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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Monday, September 26, 2011

Yummy Mummys

Many of you will know that I am a pretty social kind of person and I enjoy getting together with my girlfriends very much! I have been missing that while we have been away so I decided to do something about it and organised a mum's night out to a local restaurant called Mamba Point. Unfortunately many of the mums were away on holidays so numbers were down (normally there are about 25 mums on the ship-whose children are serving with them, I should clarify). We had a great night and really enjoyed the time out. So much so that I and another crew mum are organising regular events for crew mums. This Friday we are having coffee in the cafe with an international flavour. We have asked the mums to bring a snack from their home country. I haven't figured out how I am going to accomplish that as yet!

Sabine's noodles

Tiffany's pizza.

My garlic steak. I accidently ordered two main meals due to a bit of a lanuage breakdown. I thought I was getting a sushi entree but ended up with some crumbed chicken, rice, vegetables and a crab salad-what the????

I was a bit mesmorised by the sight of this ATM machine-the first one I have seen in West Africa and the only one I have seen in over seven months. See the pretty lights!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Focus On Eyes

I have posted about many of the wonderful programs that Mercy Ships offers in the countries we go to and Mercy Vision is another one of these. Each Monday morning a group of dedicated eye specialist and volunteer crew head off to screen hundreds of desperate Sierra Leones. Rain or shine they go and their tireless efforts, alongside crew ophthalmic surgeons and specialist nurses has produced much fruit in Freetown and beyond in upcountry Sierra Leone. Here are some recent statistics for the field service thus far.....

  •  Cataract Related surgeries-970
  •  Surgeries blind due to Pterrgium-158
  •  Eye Evaluations and Treatments-7,460
  •  Distribution of UV blocking sunglasses-1,493
  •  Distribution of Reading glasses-2,284
  •  Distribution of Pescription glasses-864
  •  Refraction routine eye exams-2,368
  •  Instructor/Mentor Community Eye Care Workers-14
  •  Mentor Africans/International Surgeons in Cataracts-2
  •  Mentor Surgical Nurse Ophthalmic surgery-7

Above are the eye screening tents on the dock next to the ship. These tents are fully transportable and are put up and packed down for each field service.

Patients waiting on the dock.

Small children brought in by their loving parents desperate for a way to restore sight to their children.

The admissions building under construction, also dockside. The building has been fully functional for many months now and provides welcome respite from the heat, humidity and rain.

Inside the admissions building patients are examined more closely.

Patients wait nervously in the peri-op room on board the Africa Mercy for their surgery.

Surgeons hard at work on the delicate surgery.

A closer look at cataract removal.

Such a small thing can prevent livelihood.

An eye patch is placed on each patient after surgery.

Eye patients leaving the ship. Every now and then the Africa Mercy hold a "Celebration of Sight" out on the dock. The patients remove their eye patches are see for the first time in so long or for some, the first time ever. Tears of joy flood their eyes and they stare at their reflection in a mirror-seeing themselves once again, maybe seeing their children for the very first time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


The time has arrived........Jessica's first part time job at the tender age of 11. Here she is making her debut into the working world at the snack side of Starbucks. Her pay-one free drink! Jess loves working in the snack bar and does a great job. The snack bar/Starbucks is a great morale booster to the crew and creates an inviting place for fun and fellowship. It is certainly the hub of the ship. We are very proud!

It's the Little Things......

It's the little things that can often make our day here.........crepes on a Monday, cookies at your door on your birthday, a cancelled fire drill, a sunshiny day in the heart of rainy season or a trip to town that takes less than and hour to arrive.

But SOMETIMES it's the BIG things that make our day like the arrival of a shipping container laden with supplies for the ship but more importantly to us, personal items!! When you hear the call over the PA, "Personal items from SL6 container will be available on Deck 8 after 4:00pm", it is music to our ears. Excitement and anticipation mounts! We were especially excited for the arrival of our first lot of goodies-many the things we miss-everything from rolled oats to shampoo to Andrew's birthday/Father's Day gifts, coffee, sox, chux magic erasers (no prizes for guessing who wanted those), toys for Jess and much more! Thanks Mum and Dad for the wonderful package above!!

Jess with mine and Andrew's new pillows. We also got a mattress topper as our matresses have buttons in them which can be a little stabby.

Jess with her Polly Pockets and her new tumbler for frappes in the cafe.

Andy with his new work pants.

Me with my rather late Mother's Day present-a book from my favourite author, Karen Kingsbury.


The mess to clean up!

4th July

This post is a little late as I am a bit behind in our blog posts and I'm pretty fanatical about doing them in chronoligical order-as much as possible anyway! The 4th of July marks a special day in the hearts of our fellow American crew. Independence Day! For the rest of us it was a chance for a nice meal out on the dock. The galley generously put on a wonderful BBQ for us all to enjoy and the dock was decked out in decorations red, white and blue. It was a lovely evening of great food and great company topped off by a very patriotic and heartrendering edition of the US national anthem "The Star Spangled Banner".

Check out those steaks!

The food line-corn, salad, potatoes in jackets with sour cream, hot dogs and steaks.

A picture says a thousand words........

Jess hogging into her hotdog(s)!

Crew cuites-two year old Emma (above) and one year old Violette (below) show off their US colours.

Our friends adopted kids Deborah and Anna who are Liberian born but very much American.

The kids having fun with all the balloons. I have no idea why the local Freetown party supplier (I saw the van pull up on the dock) is so well stocked in American party memorabillia. Clue-the amzing amount of Obama merchandise available on the streets! Even the Hope Centre is nicknamed "Obama City" by the locals.

Bird's eye view of the festivities.

My attempt at an artistic shot-couldn't quite get the lighting right and there was a big mesh fence in the way! Oh year!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Josephine's Miracle

 Two-year-old Josephine inhaled something that affected her breathing. Her parents, David and Judith, could hear the rattle with every struggling breath. They took her to a local clinic which sent them to an emergency hospital . . . which sent them to a government hospital . . . which sent them to a satellite clinic . . . which sent them back to the government hospital.  After five days in the government hospital, specialist Dr. Karim Kabineh told them that Jose

phine was so tiny that she would die if he performed the necessary operation. He needed a pediatric anesthetist, anesthesia equipment, and a critical care unit with 24-hour nursing care – all unavailable at that hospital.
After eight days of hopeless searching for help, the desperate parents took Josephine to the office of the Minister of Health, where David hoped to plead his case and find someone who could help. At that moment – in the miracle of God’s timing – Ann Gloag, a member of the Mercy Ships International Board who is well-known for her charity work in Africa, was meeting with the Minister.
As this compassionate woman walked by the family sitting in the reception area, she heard the labored breathing of little Josephine. She put in a call to Dr. Gary Parker, Chief Medical Officer onboard the Africa Mercy, the hospital ship docked a short distance away in Freetown Harbor. After explaining to him what appeared to be the problem, arrangements were made to use an ambulance to transport Josephine, her parents and Dr. Kabineh to the ship.
Dr. Gary examined Josephine, took x-rays and discovered a small stone lodged in the little girl’s bronchus. A virtual think tank was begun to find a way to remove the stone from her tiny body. Dr.Gary approached engineering to see if a medical device could be fashioned that would be the right shape to fit into the bronchoscope and retrieve the stone.  Every plausible idea was examined and eventually rejected.
Dr. Gary and Dr. Kabineh worked for five hours trying to remove the stone without success. Dr. Gary called Ann back to explain that what Josephine needed was a cardiac thoracic surgeon, and there wasn’t one on the ship. David was devastated. Mercy Ships was his last hope. But crew member Clementine Tengue encouraged him, saying, “God will find a way.”
Josephine was admitted to the intensive care unit with 24-hour care. About 3:00 am, ICU Nurse Melissa Warner was working the night shift when Josephine lost her breathing tube.  Her vital signs were crashing.  Dr. Michelle White, the pediatric *anesthetist/ anesthesiologist, was paged, but it would take her several minutes to respond.  “In my mind, I said ‘I need help!’”Melissa said. “And when I looked up, there was Corina Buth standing in the doorway in her pajamas!” Corina, a pediatric ICU nurse from the Netherlands, had been restless and couldn’t sleep.  Corina did CPR, and Josephine’s vital signs returned to normal. Then Dr. Michelle arrived and replaced the breathing tube.
Josephine’s condition was rapidly deteriorating. Analysis was made of the hospitals nearby. Ghana had the required surgeon, but he was absent at that time, and the travel expense to South Africa was prohibitive.
Meanwhile, Ann had phoned a professor friend of hers in Nairobi and explained that she needed a pediatric cardiac thoracic surgeon who could fly to Sierra Leone right away. The professor knew just the right man – Dr. James Munene, head of cardiac surgery at Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital. Although it was quite late, he phoned Dr. James, explained the problem and asked him to go to Sierra Leone to operate on Josephine.
“Wait!” Dr. James said, rather forcefully. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Just talk to this lady,” the professor responded.
Ann called a few minutes later and told the doctor he needed to fly immediately to Freetown where his skills were urgently needed.
“I was a bit reluctant,” said Dr. Munene. “I had never heard of Mercy Ships. I had no information on this case, and it was the middle of the night!”
Ann called back with information on his flight. “Be at the airport at 6:00 a.m.,” she said.
“It was a little difficult to say no to the lady. I told my wife, ‘I guess I’m going to Sierra Leone in the morning,’” Dr. Munene said.
Then Dr. Gary called to say he was emailing information and x-rays of Josephine.
“I was thinking, ‘It’s not happening! It didn’t sound real!’ But by 1:00 a.m., I had the ticket and all the necessary papers ... and there I was at the airport at 6:00 a.m..,” explained Dr. James.
This confident specialist with the gentle demeanor landed at Lungi Airport, not yet totally comprehending the situation. And he still had to endure the bumpy boat ride across the bay to Freetown. “It was surreal!” he admitted.
Dr. James was overwhelmed by the Africa Mercy, the more than 400 crew members volunteering from 35 different countries, and the concept of bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor. He couldn’t believe such a mission could have been in operation for so many years, and he didn’t know anything about it.
Teaming with Dr. Gary, Dr. James operated on Josephine, fishing the stone out of her bronchus with ease. Because Josephine was so tiny, it was a vital requirement to have a pediatric anesthetist as part of the team. Dr. Michelle White was serving in this capacity at the time and was a vital part of the team.  “Working with such a tiny body, I wouldn’t have proceeded without her,” said Dr. James.
Josephine awoke shortly after the surgery and sat up on the gurney all the way to the Intensive Care Unit, looking around and asking for a glass of water. To everyone’s surprise, she was anxious to eat right away. After a few days of recuperating in the ICU – and enjoying the attention of the nurses and other crew members – the little girl and her grateful parents left the ship
In reviewing this story, it is amazing to see the many things that had to happen for this tiny girl to survive.  Her parents had to keep her alive for eight days after she inhaled the stone.  Ann Gloag had to be visiting the office of the Minister of Health at the same time that David, Judith, and Josephine were there. Dr. James Munene had to agree to perform a surgery for an organization of which he had never heard; and Nurse Corina had to be drawn to the ICU because she couldn’t sleep.  This incredible timing and all of these wonderful people were part of the miracle that allowed Josephine to grin happily as she left the Africa Mercy as a healthy little girl.
Dr. James was captivated by the mission and hopes to return to volunteer his services. “Really, it’s a privilege to come and see what people are doing while others are sleeping and doing nothing,” he said.
And God never sleeps – miracles still happen every day.  Sometimes we are blessed to be a part of them.
Story by Elaine B. Winn
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Gerrit Meijerink and Debra Bell

Josephine and Judith as they leave the Africa Mercy.

David, Judith and Josephine say good-bye to the Africa Mercy.

David, Judith and Josephine say good-bye to the Africa Mercy

Josephine in the ICU before surgery

Josephine reacts playfully to the ward nurses.

Josephine, stone-free and ready to go home!

Mum, Dad and Josephine as they prepare to leave the Africa Mercy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Summer Fun

As the Mercy Ships Academy runs with the American school year so the children have their summer vaccation mid year from early June to early August. This is also the transition time between grades. Many families take the opportunity to go home for good or for holidays and fundrasing efforts during this time. For the kids who are left behind (and their parents) this could be a vvvveeeeeerrryyyy looooonnnggg two months if it wasn't for the wonderful Academy Summer Program-yay, yay, yay!!! The biblically backboned Summer Program runs for the middle four weeks of the holidays and offers an amazing program from 9am-3pm for children from pre-school to grade 8. This year the program was run by the fun, energetic and creative Margo and Sam Zupke, accompained by their kids, Matt and Micah. The Zupkes have led the program many times before and lets just say the kids are NEVER bored and sleep like a log!

Bureh Beach-the kids went once a week. I am not sure what is going on in this photo but have a close look at some of the kids expressions-they are priceless! Jess is the one with her hands to her face on the left.

One thing that Margo and Sam did was get the kids off the ship! Above is the beautiful Charlotte Falls.

On the day trip to the falls the kids also took in Tacugama Chimpanzee Sancturary where chimps are rescued and rehabilitated. Above are the group of kids who went.

I am sure he is not picking his nose!! Funny thing Jess told me....when she had to go to the toilet at the sancturary the toilets were right next to the chimps and they were pounding on the courragated metal walls while she was in there. Talk about performance pressure-lol.

They even had a Dog Show. The younger kids were the dogs and the older kids were the owners. They made masks in the morning and put on their show in the afternoon. The "dogs" were put through their paces with all kinds of tricks and skills. Jessica's "dog" was her friend Deborah who was a Jack Russell Terrier.

Games, games, games-plenty of games to be had!


The older group had a wild time giving their leaders, Sam and Annilies a makeover. I think the results speak for themselves!

Several sessions of baking took place in the crew galley including the yummy cupcakes for the parents at the Parents Evening.

The kids visited the Team House off ship at the Swiss Embassy and had a great day swimming, playing tennis, doing crafts and generally having a great time. They even had lunch cooked for them. Above are Jess and her friend, Josie.

The older kids thought it was pretty cool to have Monday crepes and Friday waffles in the cafe!

The summer program would not be complete without many visits to the Hope Centre. Our kids brightened the days of so many local kids recovering from or awaiting surgery. Jess above with friends, Josh and Matt.

The older kids, Josie, Micah, Jess, Matt, Elliot and Josh.

Every week all the kids visited the hospital wards to play, sing and do craft with the patients. 

Jess and Josie building blocks with a patient.

Everyone!!!! Summer program rocks!!