Two of Mercy Ships very own African changemakers will be sharing their experiences on CNN International from the 31st of January.

CNN International’s ‘African Voices Changemakers’ highlights extraordinary people who have paved the way for change on the African continent and features Beninese surgeon Dr Fifonsi Odry Agbessi, who was mentored by Mercy Ships on board the Africa Mercy hospital ship and now trains others, and Denise Ngum who currently serves on board the ship as a volunteer electrician.

Dr Fifonsi Odry Agbessi

Dr Agbessi is Benin’s first reconstructive surgeon and one of only a handful of female surgeons from West Africa. Her story began at the age of 12 when she saw a woman on television that had been disfigured by an acid attack.

“When I was 12, I saw a woman on TV… her husband had burned her with acid. Her face had become fused to her neck, so she could never look a person in the eye.”

At this moment, Dr Agbesi chose her career. She would become a reconstructive surgeon and help her country. Dr Agbessi now shares her skills both in Benin and throughout West Africa. She works with Mercy Ships to train fellow health care professionals.

Dr Agbessi teaching a pain management course and building the foundations for future generations.

Denise Ngum

Denise Ngum was 14 years old when she developed an interest in electrical engineering. For Denise, fixing problems was a fun challenge where she was able to use her eye for detail and creativity.

Denise studied electrical engineering at a government university in Cameroon and graduated in 2014. Denise quickly realised that there were still many obstacles stacked against her: the most unavoidable one being her gender.

“I did come across many challenges because of my femininity where I would have to compromise when it came to having a job,” Denise said.

Rather than being in high demand for her skillset, this extremely intelligent and university-educated woman was forced to turn to sewing, which was a hobby; it became her primary income.

When Mercy Ships came to Cameroon, Denise sceptically applied to serve as an electrician, believing she would face the same obstacles. Mercy Ships accepted her.

“They are open to everyone,” she said.

Denise has been serving on board the Africa Mercy for two years now and has no plans to stop anytime soon.

Denise working on board the Africa Mercy. The technical crew are essential to the running of the hospital ship.


CNN’s ‘African Voices’ is available on Foxtel channel 607 at the following times:

Friday, 31 January at 7.30pm AEDT

Saturday, 1 February at 10.30am AEDT and 10.30pm AEDT

Sunday, 2 February at 2.30am AEDT and 3pm AEDT and 7.30pm AEDT

The interviews will be posted here after they have aired on CNN.