The National Director of Mercy Ships Canada, Tim Maloney, is soft-spoken but absolutely passionate about his subject. He started his talk at the October meeting by saying that he lives his life according to the following axiom: have hope, take risks and seek harmony in all things. He and Don Stephens, the founder of Mercy Ships International, must share some of the same DNA because a 14 year dream came true for Don when he took a risk and purchased and refurbished a luxury liner to use as the first hospital ship.
Founded on the recognition that most of the world’s poor live within 50 km of a port, the various hospital ships in the Mercy Ships’ fleet have plied the coasts of Africa since 1982. Once in port, medical volunteers attend to as many patients as they can in the clinics and operating rooms right on the ship. The young and old alike line up patiently on shore; sometimes passing a particularly ill or needy person to the front of the line over their shoulders. They come with problems such as cleft palates, cataracts, fistula injuries, or non-cancerous growths that can impede breathing or other vital functions.
Other volunteers go into the villages and work together with locals to give on-the-job training in carpentry, masonry, agriculture, water and sanitation. They will often partner with local agencies to help communities develop improved crop producing skills. In addition, training programs are provided at various levels: from teaching villagers basic health care to training local professionals in their areas of expertise (e.g. anaesthesiology or midwifery).
Tim ended the talk by narrating ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of patients who had been treated by the doctors onboard the ships. Some ‘before’ photos were difficult to look at, the limb or facial features so grotesquely malformed; however the ‘after’ image was often beautiful to see.
Joan Ethier thanked the speaker for a “heart warming and transformative speech”. She further explained that she felt transformed – just as much as she saw those in the photos had been. Those words perfectly captured the feeling of everyone in the crowd.