Wednesday 23 May 2018: A Port Elliott man is in the final months of an almost year-long volunteer commitment on board the world’s largest independent hospital ship in Africa.
“I’ve always craved adventure; I love exploring other parts of the world and experiencing new things,” Isaac said.
“I think it was a friend of a friend type situation,” he recalled when asked how he first heard of Mercy Ships, the international charity that operates the Africa Mercy.
“Someone knew someone who had been on the Africa Mercy and when I was told about it I thought to myself, ‘Yeah that sounds good, I’d like to do that someday.’”
“Four or five years later, things in my life aligned to make it happen and here I am.”
Isaac joined the ship, docked on the coast of Cameroon in Central Africa, in September of last year in the role of ship’s receptionist and will continue to serve on board until July.
“I’ve had various jobs requiring customer service skills and the reception desk is very much the ship’s ‘front of house.’”
“In some ways it could be likened to a hotel concierge; we’re responsible for embarking and disembarking all crew and guests, keeping track of keys, routing calls and emails, but we’re also the first line of response in an emergency, which makes it a bit more exciting than you might think.”
During its field service in the port city of Douala, Cameroon, Mercy Ships planned to provide almost 4,000 thousand life-changing surgeries on board, to treat over 8,000 at a land-based dental clinic as well as providing health care training to local medical professionals.
Isaac quit his job at home and sold his car in order to join Mercy Ships but says his family and friends have been supportive.
“There was a mixture of surprise, gladness, and understanding. They all knew I wanted to get out and see the world.”
Over the last eight months he has experienced both the highs and lows of living and working on board a ship.
“Anyone who’s lived and worked in the same place knows just how blurred that line can become. It’s a tricky balance and a dangerous situation for people who have a tendency to become overworked.”
“The most rewarding things are being amongst an unfamiliar culture, learning about the way of life, seeing all the diversity both on and off the ship, and getting out into the countryside with crewmates.”
“The surgeries performed by Mercy Ships are truly life-changing.”
“The majority of the crew, including myself, play supporting roles in the production; housekeepers, deck hands, security guards, engineers, cooks, the list goes on, and we don’t necessarily get to see the medical side of things or build relationships with the patients.”
“But I remind myself that the work I do is helping to alleviate pain and restore dignity, and that’s comforting.”
There’s also a hard-working galley team on hand to keep the crew well fed and opportunities to explore the country.
“I went on a hike up to a pair of lakes on a mountain top. The views were incredible and I spent time with some amazing people. It was one of those standout experiences that I know I’ll remember forever.”
But Isaac is unsure how his experience in Africa on board the Mercy Ship will change him.
“I can feel that I’m learning and changing, but I think I won’t have a clear view of that until I leave.”
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.