In 2009, Emmanuel Essah began working with Mercy Ships in his home country of Benin. He laughs as he remembers how it all started: “I almost didn’t apply: I didn’t think I’d get the job. But at the last minute my mom said to me, ‘Emmanuel, you never know what God has in store for you.’”
She was right: Emmanuel has now spent seven years with Mercy Ships, going from translator, to IT specialist, to advance team, and finally to his dream job: biomedical technician. Today he returns to Benin with a vision and a plan: “I have something in my heart,” he explains, “To improve healthcare services by improving how equipment is maintained.” He will partner with Mercy Ships Medical Capacity Building team to give biomedical training to his fellow Beninese technicians. One day soon he hopes to spread his expertise to all of West Africa.
Emmanuel is curious by nature. From a young age, one field in particular, medicine, captured his imagination: one day, if he worked hard and dreamed big, he would be a doctor, he was sure of it.
Little did he know that his life was about to change: Emmanuel had gotten word that the Africa Mercy would be coming to Benin that year and was in need of translators. He toyed with the idea of applying. Even his employer urged him to go ahead and try, but in the end Emmanuel opted out: “I didn’t think I had enough time to prepare, I didn’t think it was going to work out,” he recalls. As the window of opportunity grew smaller and smaller, Emmanuel stuck resolutely to his plan: not this shot: maybe the next one.
Right before the deadline hit, Emmanuel’s mother stepped in, urging him to apply: “I think you should go,” he recalls her saying, “You don’t know what God has in store for you.”
His mom was right: Emmanuel applied and was hired. He served as day crew on Mercy Ships Dental Team that year, continuing with the ship to Togo in 2010.
Working with the dental team, Emmanuel’s natural curiosity surfaced: equipment was constantly breaking, so he began asking questions. Spurred on by his curiosity and his desire to get the machines back on board, Emmanuel urged Dr. Dag Tvedt, the chief dental officer at the time, to let him take the manuals home. He poured over the material at night, deciphering pages and pages of technical documents. His hard work soon paid off: with no formal training, Emmanuel fixed key equipment, helping the clinic run smoother than it had before.
This did not go without notice: Dr. Tvedt, wowed by Emmanuel’s savvy and initiative, introduced him to Tony Royston, senior biomedical technician on the ship. After seeing Royston work, Emmanuel was in awe: “I knew I wanted to do this.”
After serving two years in the IT department, Emmanuel got his wish: he completed an intensive training in the US, rejoining the ship in January 2014 as a biomedical technician. The work is perfect for him: with more advanced machines replacing older ones every year, he never stops learning. “I love what I’m doing: it’s something I’d dreamed of for three or four years.”
Now Emmanuel has returned to his home country of Benin, again with Mercy Ships, but in a very different role: not only will he serve as a biomedical technician on board, he will also conduct on-land trainings for Beninese technicians. “I have something in my heart,” he explains, “To improve healthcare services by improving how equipment is maintained.”
The first course will focus on safe use of hospital machinery, and from there, who knows. Emmanuel sees a future in bringing advanced biomedical training not only to his own country, but to all of West Africa.
In an arrival ceremony with Benin’s First Lady Madame Talon, Emmanuel leads the procession of Mercy Ship leaders down the gangway. As he presents the nation’s flag to her, he stands tall and resolute.
If you asked Emmanuel if he could have predicted any of this, he would likely laugh, shake his head no, and then pause to gather his response: ‘Not the specifics,’ he would say, ‘But everyone has an amazing story that can unfold if they’ll let it.’
He thinks about that day his mother told him to apply: “I’m glad I took [her] advice,” Emmanuel recounts, laughing. “She’s a pillar in my life, a woman of prayer. She helps me dream bigger.”