Wednesday 24 May 2017: Born and raised in Mackay, twenty-six-year-old Francesca Wolsey grew up dreaming of travelling to Africa after hearing many stories of her parent’s life in Zimbabwe before she was born.

Last year she quit her job as a registered nurse on the Child & Adolescent Unit at Mackay Base Hospital to travel for twelve months, including almost four months as a volunteer nurse with Mercy Ships half a world away from Queensland.

Miss Wolsey confesses that her love of travel was her first inspiration for joining the Mercy Ship, docked in Cotonou, Benin. Her journey to get to West Africa took her around the world, hopscotching from the Canadian Rockies, to an Arctic expedition, iconic Havana, Colombia, Ecuador, the Galapagos, Amazonian Ecuador, the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Bolivia, Iguacu Falls, Rio, and the Antarctic before visiting South Africa then finally heading to the ship. A trip to the UK and Vietnam on her way home from Africa will see Miss Wolsey tick off all seven continents during her travels.

But the impact of slowing down to serve as a professional volunteer for four months on board the world’s largest private hospital ship has left an indelible and final stamp on her year away.

Living and working on a 16,500 tonne hospital ship with almost 400 other volunteers from around 40 nations, her time on board enabled her to forge deep friendships with both patients and crew that will not soon be forgotten.

As a paediatric ward nurse on the Africa Mercy, Miss Wolsey was primarily responsible for taking care of plastics patients in recovery. With five operating theatres on the ship, the wards are never short on patients, some of whom travel for days to receive treatment that they could not have accessed any other way.

“The work that the ship allows us to carry out is invaluable to those whose lives are positively changed by it. To see the progress made by a patient with a burns contracture release and skin graft, whose hand was previously fused closed, who can now open their fingers and use of their hand, is amazing – it’s difficult to put it into words.”

Many of her patients were children who had fallen into fires and had been affected by burns which had not healed properly.

“To see people who have suffered, not only the physical limitations of their ailments, but the social stigma, isolation and emotional impact caused by it in their local communities; being a part of relieving them of their burdens, having the opportunity to show them love and acceptance, to see their transformation; it’s priceless,” Miss Wolsey reminisces.

“I have always known that the work Mercy Ships does is life-changing, but to see it with my own eyes in people I have come to know has had an immense impact on me. How do you quantify the importance of these things?” she asks. “It’s impossible.”

Once back home and with Africa half a world away again, this well-travelled RN has no doubt that this year abroad will forever change the way she views her nursing career and the world she lives in.


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]