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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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.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


For Mother’s Day I received a gorgeous turquoise stone necklace. I have long admired this type of stone that is readily available all over Africa. It was only twelve bucks but the best part of the story is where I found it! I found this lovely creation at a “souvenir shop” on water in Africa’s largest stilt village, Ganvie, in Benin, West Africa! Now you cannot say I do not go to the ends of the earth to source my eclectic collection of souvenirs.

I had been desperate to go to Ganvie for ages but time ticked away and before I knew it the end of the field service was looming and I still had not visited the mysterious Ganvie. But I was determined not to leave Benin without visiting this unique water village, Africa’s largest slit water village, lying in Lake Nokoue, with a population of over 20,000. The village was established in the 1700’s by the Kings of Dahomey (Benin).

From the moment we began cruising down the river towards the village, a three hour rerun trip, I was captivated. The sights, sounds and smells overwhelming my senses. Everywhere I turned there was something to see, sometimes captivating, sometimes sad and sometimes just downright curious. We saw the extent of the poverty seeping into the river where people bathe, wash their clothes and defecate, without regard.

We passed dozens of fish farms, one of the main sources of livelihood in Cotonou and a staple in the West African diet. Withered old men and young boys alike were diving into the water and casting out nets under the shimmering sun.  Taxi canoes strained under the weight of their heavy load carrying people swathed in vibrant colours, to and fro up and down the vein of the city.

The market hummed, almost alive selling everything from phones to fabric, pineapples to plasticware. Everything you never knew you really needed. Garbage littered the banks of the river and the smell wafted towards our boat melding with the humidity.

The village itself loomed out of nowhere as the water became shallower and colourful wooden buildings rose on slits from the murky depths. Children laughed and played inside canoes while their mammas did a trade, one canoe to another. Churches, a mosque, schools, health clinics, shops and even a hotel somehow balanced on water. The locals went about their business mostly ignoring the tourists gawking at this impossibility of over 20,000 people conducting their entire lives on water. Some glared our way as we raised our camera lenses while other gave a friendly wave and posed.

Surprisingly our boat tour passed by several souvenir shops, a coincidence I am sure of. J  Beautiful, colourful jewellery, beaded maracas, drums, carvings of all manner of things, wooden pipes, cars made out of coke cans, stunning paintings and woven baskets called for our attention. That’s when I spotted it……my turquoise stone necklace.

Please enjoy this photographic journey of our trip to Ganvie………

Me in our boat on the Lake Nokoue.

Lake taxis outside Marche Dantokpa.

Baskets of fish.

Lovely colourful ladies going about their business!

Launching fishing nets from a canoe.
(P.C Christoph Nerz)



Gathering plant life to help with trapping the fish.

Taxi canoe with a cover!

Lots of fishing going on here. Patiently waiting.

Behold Ganvie and it's beautiful reflections.

(P.C Justine Forrest)

Great balance!

Kids having fun the way you do when you live on water!
(P.C Above and below, Christoph Nerz )

Fruit and veg shopping the slit village way!
(P.C Justine Forrest)

Little girl, big muscles!

The washing still needs to be done.

Vibrant colours.
(P.C Christoph Nerz)

Shoe shopping.

Neighborhood gossip.
(P.C. Justine Forrest)

More washing.

Friendly greetings.

The beautiful African fabric such a contrast to the drab surroundings.

One of my favourite pics!

A little more reflection.

Young men making their way around.

Stocked up with wares to sell.

You can't go anywhere without encountering a gift shop these days, right? A stilt village in Cotonou, Benin was no exception! As our guide tried to take us to our third "souvenir shop" we told him no more! :) Above you can spot my lovely tourquoise beads, in the back of the photo.

A classic African percussion instrument, the shaker!

When I go bored of the souvenirs I went and had a chat to this friendly local, Raphael who spoke a little English.

Our humble, but motorized, transportation for three hours.

Our group.

“….Ganvie seems to be nothing short of an organic creation – a town where nature went a little off the rails and the reeds and weeds just grew up into houses, shops and a marketplace……the locals eat on water, sleep on water and work and play on water.”
(Benin Bradt Guide)