Wednesday, 18 February 2015

African proverb: A small house will hold a hundred friends

Africa Mercy underway
The world’s largest civilian hospital ship is home to a volunteer crew of 480, including a handful of Rotarians, who welcome Africa’s marginalized poor with open arms and compassionate hearts.  Mercy Ships believes the restoration of dignity is as important as the healing of the body, and they provide both through free healthcare services for the African nations they serve.

Crew member Sharon Walls visiting a patient
in the Mercy Ships ward while docked at Ghana
Some crew members, like Rotary Club of Takapuna North, NZ, Past President Larry Robbins, are short term ‘repeat offenders’. The retired naval commander packed his bags in March for a fourth tour-of-duty aboard the Africa Mercy. He will spend two months donating his skills in Madagascar, as Second Officer. Aside from his maritime duties, Larry intends to visit the local Rotary club, as he did previously in the Canary Islands and Republic of Congo. “The internationality of Rotary and my smattering of Spanish/French enabled me to follow the meetings. It was a particular highlight in Pointe Noire to get to know the club’s Executive Secretary, and I was able to enjoy some unique local experiences because of our friendship.”

Like Larry, Mercy Ships New Zealand Director Graeme Walls and Communications Manager Sharon Walls are Paul Harris Fellows. These Mercy Ships ‘long termers’ rubbed shoulders with others who held youthful dreams to better society through service at Rotaract in Cashmere and Plimmerton in the late 70’s and early 80’s. They joined Mercy Ships independently in 1983. Four ships, four land-based international offices, and three children later, the Walls remain committed to networking with established professionals and business-people with a passion to make a difference in the world around them. They also are Madagascar-bound, transferring from the New Zealand office to the Africa Mercy later this year for a year.

Mercy Ships last docked in Madagascar in 1996. At that time Sahondra was a patient whose cleft lip and palate was repaired on board. She recently gave the ship’s crew a surprise return visit. She was so excited to see the surgeon who performed her free operation all those years ago, and changed her life forever. Sahondra brought pictures of her experience to show everyone at her emotional reunion.

Even basic healthcare is unavailable to most Madagascans. Treatable conditions like cleft lip and palate abnormalities become life-long burdens. Sahondra said, “The care that Mercy Ships gave me so many years ago changed my life. I could never say thank you enough.”

Thanks also to Rotary Clubs of Takapuna North and Browns Bay for their support of Larry and the work of Mercy Ships. 

Watch the CBS News Hospital of Hope documentary on 60 Minutes

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Additional side bar information: 

Madagascar is a far cry from Disney’s dancing penguins. The east African island is twice the land mass of New Zealand, with a population of 23 million (3.6 million children under five years), 90% of whom live on less than $2.25 per day. 12% of the country’s roads are paved. There are around 5,000 nurses in the whole country.
In the first 13 weeks of the Madagascar field service Mercy Ships provided: 
  • 531 surgeries
  • Treated 2000 dental patients
  • Mentored 19 nurses, surgeons and anaesthetists
  • Provided ongoing education to 165 local healthcare professionals

Included in April
Rotary Down Under