Our mission of hope and healing extends well past the hospital wards on our ships. The Mercy Ships crew consists of doctors, nurses, IT specialists, teachers, chefs, and even vehicle mechanics and drivers! Here Mercy Ships Director of Global Recruiting, Ally Jones, shares his experience with the Transport and Maintenance Department on board the Africa Mercy.
Mercy Ships travels to every corner of the countries that we serve to find those most in need of the medical care we provide. We also go to regional hospitals delivering vital training for the delivery of safe surgery by local medical professionals. Have you ever wondered how our crew gets to these remote places?
Our vehicles are an essential part of achieving our mission of bringing hope and healing to those in need. Every field service, we arrive with up to 25 vehicles ready to take our crew to the people who need us most.
Our patients often live in remote areas that can often be nearly impossible to reach without a vehicle. Having the ability to access these remote areas is essential, so we make sure we have the vehicles that will get us there. In an average year, our crew can clock up over 290,000 kilometres or the equivalent of driving the circumference of the entire world over seven times!
Though our vehicles can handle the rough African terrain, they also need maintenance and regular servicing. They need fixing when things don’t work as they should, and our crew needs support when they get a flat tire. When these problems arise, our Transport and Maintenance Team become the heroes of the hour, making sure that our crew can keep moving, and can get to where they need to go.
I must admit, I love the Transportation and Maintenance Team. They’re the “no job too big or too small” types, always stepping in to help wherever they’re needed. Our vehicle mechanic works in the African heat on the dock in a space designated as the workshop, flanked on each side by containers used as storage for spare parts and tools. Our mechanic is assisted by a day crew member from the local community, tackling all sorts of issues that arise from the climate, the dust that we experience all year round, or poor fuel quality.
A vehicle I was driving in Guinea a couple of years ago chugged to a halt about two hours away from the ship. It was a Sunday, and we had just about hobbled to our destination, a popular waterfall spot for crew needing some R&R.
I tried to contact Pete, the Vehicle Mechanic, but I couldn’t get hold of him. I called the Transport and Maintenance Manager, who talked me through some quick diagnoses, severely testing my lack of mechanical knowledge, when one of my passengers shouted, “Pete’s here!”
While I apologised to him for breaking down on a Sunday, Pete, armed with just my Leatherman pocket-knife, quickly had the fuel lines disconnected and was blowing down the line to clear the muck in the fuel tank! I’ve never seen anything like it, but he cleared the line enough for some fuel to get to the engine, and travelled back with us just in case.
However, this team does so much more than just maintaining vehicles. Our maintenance crew works tirelessly to equip the dockside tents with electricity, water, and drainage, keeping the tents maintained and inflated, and erecting canopies for patients to wait out of the direct heat of the sun for their appointments. The set-up of the dockside equipment can take weeks, and the same amount of time to pack it all up again.
There was one night in Dakar, Senegal, which sums up this team very well. It was just after midnight when the Captain came over the PA system on the ship into all cabins — a very rare occurrence and something that is only ever done in an emergency. He announced that a storm had arrived, and called all technical crew to action to help stabilise the ship, and minimise any damage to equipment on the top decks and the dock.
By that time, the winds were so strong that it was unsafe to go outside. I got dressed and went down to the gangway immediately, where I found the whole Transport and Maintenance Team already in their waterproof clothing ready to go. One of our tents had deflated due to the pressure of the wind, and our canopies were all over the place. It was reported that Dakar hadn’t seen a storm like this in over 50 years.
As soon as it was safe to go outside, this team went straight into action, attempting to get the tent re-inflated so we could assess any damage and start to clear up the dock. The plan was to make everything safe and return in the light of the morning to get things back to normal. Well, try telling a group of servant-hearted, motivated, selfless people to go to bed after a big storm! I think it was past 4am when they finally got some rest. Their actions inspired everyone, and the next morning I was very emotional watching every crew member who was available help clean up the dock, led by the Transport and Maintenance Team, who were the first ones out there the next day.
There are so many examples of how the ship couldn’t do what it does without this team and so many other teams around the ship that work behind-the-scenes. It takes a special person to approach each day with humility — something our entire volunteer crew does every day. Today, we say a special “thank you” to the Transport and Maintenance Department for keeping us moving around the countries we serve, and for inspiring us that no job is too big or too small!
Mercy Ships needs volunteers like you to power our ships as we prepare to return to Africa to help rebuild and strengthen health care systems. To find out more and take the first steps on your journey to West Africa with Mercy Ships, visit mercyships.org.au/volunteer.