Husband and wife, John (72) and Erika (72) Seaman from Ramsey, Isle of Man, have recently returned from Guinea, West Africa, after volunteering on board the world’s largest charity hospital ship, the Africa Mercy.
John, a retired marine engineer and college lecturer, arrived onboard in April and volunteered for three months with Erika joining him for the final few weeks. John worked as the ship’s third engineer and Erika helped out with housekeeping duties. Although they are frequent volunteers this was their first time onboard the Africa Mercy.
The Seaman’s have lived all over the world, including Malawi, Dubai, Germany and Malta but their base has been on the Isle of Man from 1994.
Run by the international charity Mercy Ships, the Africa Mercy offers free medical care and humanitarian aid to some of the world’s poorest people. The ship has just finished a 10 month outreach in Guinea and will arrive in the Republic of Congo on the 9th August where it will start its next mission.
John said: “I decided to volunteer with Mercy Ships as the ships I used to volunteer onboard (GBA Ships) have an age policy. Once I’d surpassed the age limit I started looking for other opportunities to use my qualifications and expertise. In addition it is my conviction that, as a Christian, one should be willing to help and serve others – in this case participating towards providing medical care for the many poor and underprivileged people in Guinea. Mercy Ships have a non-ageist policy and my qualifications as an engineering officer matched an urgent vacancy.
“During my time onboard many of my most memorable experiences involved witnessing the physical healing Mercy Ships provides to those with virtually no access to health care. The disadvantaged people of Africa suffer in a way that those in more developed countries cannot begin to imagine or contemplate.”
When asked whether he would volunteer again, John is full of enthusiasm saying, “Yes, it’s very exciting, challenging and fulfilling as long as our health and fitness allows it of course. We hope that our experiences will encourage others to volunteer.”
Erika is equally as positive about her experience. She says: “Turning up for work on my first day was a memorable experience. I was greeted so warmly by the five other team members who were all 30-35 years younger than myself! I felt at home straight away and it was lovely being appreciated by younger people. They seemed genuinely pleased I was there.”
Judy Polkinhorn, Executive Director of Mercy Ships UK, said, “Volunteers are the lifeline of the charity and without them we simply would not exist. We are extremely grateful to people around the UK, like John and Erika, who continue to support us.”
The Africa Mercy is staffed by up to 450 volunteers from 35 nations that give up their time to help others. Volunteers range from surgeons and nurses, to cooks and engineers.
The Africa Mercy was converted from a Danish rail ferry into a state-of-the-art hospital ship, with six operating theatres, X-ray facilities and CT scanner, a pharmacy and a laboratory. There is capacity for 78 in-patients with four wards and a small intensive care unit, as well as accommodation for 450 volunteers.
Founded in 1978, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than £630million, helping in excess of two million people.
The international charity has treated more than 520,000 people in village medical and dental clinics, performed more than 56,000 surgeries and completed more than 1,000 community development projects focusing on water and sanitation, education, infrastructure development and agriculture.