We are a family of three; Andrew, Jodie and Jessica (aged 18) from Tasmania, Australia who are currently serving in Douala, Cameroon, Central Africa on the M/V Africa Mercy, the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, through Mercy Ships International. God has called us on a journey that has been many years in the making. For this season we call Africa home, as we seek to bring hope and healing to the poorest of the poor.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Shades of Shipyard....

Ok, so I have been super slack with our blog this field service and now it is time to add a few posts before we depart Douala! To be honest, over the years it has become more and more of a challenge to find fresh ways to say the same thing. Our life on the ship follows a certain pattern, that is repeated year after year, but I will give it a go. 

Most of you wouldn't know that I print a hardcover coffee table book of our blog each field service, so I am quite pedantic about posting in chronological order. My last post had us departing Benin on our way to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria so I will pick up from there.....

It had been three years since we pulled alongside at the Astican shipyard in Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain. Three years since we called out “Hola”, sipped sangrias and strolled along the promenade, our eyes bugging out of our heads at the audacious fashions and lack of clothing! Three years since we welcomed the guys from the Astican shipyard on board, three years since we marveled at fabulous vistas and trekked over black volcanic rock. Three years since tapas, Theodore playing on his trumpet and La Terrazas Outlet Mall! It was great to be back!

This is shipyard. Shipyard beats to a different drum. The halls of the hospital no longer echo with the laughter of children and joyful singing, but with the sound of electrical tools and shipyard workers boots. Deck heads are down, lights and air conditioning are off, hallways are cluttered with all manner of things, the vacuum system is intermittent, blackouts are common and dinner could be pizza ordered in or cold salad on paper plates. The ship has a new buzz.

Love it or hate it, this is shipyard. Without it, the Africa Mercy could not hope to function effectively for the next ten months in a developing nation!

As in previous years, families were required to move to land based accommodation during the dry dock phase, for the safety of the children. We stayed in hotels that very kindly donated rooms and facilities to Mercy Ships. Our family also took a small side trip to Barcelona.

There were dozens of projects on the agenda for dry dock and shipyard this year but some included:

·       Survey and incline testing
·       Replacement of cabin flooring (carpet to lino)
·       Hull cleaning
·       Portside capstone motor
·       Emergency switchboard upgrades
·       Cold room upgrades
·       Window replacements
·       Deck 3 fwd. office modifications
·       Funnel corrosion repair
·       Omnicell (electronic medical dispensing system) installed

…..and the list goes on! 

Tug boat pulling the Africa Mercy into the dry dock berth.
(P.C: Unknown)

AFM being pulled onto the dry dock tracks, out of the water.

Dirty propellers!

All shiny and clean!

High pressure cleaning the hull
(P.C: Unknown)

When the ship sits in a dirty port for so long, it grows a lot of barnacles! 

The big picture! The Africa Mercy high and dry in dry dock!

Spraying primer on the hull.

No it's not a slide, it's the garbage chute!
(P.C: Unknown)

Carpenter sanding floors in the cafe area.

Jess helped out in the cafe for three weeks full time, during shipyard, cementing her as a Starbucks barista!

These are the stairs that go all the way to the ship entrance during dry dock, all six stories! This is pizza going up for the crew, which happens from time to time during dry dock when the galley is fumigated or there are long blackouts.
(P.C: Unknown)

Storage space is at a premium for the sail! The pool is not open during the sail/shipyards so makes for an excellent and secure storage area Above are the bench seats used for the patients on the dock, as they wait to be seen either in outpatients/admissions, rehab or screening.

Some nurses checking out the new Omnicell system. These automated dispensing cabinets more easily optimize inventory, minimize stocktakes, and reduce missing doses.

A project assistant hard at work installing new shelves for a hospital office renovation.

Jess was asked by the Communications Department to tour a vision trip through the Academy. She did a wonderful job! 

A time honoured shipyard tradition in the soccer game between the Astican shipyard workers and our crew. This year we went along to cheer our guys on and Astican arranged an amazing BBQ for us, after the game. Our guys are the ones in blue. Astican beat us this time, but there's always next year!
(P.C: Unknown)

Lovely lit up at night.

Even though the ship is not in a host nation, the goodbyes continue, unabated. Jess said goodbye three of her close girlfriends during the first two days after we arrived in Las Palmas.
(P.C: Unknown)

Shipyard deck. engineering and projects crew, alongside our Astican colleagues.

Many people may think a port is an ugly place, but to me it will always hold it's own special beauty.

We had heard good things about Barcelona, so we took a ten day trip and loved it so much!!! What an incredible city. We were able to take a day trip through the Pyrenees Mountains, that included a visit to the teeny, tiny nation of Andorra, because we are all about collecting stamps in our passports! 
(P.C: Some random tourist)

Back to Gran Canaria, a hidden jewel where the pace is unhurried and the sunsets are divine.
(P.C: Jessica Rothwell)

Gran Canaria has so many quaint little towns to explore, where you can get lost between the rows of colourful houses, see beautiful vistas and stunning cathedrals. Above the town of Arucas, as viewed from the Marquesa Botanical Gardens, featuring an iconic Canary Islands dragon tree. Arucas is also home to the famous Canarian Arehucan rum.

Looking down at Arucas, from a vista, at the stunning town centrepiece of The Church of San Juan Bautista.

Hands down my favourite town in Gran Canaria, the town of Mogan, filled with cute canals, a beautiful marina and colourful bougainvillea entwined over arches and balconies.

Magical Mogan.

Gran Canaris is full of surprises around every bend and we were delighted to discover the town of Firgas, also know as the "Balcony of the Atlantic", with it's artificial waterfall that flows down the steps right in the centre of its old town, tumbling 30 metres down Paseo de Gran Canaria street.

Alongside the waterfall are these beautiful tiled benches with frames above them, listing all the major towns and cities on the island of Gran Canaria.

The church bells of the church in San Roque Square can be heard over the whole town.

The boardwalk at the Playa del Puerto in the beachside town of La Aldea de San Nicol├ás. Here we just chilled, admired the typical Canarain architecture and consumed a stellar Spanish omelette.

This shipyard we decided to tackle one of Europe's great drives, GC-200, before it is no longer. A major highway is being built that will bypass some of the spectacular cliff top sections of the road. Just a little snap from the Mirador El Paso (lookout point) Marinero, from the hair raising drive.

After so many visits to the Canary Islands, we have began to get a little more creative in order find things to do that we have not seen/done before. The Bufadero de la Garita's is a naturally occurring blow hole that sucks water in and then blows it high into the air.

As we wrapped up another year of shipyard, "at sea" drills began again in ernest. Lucky Andrew has been a muster leader (name caller) for around three years now.

Re-loading all the vehicles on the ship again, ready to sail to Douala. Time now to make a very special mention of our friend and previous Transportation Manager, Tom Waechter. Loading the vehicles this year was truly a labour of love. Dear Tom, a beloved crew member and most servant hearted man I know, passed away during this shipyard whilst hiking with his wife and family back in the States, on holiday. We heard the news on the last day of our trip to Barcelona and we were shook to the core. Many of the crew, including Andrew rallied around to take care of Tom's duties and to honour his memory in a deeply moving memorial service on board, just before our sail to Douala, of which Tom's wife Ann-Marie and his two sons were able to attend. 

Shipyard over for another year, our every last shipyard. The hospitality team always bring cookies and drinks to the bridge as we prepare to sail out of a port.

Captain John Borrow looking out of the bridge.

Up comes the gangway, the last time we will see this familiar piece of metal go past us, after shipyard.

Adios beautiful Canary Islands. What an amazing privilege and pleasure it has been for us to berth in the Canary Islands time after time, over the past seven years!

We look forward to sailing in one last time and spending our last days with Mercy Ships, docked in the Astican shipyard. We already have a date set for dinner at 
Ristorante Pizzeria Al Maccaroni, our favourite restaurant, on the promenade, for our very last night with Mercy Ships! Bon apetit!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Au revoir Benin

After a triumphant return to West Africa in August 2016, we sailed out stoically on Saturday 3rd June, 2017. Our arrival was loud and celebratory, our hearts filled with joy. Our departure was quiet and tinged with sadness but still our hearts were overflowing at the goodness of God and all he had made happen, though us, in the nation of Benin. We hoped and prayed that we had made a difference, restored lives; physically mentally and spiritually, for this is our calling card We come with a job to do and we do the very best we can, often under trying circumstances, to the glory of God and pray that the nations we serve are blessed by our presence.

The Benin flag flaps proudly in the breeze, for the last time.

The last piece of the gangway going up.

The tugs pulling us out.

Pulling out from our berth.

Deckies working the lines.

Port workers waving us off.

Fisherman farewell us.

Getting a roll on, past the breakwater.

For those of you who enjoy numbers, the fruit of our labour of love. The numbers also include....

Total number of potential surgical patients screened: 11,536. The screening team at work, above. 

Unique dental patients: 6,942. The 4,000th dental patient with Mercy Ships founder, Don Stephens (middle back).

Twenty Ponseti club foot corrections. Above and below, Ponseti baby, Ismaila in his brace.

Palliative care provisions for 26 patients. Above, the p
alliative care team on a home visit with a terminally ill patient. 

An exciting development within Mercy Ships, in the past few years, has been the dramatic increase in Medical Capacity Building. What is Medical Capacity Building (MCB)?

“Mercy Ships healthcare training program aims to enhance the standards of care within the surgical ecosystem in partner hospitals or other healthcare institutions.  With this objective in mind, the organization has developed practical and relevant healthcare training projects that demonstrate and impart knowledge, skills, and a compassionate, professional attitude to each participant. These training opportunities include structured observation, courses, and mentoring.” (MCB Home page Africa Mercy Navigator)

Mercy Ships has offered a number of MCB courses and educational opportunities throughout our field service in Benin. Some of the courses run include….

Neonatal Resuscitation......
Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) is a neonatal resuscitation curriculum created for resource-limited circumstances. It was developed on the premise that assessment at birth and simple newborn care can improve chances for survival. (MCB Home page Africa Mercy Navigator)

The course utilizes the brilliantly designed NeoNatalie kits which include crucial learning tools such as breathing masks, stethoscopes and mock syringes. The life-like doll is an invaluable teaching aide. A pump can be attached to make NeoNatalie “breathe” and to give her a “pulse” that can be checked through the umbilical cord or by stethoscope. The chest visibly rises and enables students to practice giving chest compressions, which click when done correctly.” (Grace Antonini, AFM Writer)

Primary Trauma Care.......
“The Primary Trauma Care (PTC) course was created to offer training to trauma response physicians and nurses in low resource environments, and is intended to provide basic knowledge and skills necessary to identify and treat those traumatized patients who require rapid assessment, resuscitation, and stabilization of their injuries. This course will particularly highlight the need for early recognition and timely intervention in specific life-threatening conditions.”  (MCB Home page Africa Mercy Navigator)

Essential Surgical Skills.......
“The Essential Surgical Skills Course (ESSC) is a two-day course designed to introduce surgical trainees to use safe surgical techniques that are common to all forms of surgery. Students learn a wide range of surgical skills – everything from sterile gowning and gloving, knot tying, and instrument handling; to excision, debridement, and bowel, tendon, and vascular repair, using pig tissues for practice!"
“When asked about what changes they will make as a result of the training, one participant noted,” We have to be careful about being surgically sterile which is very important in the emergency services, different kind of sutures with tissues, also the surgical knots." (MCB Home page Africa Mercy Navigator, Krissy Close MCB Blog Navigator) 

Sterile Processing........“The goal of the sterile processing program is to impart knowledge, skills, and a compassionate, professional attitude in sterile processing to the technicians and nurses in a way that will lead to transformational development in local hospitals in the Mercy Ships target region. (MCB Home page Africa Mercy Navigator)
A few other stats….
·   Participants in MCB Mentoring: 88
·   MCB Renovations: Facility at Centre de Sante de Zogbo for Dental Clinic and
   facility at Centre de Sante de Missessin for HOPE Centre
·   Mercy Ministries partner visits: 269 (crew participant opportunities: 1,987)

Whilst the statistics are impressive, it is important to remember that behind every number there is a life, a life that has been restored and where hope has been made tangible. We may not all work in the hospital but we are one body and we have all contributed towards the radical change of nations whom much of the rest of the world has forgotten about. We strive to give our all, to the glory of God. We are not perfect, we are humans, broken and weak, but God has chosen us for such a time as this, to help provide holistic care, body, mind and spirit for the poorest of the poor.