Islay Robertson’s journey toward Mercy Ships began years ago — all thanks to a television program. From her home in New Zealand, she watched a National Geographic documentary series about the floating hospital ships.
“I was just totally blown away by it,” she said.
Years later, she saw an opening on the Africa Mercy® for an HR facilitator. It was a far stretch from her field as an osteopath – but she was willing to do any role on board. Her acceptance offer was a surprise, but the career transition turned out to be exactly what she needed.
She gained a unique perspective on what propels volunteers to leave home and travel across the world in the first place.
One thing that always stands out to her is the winding road people take to get there. For many volunteers, she said, the journey looks a lot like her own.
“It’s not always, they hear about it and then they immediately come,” she said.
More often, Islay said, people hear about Mercy Ships—and then go on with their lives.
“Sometimes it’s not the right time for them,” she said. “Sometimes it’s like 10 years later or something, but it stays in their head. And it’s like this thing that they can’t quite shake.”
Islay originally committed to one year on board. She extended her service to 2022, then to 2023. At the end of September, she took on the role of Assistant HR Director on the Global Mercy®. That meant joining the world’s largest civilian hospital ship in the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, where she’s docked for several months before the ship’s maiden voyage to Africa.
Islay recalled seeing the newly built ship for the first time, feeling the weight of the work and prayer that went into it.
“I was just kind of buzzing, like, ‘It’s really here,’” she said.
Islay is living on the ship during the final stage of “equipping,” as the hospital is outfitted and the whole ship is made ready for field service. During this exciting season, the Global Mercy is receiving all the finishing touches she needs to become a fully outfitted hospital ship, from the crew cabins to the operating theatre equipment. Being on board means watching the transformation unfold – and getting a preview of the life-changing impact that awaits.
Islay said there’s a sense of excitement around this moment in time.
“It’s been years in the making,” she said. “And I just know all of the dreaming and thoughts and prayers and energy that has gone into it.”
Even though Islay isn’t doing the medical work that she initially envisioned, she feels deeply connected to the mission.
“There’s a lot of really valuable impact you can have in unforeseeable ways,” she said.
During this crucial time of preparation for the ship’s first journey to Africa, Islay said she’s seeing it come together in ways that are hard to experience elsewhere. On board, the importance of every role is seen and felt. The plumbers keep the HVAC system running. The housekeepers cut down on infections and sickness among the crew. HR works to keep volunteers staffing the hospital, where lives are changed with free surgeries.
“I guess it feels a little bit like family,” she said. “We’re just all extremely connected to each other. You can really see it and feel it.”
Do you want to join the crew of the Global Mercy during this historic time? We need people from every skill set and background, and you may be surprised where you end up finding your place. Ready to Make Your Mark? Visit mercyships.org/makeyourmark to get started.