Mercy Ships: a remarkable charity
On Thursday 26 April Exeter Branch members met at The Royal Oak, where we were joined for a pub lunch by speaker Lynn Eastlund and her in-laws who were visiting from Minnesota. Conversation flowed and all too soon it was time to move to the meeting room for the talk about Mercy Ships.
We were fortunate to have an exceptional speaker, as Lynn had only recently returned from several weeks on board SS Africa Mercy where she was a medical auxiliary volunteer on the anaesthetics team in Benin, West Africa. Her experiences gave us a real understanding of how the teams of professionals, all volunteers, work together to perform surgery and give medical care that transforms the lives of hundreds of men, women and children in some of the poorest parts of the world. All at no charge to the patients, many of whom walk for days to reach the ship in the hope that they might receive some medical attention. Everyone is screened to find out if their condition can be treated on board.
The charity was set up in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens with the purchase of a ship and in the ensuing 40 years it has given vital medical help to people in more than 70 of the world’s poorest nations. In each port the ship visits, the charity also trains local healthcare staff and sets up a Hope Medical centre to provide community health care. In this way the charity sets out to transform people’s lives and to leave a legacy of improved healthcare wherever they go. We learned that the ‘Africa Mercy’ will only respond to the invitation of a national government that requests help for its people and guarantees a safe harbour for the ship and safe passage for its 350 crew. The usual length of stay is ten months, giving time for hundreds of people to be treated in a safe, hygienic environment and for a community medical centre to be established.
Typical medical procedures include correction of cleft palates, treatment of facial and other tumours, dental surgery, orthopaedic operations, surgery to repair the aftermath of severe burns, obstetric fistula repairs and many eye operations that quickly restore or improve people’s vision. The skilled medical teams are all volunteers who fund themselves to work on board for a specified period of time and although they come from all over the world English is the language used by everyone on the ship.
We saw photos of some patients before and after their life-changing surgery and appreciated the tremendous impact the Mercy Ship teams have on the lives of the people who are fortunate to receive medical help. We could see the happiness on the faces of the men, women and children who had been treated and could look forward to better lives.
Exeter Branch made a donation to the Mercy Ships Charity. Lynn gave us all a leaflet which anyone can use to make a personal gift to support the work of this remarkable charity.