Featured patients include Rachidi – a teenage boy with a severe burn left untreated for 14 years, Dr Clement – a local paediatrician who has been unable to work since a failed reconstructive surgery left his mouth disfigured, and Juvincia – a young malnourished girl with severely deformed legs due to rickets.

Continue reading below, learn about the patients and volunteers featured in this episode, plus explore ways you can be part of the Mercy Ships story too. 



Dr Clement is a paediatrician who stopped practicing as a doctor due to a disfigured mouth. He no longer has the ability to close his mouth and to hide this from public sight, he wears a face mask at all times.

In 2011 Dr Clement received radiation therapy in France for a suspected cancer. The treatment severely damaged his facial tissue, causing his lips and cheeks to waste away.

Nurse Mel Toh first meets Dr Clement at the public screening in Cotonou and his case has an immediate effect on her.

‘When he told me he was a doctor my heart just clenched, ‘ she recalls. ‘In a place like this where resources are poor, people like doctors are so few if we can do something for him we are not just help him and his family but we’re helping the population.’

Dr Clement is operated on by plastic surgeon, Dr Bailey, who takes fat from his abdomen to reconstruct his upper lip and cheeks. Mercy Ships dental clinic also discover that Dr Clement’s upper gum is infected. His teeth are removed and he will be fitted with new dentures.

The transformation of Dr Clement’s appearance has meant that he has been able to return to work as a paediatrician. ‘I will go back to work as normal and save lives,’ he says. ‘That’s what I want to do.’


When Rachidi first arrived on board for surgery, he was a shy, quiet and hesitant boy. But over time as he recovered from surgery, playing games with the nurses and getting to know the other patients, he transformed into a friendly, talkative – and sometimes mischievous –  teenager. He picked up English quickly and was eager strike up conversation with anyone he came across in the hospital corridors. His surgeon, Dr Tertius, witnessed not only a physical change but a personal one too. ‘‘Every time that touches me when I see a child’s life just change like that,’ he says. ‘Because it’s not only that moment that’s changing, their whole future has changed.’

Rachidi suffered from a severe contracture of the leg that was the result of a farm-related burns injury. All of Rachidi’s siblings passed away at an early age and as the only living child of the family, there’s a great responsibility on Rachidi to care and provide for his ageing parents. Rachidi’s burns contracture stood in the way of job opportunities – not only was his mobility greatly reduced, his abnormal appearance put a barrier between him and other people. “I feel sad and unhappy.,’ Rachidi said. ’The way my leg looks makes me ashamed.”

 Rachidi was operated on by plastic surgeon Dr Tertius Venter, who released the contracture restoring Rachidi’s ability to place all of the sole of his foot on the ground, giving him the chance to walk normally again. The success of the procedure relied heavily on intensive post-surgery physiotherapy and this is something that Rachidi excelled at. His determination was evident from the first session and he made great progress.

On board the Africa Mercy Rachidi underwent a great transformation and he continues to develop into a confident young man with new opportunities ahead of him.



Mel is Singaporean by heritage and but is currently from Australia.  She loves her job as Screening Nurse, which allows her to travel up country with the screening team.

It only takes a few minutes of talking to Mel to know exactly how passionate she is about healthcare in the developing world. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to pursue work in humanitarian aid sector. She had no idea at the time that it was going to bring her to Mercy Ships.

“Mercy Ships introduced me to a world I had a dreamt of but had not see with my own eyes,” shares Mel.  “I started doing emergency nursing because I knew my heart was for Africa. Mercy Ships was one of those places that I could start in that arena.”


After 10 years in a classroom, Australian Nursing lecturer Sonja Dawson returned to a very practical new role with Mercy Ships as an Infection Control Nurse.  This field service in Benin is the first time that the Mercy Ship has returned to West Africa since the all clear from the devastating Ebola outbreak.  And although the outbreak did not officially overlap into Benin, most all surrounding countries were affected so there’s a heightened vigilance in this arena.

Sonja was part of a specialised team that worked with the World Health Organisation to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus in developing countries. The 10-month stint onboard the Africa Mercy also enables her to do research for her doctoral thesis on nursing at sea.

For many years, Sonja served as nursing supervisor on the first Mercy Ship.  But this is the first time Sonja has returned since leaving the charity in 2006. Many things have changed since the “good old days” she remembers fondly, but the heart of the work is still the same.

Originally, Sonja expected that her first trip with Mercy Ships in 1994 would be a brief adventure—she signed for only three months but wound up serving for 12 years.

“I kept extending my trip!” she smiles knowingly. “You get to see so many transformations, it’s incredible.”

This time Sonja serves with ehr husband, David, who works in the ship’s accounting team.

Footnote: Now Dr Dawson, Sonja recently completed her PhD in Volunteer service in the humanitarian NGO space – based on her experience with Mercy Ships




Dr Frank Hayden loves working with his hands. He’s an orthopedic surgeon and amateur blacksmith – two preoccupations he says have great similarities.

 Dr Frank Hayden has been working with Mercy Ships since 2009 as an orthopedic surgeon and functions as a lead surgeon and specialty consultant. His wife Kathleen also works on the ship as a theatre nurse. After their first trip to Benin and seeing the amazing impact their services had on the kids and their families they knew they had found their place.

Frank has performed about 650 procedures during his tenure; the impact goes beyond the individuals and touches many. Many of the people he’s helped have been rejected by their communities and families, so providing compassion and corrective surgeries changes the person’s self-image and provides inspiration and hope for many.

He sees no sacrifices in his volunteer work, ‘you leave the day-to-day worries and anxieties of our fast-moving society behind and focus on the person in front of you. Your reference is ‘how can I help you?’ and not ‘what is in it for me?’ It goes back to the rewards of giving’.


What stands out most for Dr Frank are the people with deformities. ‘Most impressive is the dignity that they possess. You discover that when you meet them eye-to-eye and with a touch’.

The most challenging thing for Dr Frank is screening patients for surgery, as he has to decide who he can help with the limited resources and time.


“I cannot make a big difference in the world, but I can make a world of difference in a few people’s lives.” – Dr. Haydon

For his first several visits to the ship he worked as Dr Gary’s resident, and assisted in every surgery Dr Gary performed. This was the greatest learning experience he could have hoped for.


Mount Eden couple Steph and her husband Jonathan – an IT specialist,  volunteered onboard for close to three months in 2016,  and for another year-long tour of duty later in Cameroon. “Mercy Ships gave us the opportunity to do this together, which is really special,” says Steph.

She nursed a number of patients in the maxilla-facial speciality onboard, including Rashidi and Clement.

Steph and Jonothan are both are passionate about utilising their professions to care for others. Volunteering her nursing skills on a hospital ship was a natural choice for Steph, while Jonny’s training as an information services specialist proved to be less obvious – but in high demand.

Watching children transform was the biggest highlight for Steph during their service. “Some children come to the ship with unbelievable disabilities caused by burns, bone deformities and countless other conditions. Seeing a child walk properly or stand up straight for the first time, watching new skin grow after major skin grafts, and watching previously isolated and ashamed kids coming out of their shell and playing with the other patients, is a real joy.”



Be part of the Mercy Ships story – by becoming a volunteer or donating today.