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, August 17, 2016

The Legacy

Madagascar may have been memorable for us but for the thousands of lives touched by our crew, through the love of Jesus, the impact was far greater!
Women are dry, disfigured faces have been restored, burn contractures have been released, that tooth abscess that had become life threatening has been healed, bowed legs are straight again. Orphans have been blessed, the imprisoned have been ministered too, the blind can see, the elderly danced with joy and truth was spoken.
Thousands of people all across this vast nation, the 4th largest island in the world, have had their lives altered forever. Many have not just had their bodies healed but their hearts as well, acknowledging and receiving their creator for the first time. Many, many times we were thanked by strangers on the street and our new friends alike, for all that Mercy Ships has done in their nation and for their people.
The medical capacity of Madagascar has increased exponentially as thousands of health care providers have been trained in various techniques, many of them lifesaving, such as the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist, Essential Surgical Skills, Primary Trauma Care, Safe Obstetric Anesthesia and Newborn Resuscitation, to name a few. Over 2,000 participants have benefited from this training during our time in Madagascar.
Dozens of young children have been released from the burden of club feet and hundreds more will be, through the newly established Ponseti program and clinic, Women will no longer be shamed, as a result of the training and mentoring of local nurses and surgeons in obstetric fistula care and surgery. We leave behind a legacy of a new Obstetric Fistula Clinic and operating theatre, recently handed over to the NGO “Freedom from Fistula Foundation”.




The Ponseti Clinic celebration! A time to rejoice over the more than 70 children healed of their club feet through the minimally invasive, but life changing Ponseti Method. Look at all those mammas and their beautiful babies, who now have a much brighter future!
(Photo cred: Suzanne Veltjens) 

Thousands will benefit from safe, sterile surgery without the usual high risk of infection, through a comprehensive transformation of the operating room block at the local CHUT hospital, leaving behind state of the art equipment and world class facilities. Additional renovations at the CHUT campus have included medical classrooms and a biomedical repair service.
Above, one of the newly renovated OR's in use. Below, before and after!
(Photo cred above and below: Ruben Plomp)


Locals will have better access to fresh fruit and vegetables for years and years to come, as first hand knowledge of sustainable, organic farming was taught through Mercy Ships “Food for Life” program. This knowledge will be passed on from generation to generation casting a wide net of knowledge and improve food security in Madagascar for the long term. Above, some of the "Food for Life" graduates, Mada 2.

For those of you who like visuals, here are a few fun pie charts! Let the numbers speak….


* 1017 Ponseti club foot procedures on 107 paediatric patients treated 
* 48 palliative care patients supported
* Basic oral and dental health instruction was given to 12,192 patients, caregivers and 
* Community health instruction to 4,146
* Chaplain’s counselling sessions to 6,772
* Nearly 8000 people were seen by pre-screeners in 11 different cities throughout
  the country as well as near the ship 
Combined Surgery Stats Mada 1 & 2. 2014-2016…..
Maxillofacial: 917
Plastics: 238
General: 817
Women’s Health: 473
Orthopaedics: 162
Eyes: 303 (No eye program in Mada 2.)
Ambulatory: 41
Total surgeries: 2951!
While you are soaking up these numbers, remember each one is a life, someone with a family, someone who has been healed, relieved of their suffering, taught a new lifesaving skill, been accepted back into their community, been mentored and experienced the love of Jesus from a big white hospital ship!

Memories of Madagascar........

It’s been over two months since we said goodbye to Madagascar, but I wanted to share some of our journey of saying goodbye…..As we pulled out of the berth space we had occupied in Tamatave, Madagascar, for around 18 months, an eclectic crowd of day crew, ex-pats and Mercy Ships crew, who were staying behind, gathered on the dock, screaming their goodbyes and writing chalk messages on the asphalt. The wind was chilly and dark clouds threatened rain, overhead. Our hearts were filled to overflowing, as we left this place we called home. As we listened to our Chief Officer pray for our journey and for the nation of Madagascar over the PA, a damn threated to burst as we tried to hold our emotions in check. The ships horn sounded three times and we were underway with just our memories to cling to.
Madagascar, a country we never hoped or dreamed we would ever visit, now holds a big piece of our heart. Once just a fluffy children’s movie, now a collection of thousands of lives changed, deep and abiding friendships forged and the beauty of a nation seared deep within our soul. It seems surreal right now. We don’t know how long until reality takes hold of us that our time in Madagascar is really over. That season is done. We are not returning. It is too hard to fathom. We have said goodbye to so many in the past few months. You would think we would be hardened, but every goodbye it is like re-opening a wound, as we recall all the goodbyes we have endured.
Oh we have packed a lifetime of memories into our time in Madagascar! What we called “our last”. The last time we talked to that person who impacted us so greatly, the last time we ate at Ocean 501 and watched the waves crash onto the beach with such majesty and power, the last time we rode in a pousse pousse, the last time we brought peanuts from the trays on the heads of the giggling girls, the last time I went out with the Mum’s to Club Nautique on a Friday night. The last time we good naturedly hassled Parfait, our favourite waiter, when he counted our money, that last time we laughed with the lady at Bazzar Be when she sees us eyeing of her canvas, two of which we already have hanging in our cabin. The last time the ladies with the hypnotized chickens amazed us, the last time we got a cold coconut from the palm fringed beach, the last Ultimate Frisbee in Mada and the last patient to walk down the gangway, their lives changed forever.
So many poignant memories! It would be difficult to capture them all into one post and to be so eloquent as to explain the myriad of emotions behind these moments in time, from pure elation to frustration to anger at injustice and sadness when we cannot help.
Thank you Madagascar for your beauty, your people and how you have blessed us beyond compare! Please enjoy a pictorial journey of our last few weeks in Madagascar!

Beachside coconuts will forever remind us of Madagascar!!
(Photo cred above and below: David Forrest)

Jess and Charlotte drinking coconut milk!
The youth of the AFM in Madagascar.
(Photo cred: Katie Keegan)

St Paddy's Day Dash through the port. Jess is in the middle in the white t-shirt, on the bike.
(Photo cred: Shelly Davies)

Daddy Daughter Dinner Dance, Mada 2. Jess and Andrew with their big, cheesy "American smiles".
(Photo cred: Justine Forrest)

Just a nice, casual family pic on the dock.

The Malagasy seem to like their rides and this appeared in the last few months we were in Tamatave. For small change, you could climb inside a giant bubble and roll around in a large inflatable swimming pool in intense heat! Sounds like fun right? They also had a man powered ferris wheel and fairy floss on the beach! Jess is on the right.
(Photo cred: Lisa Schwind)

At the end of each field service we host a reception for all our partners, those who have come alongside the mission to support us and provide for us in so many ways. Andrew flew to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, to provide the main speech for our Tana Partner's Reception.
(Photo cred: Andrea Valk)

Mada 2. also saw our family clock over five years of service with Mercy Ships on the AFM. Jodie and Andrew are above receiving their awards, an anchor tie pin for Andrew and an anchor necklace for Jodie.
(Photo cred: Tammy Dunne)

Numberplates in Tamatave are made on road side stands and for a small price you can get a customised plate! Jess and I at the Banyan Tree park with our new numberplates! Jodie-Africa Mercy Primary Care Giver (Mum) and Jess- Africa Mercy Third Culture Kid!

Casual family pic at the Banyan Tree Park.

Jess looking "cool" at the Banyan Tree Park.

We went to a cultural show at a local restaurant, hosted by local churches and many of our day crew. We were treated to dancing and singing from many regions of Madagascar! Andrew was asked to make an impromptu speech and he borrowed a few bits from his Tana speech a few days earlier! :)

This is Parfait and his beautiful family! Parfait (Perfect in English) was the perfect waiter at what Mercy Shippers fondly named the "Train Station" restaurant. He put up with all our funny requests, our various accents and our, sometimes, large groups, always with a smile and excellent service. We had the pleasure of inviting his family on board for a tour and dinner.

Us having dinner.

Jess and her friend Charlotte (also from Oz) at the Graduation Dinner.

Second last day of school for the year! The teachers took the kids on a "favourites of Tamatave" tour! Here they all are at the Banyan Tree Park.
(Photo cred: Brian Blackburn) 

On the last day of school the kids get into teams and do a scavenger hunt. Above Jess and Charlotte looking fierce!

Last day of school! End of Year Assembly. Each school year has a theme. Last school year it was the Nelson Mandela quote "It always seems impossible until it is done". Above the older kids (and one Mum) hold up signs that say "Mercy Ships Academy 2015-2016 school year, it's DONE!"

A Mercy Ships Academy graduation (year 12) is one of the highlights of the field service and a huge community event. Last school year we had three graduates, Annabelle, the first Aussie graduate, Wesley from the USA, who has been on board his whole life and Bendik from Norway who served with his family on the AFM several years ago and returned to do grade 12 on-board, alone!

In Mada 2. we employed over 300 local day crew to work in the galley, dining room, executive, the hospital, dental clinic, screening team, transport, communications, engineering, deck, Hope Centre, OBF Clinic, Ponseti Clinic and chaplaincy. It was the largest number that Mercy Ships has ever employed in one field service.

The day crew celebration had to be held in the dockside warehouse instead of the dining room and international lounge as they were not large enough. What an amazing celebration it was. Six hours of food and festivities culminating in tearful goodbyes. There is no way we could operate without the help of our day crew and they are a huge blessing to us and become our friends.

Above Mercy Ship tuk tuk and balloon banner set up for the celebration.
(Photo cred: Ryan Sweeney)

Our day crew party hard!

Our faithful tuk tuk drivers, Romi and Minot, who drove us from the ship to the port gate, rain, hail or shine for both field services! Above with mechanic Doug Blackburn.
(Photo cred: Joe Data)

A very special desert  "Taste of Madagascar", made from what makes Madagascar famous (besides their vanilla), their award winning chocolate!!

Us at the beautiful palm plantation where palm oil is produced from hundreds of palm trees. It was quite a rainy day so we just jumped out of the car for a quick photo.
(Photo cred: Chuck Gavaletz)

Bamboo rafts for transporting goods up and down the man made Pangalese Canal, where hundreds of crew member explored!

The famous Zebu, basically a cow with a hump that features as a steak or brochettes (meat on a stick) on menus everywhere!!

The famous lemur variety, the Aye Aye feeding at a night tour at the Lemur Zoo, another place, heavily populated with Mercy Shippers!

It seems like all we ever did for the last month in Madagascar was say goodbye! :( This is what goodbye to crew looks like, large huddles of sombre people, gathering on the dock, lots of hugs and promises and finally a line on either side of the dock as we wave to the parting vehicles. Above, waving goodbye to our Captain, Jan and his lovely family!
(Photo cred; Unknown)

The walk to the port gate from our berth was made by thousands of Mercy Ships crew and day crew ,over eighteen months. It was the cleanest port we have ever been in and we will miss this familiar walk. 

We will also miss this market, the fabulous, pretty clean and undercover Bazzar Be where the shopping is full of beautiful, handmade Malagasy bargains and the pressure is pretty low key!

Hand woven baskets.

Fuzzy red litchis, a staple for the locals, adored by the crew and a famous Malagasy import

When there are no tuk tuks in sight, you can always find a pousse pousse driver following you along to see if you need a ride. A little bit dangerous and a really slow mode of transport, but lots of fun!

A special touch on a final dessert at a favourite place, by wait staff who listened to us say, "See ya" for eighteen months! It was there turn to say goodbye to us! :(

The day came for us to leave and what a sad day that was! Above, chalk messages from crew staying behind, day crew and ex-pats. Veloma-goodbye in Malagasy!

Gangway going up!

Final piece of the gangway makes it's way to deck eight, while the tug boat waits to push us out.

The Malagasy flag flies proud for the last time!

One of our new Malagasy crew, Robert, looks down and reflects on leaving his people, his home and all that is familiar, for new shores and a new life!

Crew wave a heartfelt goodbye!

The Aussie flag flying high, representing the ever growing Aussie contingent on board the AFM.

The tug boats put on a special show for us, a sign of respect in the maritime world.


Leaving our friends behind.......
(Photo cred above and below: Natalie Bullock)

The AFM leaves the shores of Madagascar for the last time. Veloma Madagascar!

As we sail ever closer to Benin, my heart still yearns for Madagascar. Part of me wishes that we could be pulling into our old, familiar berth in Tamatave, while part of me is brimming with excitement of all that is new and familiar at the same time with our return to West Africa.

Somehow we can never quite be fully content, because our hearts lie scattered in so many places, that when we are in one, we are constantly yearning for the other.....