getting ready to see herself in the mirror, tumour-free, for the first time in her young life.

The sight made Souleymane exuberant with joy and gratitude. ‘I cannot believe it. She is so beautiful!’ he exclaimed. ‘I am so happy and so excited to bring her home to see the family.’

After several post-op follow up appointments, Houssainatou was healed — happier and healthier than she’d ever been. As father and daughter got ready to leave the ship and return home to their family, Souleymane reflected on what her surgery has meant to them: ‘My heart is free now. The fear is gone,” he said. ‘I used to spend every day afraid she would die young, but now I will spend my time helping her have a future. I want her to become a doctor so she can help people the way she herself has been helped.’

Written by Rose Talbot