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Aylesford resident moved by volunteer experience on world’s largest floating hospital

Liam Dee of Aylesford says volunteering onboard the Africa Mercy in July and August was an “extremely eye-opening experience.”
Liam Dee of Aylesford says volunteering onboard the Africa Mercy in July and August was an “extremely eye-opening experience.”

KENTVILLE, NS - A volunteer from Aylesford who spent the summer on board the world’s largest charity hospital ship says he couldn’t imagine seeing the medical conditions afflicting people in destinations like Cameroon and not wanting to help.

21-year-old Liam Dee left Halifax on June 30 and got to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, where the Africa Mercy was dry-docked, on July 2. He was with the ship in Las Palmas for a month as it was re-fitted and prepared for its upcoming field service.

He left Las Palmas on board the ship on Aug. 4 and sailed along the coast of Africa to Douala, Cameroon, arriving there Aug. 17. This was the hospital ship’s first visit to Cameroon.

Dee, who returned to Halifax on Sept. 1, said it was an excellent experience. Because he was in Cameroon for such a short time, he didn’t get to see much of the actual medical work on the Africa Mercy. As a volunteer on the cleaning crew, he helped prepare the operating theatres for surgeries, which began shortly after he departed.

Liam Dee of Aylesford, right, with fellow volunteers on the Africa Mercy.

 

Liam Dee of Aylesford, back, centre, with the volunteer crew.

 

However, during his two weeks in Cameroon, he got to meet some of the patients at the 2017 Hospital Out Patient Extension (HOPE) Centre. Dee said it was an “extremely eye-opening experience” to see some of the medical conditions the patients were afflicted with.

“It’s the type of stuff that people living in Canada wouldn’t think existed anymore but it absolutely does,” Dee said. “Seeing that, you can’t be unchanged by it.”

The HOPE Centre is a safe, clean 222-bed off-ship centre staffed by Mercy Ships day workers where patients and their families could stay while waiting for or recovering from surgery. This was funded totally by Canadian donors.

A recent graduate of the Continuing Care program at the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) Middleton Campus, Dee said the experience reinforced his desire to earn a nursing degree. He feels he made the right decision turning his focus from Forest Technology to the health care field.

His time volunteering served as a great introduction to the ship and a way to get his foot in the door. Sailing on board for two weeks gave him a great opportunity to get to know everyone on the crew. He hopes to return to volunteer in a medical capacity in the future.

“It was a great experience with some really great people who are very passionate about what they do,” Dee said. “Basically when I left I told everyone that I was going to be back and that I’ll be wearing blue scrubs next time.”

The Africa Mercy arriving into the Port of Douala.

 

Ulrich (Junior), orthopedic patient, before surgery.

 

He said if people are interested in volunteering on board a Mercy Ship, especially the Africa Mercy, “they should definitely do it.”

Dee first learned about the world’s largest charity hospital ship a few years ago while watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel, part of the series Mighty Ships.

He said the possibility of volunteering on the Africa Mercy piqued his interest. He decided to apply online for an onboard housekeeping position and was accepted.

With five operating theatres and an 82-bed ward, the Africa Mercy is the world’s largest non-governmental floating hospital.

Mercy Ships, the Christian organization behind the Africa Mercy, believes that healthcare is an essential service that everyone should have access to. Dee shares this vision. If someone needs medical attention that can be provided by the professionals onboard their vessels, they don’t discriminate.

Founded in 1978, Mercy Ships is an international organization with a team of nurses, doctors, surgeons, and other crewmembers from all over the world that donate their time to help on board.

With 75 per cent of the world’s population living within 150 km of a port city, Mercy Ships can reach people who live with little or no health care in some of the poorest parts of the world.

For more information, visit www.mercyships.ca.

Cleft lip patient Fadimatou at the surgeon screening on the dock.

 

Ernest, Maxillofacial patient, before surgery with a wrap around his face.

 

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