• The Food for Life Program Makes History

    Madagascar Aguaponics -Food for LifeA hush grew over the class – so much so that you could now hear the slight buzzing of the solar water pump and the water pumping up into the dump barrel of the newly constructed Aquaponics System.

    A week of tireless work for the Food for Life trainers had produced the first ever Aquaponics System in Madagascar, it was History in the Making. Now it was testing time! The trainees (and us trainers too) gathered closely around the system.

    All of us kind of holding our breath as the pump pushed the final liters of water to the top of the syphon tube. I am not one to worry but I must admit my stomach was a bit in knots right then.

    Suddenly the water began to trickle from the discharge lines and swoosh the lines filled and began to flow. An eruption of cheers rang forth followed by what has become the traditional… clap, clap, clap…clap, clap, clap…woosh! as hands rose toward the heavens.

    As we hugged each other and shook hands exchanging smiles tears of joy filled my heart and eyes. It was such a joy to see the sense of accomplishment in the eyes of our trainees and their recognition that God is the author of it all. I am so blessed to have witnessed it. Wish you all could too!

    Aquaponics is a complete food producing cycle that uses fish waste water to supply nutrients to vegetables that are grown in a gravel medium. The gravel and plant roots purify the water which returns to the fish tank as fresh oxygenated water which promotes fish growth and therefore fish as protein for human consumption, the biggest limiting factor in developing world diets.

    It’s been a couple weeks of coming up against hurdles and figuring ways around them time and time again but it’s been worth it. Now we’re in the tweaking phase getting it adjusted. We have put fish in twice and only lost 1 of 70 which is amazing.

    Tomorrow 200 more are will be added. Tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, eggplant and papaya were planted on Saturday and they are doing great. Monday means seeds hit the gravel grow beds. The trainers are amazed that vegetables can be grown in stones.

    This week is seed planting in the Aquaponics system, the importance of mulching on land, preparation of Ginger syrup, soya milk, yogurt and what might be enhanced in the animal projects and gardens.

    I am making a big salad for lunch for all on Tuesday from our fresh organic produce. And by the way since starting our rabbits and chicken projects in December we have now had 40 some chicks hatch and the rabbits have gone from 8 to 60. People who have come from the area and tried our food products are coming back as return customers, which are really charging up the trainees.

    A couple of areas we could use your prayers in are

    1. Two class members have had family members die this week and another had to leave to take his wife to the hospital for heart problems.
    2. We have run into some interpersonal issues within the class. Trying to work through those is consuming a lot of my energy.
    3. Wisdom for me as I encourage the trainees to finish the race strong.

      Ken Winebark, Agriculture Program Administrator

  • The Most Beautiful Thing: Elvie’s Story

    Today, my home made a woman cry . . . it was the most beautiful thing I’d seen all day.MGB141124_PT_ORTHO_PAT12339_ELVIE_ADRIANNA_CW-3_HI

    My home at the moment happens to be a large, floating hospital ship, part of Mercy Ships. We bring hope and healing in the form of free healthcare to the forgotten poor. The stunning awesomeness of this is still sinking in. In the words of Amy Humphrey, one of the nurses, “It’s one of the crazy things around this ship that you can be walking to get your morning tea, and two floors below a muscle transfer is happening.”

    As one of the writers on the ship’s communications team, I meet patients and hear their stories. I cannot thank my God enough for this privilege. Currently, the ship is docked on the sweet shores of Madagascar, and the people are gorgeous!

    A little two-year-old girl named Elvie and her mama, Noeline, are fine examples of this beauty. The most useful word In Malagasy (their language) is mafatifaty, which means cute – a descriptor for basically all Malagasy children.

    MGB141124_PT_ORTHO_PAT12339_ELVIE_ADRIANNA_CW-17_HIElvie’s cuteness was not deterred at all by the fact that she was born with a clubfoot – her left foot turned inward. Although she had surgery when she was six months old, her foot remained bent. But spunky little Elvie did not allow her physical problem to limit her play time! She is one of the cheekiest, most talkative, feistiest, singing, lively little ragamuffin ruffians in the ward! Oh, how she loves to play with balloons!

    Elvie is a heart-stealer. Her community loved her so much that they overlooked her deformity and felt sorry for her. Her clubfoot broke her mother’s heart. She wondered what she could do, what her baby’s future would look like, and how many opportunities would be stolen because of this condition.

    Noeline was delighted when she heard about Mercy Ships. She lined up with thousands of others on the very first screening day. She was so excited when Elvie was among those selected for a life-changing surgery!

    Skilled Mercy Ships medical professionals used the Ponseti method to correct Elvie’s clubfoot. The result? A mother in Madagascar is forever thankful for all those people who have changed her baby’s life – the medical and non-medical volunteers on the ship, the people and companies who’ve generously donated money or gifts-in-kind, and Dr. Ponseti, who invented a corrective clubfoot procedure that works so well in developing countries. Now she dreams that her daughter will become a doctor to help others.

    MGB141124_PT_ORTHO_PAT12339_ELVIE_ADRIANNA_CW-21_HINoeline’s crying is like the weather phenomenon I’ve only experienced in my other home, New Zealand. It’s the kind of weather where the skies manage to pour rain, yet simultaneously the sun manages to shine brightly through the clouds. Noeline’s tears fell while a grin would not stop bursting out on her face. She was one happy woman!

    If her face didn’t give it away, then the joyful repetitions of, “I’m so happy! Merci, merci, merci!” punctuated with hugs and excited hand gestures made it clear.
    We couldn’t help but share her joy.

    In the ward today, Elvie asked her mother, “Where is the sun?”

    I can answer that question: “It’s on your mother’s face, little girl.”

    Let me leave you with a sentence that one of the patients in the screening line quoted to me, in the midst of profuse thanks to Mercy Ships:

    “La vie est la santé, la santé est la vie.”
    “Life is health, health is life.”

    – Eunice Hiew, AFM Writer

  • What is the Ponseti Method and how is it Changing Lives?

    What is the Ponseti Method and how is it Changing Lives?

    On board the Africa Mercy we want to give our patients the best we can! With that thought in mind, it is amazing what is possible when you apply a little bit of plaster, know-how and time to feet.

    For many babies throughout the world born with clubfoot, this has been the recipe for healing: the Ponseti method. Developed by Dr. Ignacio Ponseti in the 1950’s, doctors love the Ponseti method because it is cost-effective (especially useful in developing countries), non-invasive (allows great long-term outcomes) and has a 98 percent success rate (WHO). According to Ontarian Kalinda Ramsaran, our rehab team leader, it is the best available treatment for clubfeet.

    So how does it work?

    The child’s foot is maneuvered into a more correct position and held there by a cast. This process is repeated until the foot is much improved. Often this is followed by a slight cut to the Achilles tendon to release tension. A brace is then used to maintain the foot or feet at the correct angle and prevent clubfoot from recurring. Thank you Dr. Ponseti for devising a way for us to help so many with clubfoot.

    Life altering orthopaedic surgeries continue on board the Africa Mercy, and we couldn’t be more excited to share the news with you as patients recover!

    Exciting Knees – Kalinda Ramsaran

  • The Africa Mercy’s 2014-2015 Field Service

    On August 26th the Africa Mercy will arrive in Cotonou, Benin to begin her 2014-2015 field service!


    Benin is considered one of the most stable and safest countries in the region, with a recent history of peaceful transitions between governments through democratic elections, and a progressive government striving to modernise the country and eradicate poverty. Export of agricultural products is the main source of income, but the Port of Cotonou also serves as a major gateway for goods into the neighbouring countries of Togo, Burkino Faso, Niger and Nigeria.

    Despite the stability of both the country and its economic growth, it is still considered one of the poorest nations in the world, ranking at 165 out of 187 countries according to the United Nations Human Development Index in 2013. One of the areas that still needs major improvement is the country’s health system.

    Mercy Ships has been to Benin 3 times before with the Anastasisand once with the Africa Mercy on the following dates

    • 4th December 1997 to 10th April 1998,
    • 8th November 2000 to 15th June 2001
    • 27th October 2004 to 27th February 2005
    • 26th August 2009 to 28th May 2010


    During the Africa Mercy’s 10-month stay in the port of Cotonou, Republic of Benin, volunteers plan to provide over 2,300 surgeries for adult and child patients on board, to treat more than 18,000 at land-based dental and eye clinics renovated for the purpose, and provide holistic health care education to over 160 Beninois health care professionals and 800 community leaders!

    Our Education Programs aim to impart knowledge and skills while modelling and encouraging a compassionate and a professional attitude to promote transformational development in the Beninois health sector. Measures include one-on-one mentoring opportunities and internationally recognized courses for groups in the Africa Mercy hospital.

    Make sure to check back for updates on the Africa Mercy and her Crew! 


  • Three Important Tenets to International Development

    Happy International Development Week!

    Is everyone else as excited about this as I am? Probably not, but that’s okay. 🙂

    I’ve known  I wanted to work in international development  since I was a teenager. It’s what I studied in university, it’s where I focused my volunteer efforts and it was what I read/thought/talked about for almost a third of my life. To say that it’s something I’m passionate about would be an understatement. And in May 2012 I got to fulfill my dream and started working in the sector here at Mercy Ships.

    While theories around international development have evolved over the years, today we are closer than ever to having a  model that not only proves successful, but shows it’s participants grace and mercy along the way. There are three tenets in international development that have always stood out to me, and I’m so proud that Mercy Ships is able to hold true to all of them.

    1. Dignity

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights starts with, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Mercy Ships does such a beautiful job of honoring this. We have people coming to us from all over West Africa with many types of ailments. Our volunteers see patients with tumours so large they must cover their faces, women suffering from fistulas who constantly leak urine and feces, and children whose legs are literally on backwards. Our patients are often shut out from their communities and ostracized from society. When they come to seek treatment from Mercy Ships volunteers, they are only ever treated with the utmost love, respect and dignity. Our volunteers see the person behind the disfigurement, an experience that is rare to many of our patients.


    2. Participation

    Mercy Ships never goes anywhere we aren’t welcome, in fact before we dock anywhere we have to be invited. Often times that invitation comes many months, even years, before the Africa Mercy actually takes up port in the host country. Prior to our arrival, we engage with local government leaders, listening to them about their needs and the direction their country needs to go. It isn’t only about what Mercy Ships can provide, it’s about how we can work together to achieve amazing results.


    Africa Mercy crew meet government officials in Point-Noire, Republic of Congo


    A warm embrace with new friends in Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo.

    3. Sustainability

    A good rule of thumb for any development project is to always ask this question: If we walked away right now and never came back, would this project still be a success? If the answer is yes, you’re on the right track! Whenever the Africa Mercy  sails away, the host nation is always better off than when it arrived and not just because of  the thousands of transformed lives. I’m talking about our capacity building training programs. Our volunteers spend much of their time training the nation’s doctors, nurses and medical professionals with skills that will last a life time. One of the best examples of this I can think of is from Canadian, Christina Fast, who is transforming health care in West Africa by teaching sterilization techniques to one hospital at a time.

    – Colleen Sullivan, Donor Relations MSCA


    Christina Fast with sterilizing team in Conakry, Guinea.

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