Thursday 14 December 2017: Inglewood woman Natasza Hain-Saunders is nearing the end of her three-month stint as a volunteer on board the world’s largest independent hospital ship.
Docked in the port city of Douala in the Central African nation of Cameroon, the Africa Mercy is operated by the international charity Mercy Ships and provides free surgery and health care to those in need.
“I had been wanting to do some volunteer work in a developing country since I was young, however I didn’t ever think it was actually an achievable goal,” Mrs Hain-Saunders said.
“I had just been Googling volunteering and Mercy Ships came up.”
Although she studied microbiology and works as a laboratory assistant here at home, Mrs Hain-Saunders is working in the hospitality department on board.
Serving as a hostess, her duties include embarking and de-embarking the crew, preparing cabins for new arrivals, setting up functions, and baking cookies and other treats for new arrivals and special occasions.
“I have the privilege of greeting everyone that arrives on the ship who travel from all over the world. Most of the crew travel for 24 hours or more to get here, so it’s really nice to be that person at the end of their journey.”
Mrs Hain-Saunders grew up in Kelmscott and Armadale before moving with her husband Stuart to Tasmania for a number of years and returning to Perth in 2008.
“Living in suburban Perth we are so unbelievably lucky to live in such a beautiful country where we have ready access to medical treatment, with much of it being free or subsidised.”
“I have been so lucky in my life to be not only provided the basics of life we often take for granted of food water and a home, but also the luxury of choice and opportunity.”
“I felt that it was now time to take the next step of ‘paying it forward’ and start using these luxuries for something bigger than just personal gain and to help more than just those close to me,” Mrs Hain-Saunders recalled.
“My biggest fear was about safety, however the team here is very on the ball and in constant contact with the government and other agencies to assess any risks.”
Like all Mercy Ships volunteers, Mrs Hain-Saunders is responsible for the cost of her travel and her accommodation costs while on board the hospital ship. It’s this model that allows all donations to go towards providing life-changing surgeries for the world’s poorest people.
“Although some were confused as to why I would pay to work in a developing country, most of my family and friends were very supportive.”
“While leaving my husband behind was hard, he is extremely supportive and knew it has always been something that I have wanted to do.”
“Although I don’t have direct interaction with patients, I have been able to spend time with many of the patients whilst visiting them at the recovery centre,” she said.
“The patients really are the heroes of the ship. Seeing the resilience of both their bodies and their spirits is amazing.”
After returning home in late January, Mrs Hain-Saunders plans to return to university to complete her Masters of Pathology, with hopes to serve with Mercy Ships again in the future – this time in the on board laboratory.
About Mercy Ships
Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class health care services, capacity building and sustainable development aid to those without access in the developing world. Founded in 1978, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $1.3 billion, with more than 2.56 million direct beneficiaries. Each year, more than 1,200 volunteers from over 40 nations serve with Mercy Ships. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, health care trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals and serve nations one at a time. Mercy Ships Australia, one of 16 international support offices, is based on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. For more information, visit www.mercyships.org.au
For further information, please contact:
National Office Manager
Mercy Ships Australia
(07) 5437 2992
High resolution photos are available upon request, with attribution to Mercy Ships.