Mercy Ships is an international charity which operates the state-of-the art hospital ship ‘African Mercy’, a vessel which is staffed by volunteers, and which visits developing countries where healthcare is limited or non-existent.
Living in Gambia at the moment working with my charity Sightbox Trust, which is just a stone’s throw away from Dakar, I seized the opportunity to visit the ship
Not only was I able to have a tour of the ship, also presented the ‘African Mercy’ eye department with a Sightbox, containing a variety of sporting equipment which can be used by those who are blind or partially-sighted.
I managed to connect with the Rotary Club of Dakar Millennium, whose President and another member joined us on this tour.
On arrival at the port gate, we were met by one of the Mercy Ship staff. We followed their vehicle through the many containers waiting to be loaded onto other ships.
A couple of security checks on the dock side and we were then through the gate.
Oh boy, to see the ship only a few feet away in the sunshine was quite spectacular.
Alongside the ship, on the dockside, were screening tents and a waiting area for patients and relatives. There was also a wash area, where we had to wash our hands before going up the gangplank.
At the top of the gangplank there was a further security check where you left your passport with an officer before stepping onto the ship.
The ship has seven decks, each with its own purpose. Deck 7 is the top deck with a purpose-built playground for the children.
Decks 5 and 6 contain the living quarters for the staff and families on boa rd, as well as the coffee shops and restaurants. There was even a school for the children of staff who are working on the ship.
Decks 3 and 4 were divided up into laboratories, dispensaries, operating theatres, recovery rooms and wards.
We didn’t visit decks 1 and 2, which were the engine rooms.
Not only did I notice how sterile clean they were the decks were, but also how welcoming each deck was.
All the volunteering staff were happy at work, welcoming and the corridors carried so many photos of before and after success stories.
— Mercy Ships (@MercyShips) January 26, 2020
It was very emotional to hear some of these stories and to see the photos.
There are over 400 volunteers from around the world giving up their time year after year to join the ship and continue the great work of Mercy Ships.
No matter whether you are working on the ship for two weeks or six months, you are certainly making a difference.
For ‘African Mercy’ to be based in Senegal, providing medical support to patients from across the country takes some arranging.
Once the President of the country invites the ship, it can take up to 18 months of strict planning before the ship sails to that country.
Gone are the days when the ship docked and people travelled for miles and miles before standing in long queues to see if surgery was possible.
Now, each week is planned for the 10 months of ‘African Mercy’s’ stay in West Africa. Decisions are made ahead of time about which operations will take place and whether it’s adult week or child week.
Each time the ship finishes its 10 month stay, the volunteers know they also helped train many health specialists from that country who can carry on the good work.
With a Sightbox presented and passports returned, it was time to head down the gangplank to the dockside, as our time on the ship had come to an end.
Being able to go on the ship, speak to the volunteers, hear some of their stories, and see the before and after photos, is an experience I will never forget.
I hope that Rotary and other organisations will continue to support Mercy Ships and the great work that they do in changing the lives of so many.
- Rotary in Great Britain & Ireland is working on a Rotary Global Grant application for £1 million to fund vital surgical equipment aboard ‘African Mercy’. This is likely to be one of the biggest grants sought, which organisers hope to achieve with district and club support. The aim is to deliver free surgeries and medical training across the sub-Saharan region of Africa.
- For more information about the project email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01438 727800 and speak to Christine who is leading on this Rotary project.