Monday 5 June 2017: Growing up in Rockhampton, Renée Huxley remembers wanting to volunteer in Africa since her primary school days. Little did she know that it would be on board a floating hospital off the coast of West Africa.

Graduating with her Bachelor of Pharmacy at James Cook University in 2011, Mrs Huxley gained experience in a wide range of clinical areas and pursued a post graduate diploma in Public Health and Tropical Medicine to increase her exposure to tropical diseases not found in first world countries. Always in the back of her mind, she was preparing to volunteer.

Fulfilled by her work as an Emergency Department Senior Pharmacist at Cairns Hospital, the 27-year-old decided it was time to step out into her childhood aspiration. She first travelled throughout Africa for six weeks prior to joining the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest charity hospital ship docked in the Port of Cotonou, Benin, West Africa, in February.

“I was so excited to finally express my dream of volunteering as a health care professional. I had been working towards this goal for a long time and it was a privilege to provide medication and education for those recovering from surgeries which are provided completely free of charge by Mercy Ships,” said Mrs Huxley.

According to global statistics, more than five billion people in the world still lack access to timely and safe surgical care. The need for surgical care in the world is huge and access is deeply unequal.

As a volunteer Mrs Huxley had no wage for two months and paid for all associated costs including travel expenses, room and board on the ship. This model also allows Mercy Ships to ensure all donations received go directly to providing health care for the poorest people of the world.

One of three pharmacists on the Africa Mercy, she reviewed patient’s charts for drug related problems, discussed with the doctors and surgeons regarding appropriate medication use, and supplied medications and fluids to the wards, operating theatres, patients and crew.

“It is important that patients understand what the medication is and how to take it. Most patients speak French, and we used our amazing Beninese translators a lot!” Mrs Huxley smiled. Benin alone has at least 55 separate languages.

“The patients who touched my heart the most were those who had cataracts and were blind. They come to the ship being aided by a family member, are helped up the stairs to get aboard to ship, then when ready for surgery are escorted blindly down an unfamiliar corridor, by a person who they may not be able to communicate to,” she shared.  “There is complete trust and faith in the hands of those helping.”

Back to work now at Cairns Hospital won’t be quite the same. But Huxley says she can see herself volunteering again with Mercy Ships. Meanwhile she’ll continue to prescribe the kind of hope and healing that volunteering with Mercy Ships gave her.


About Mercy Ships

Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class healthcare services, capacity building and sustainable development to those with little access in the developing world. Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $1.3 billion, treating more than 2.56 million direct beneficiaries. The Africa Mercy is crewed by 400 volunteers from up to 40 nations, an average of 1000 each year. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, healthcare trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. With offices in 16 nations, Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals and serve nations one at a time. For more information visit

For further information, please contact:

Melissa Mason
National Office Manager, Mercy Ships Australia
[email protected]