On Wednesday, 12 October 2016, the President of Benin, Patrice Talon – accompanied by SE Alassane Seidou, Minister of Health ; SE Adidjat Mathys, Ministre of Travel, of the Public Function and Social Affairs ; and M. Aurielien Agbenonci, Minister of Foreign Affairs – visited the Africa Mercy to meet with Don Stephens, Mercy Ships President and Founder; Pierre Christ, Governmental Liaison; and members of the Mercy Ships Board of Directors.
As the officials of Benin boarded the ship, they were welcomed by the Africa Mercy Managing Director Robin MacAlpine along with board members of Mercy Ships, several of whom speak French, which seemed to impress the President. “You speak French?!” he said with some surprise, followed by laughs from around the room.
The tour commenced with a trip to the hospital and surgical wards of the Africa Mercy. The first stop was outside the OR where Dr. Gary Parker, Surgeon and Chief Medical Officer, made a brief appearance to introduce himself and share about his work onboard.
From there, they entered several hospital wards where many patients were recovering from various surgeries.
President Talon showed great compassion and genuine care, shaking hands with patients and their caregivers. Most were wide-eyed at the reality of having the President of Benin standing at the foot of their beds. President Talon inquired about each patient with whom he spoke and listened attentively as he was given an update on their condition. He showed enthusiasm when learning about their progress, often saying, “C’est formidable! (“It’s wonderful!),” with affirming nods and smiles.
As they proceeded down the hallway to the next ward, President Talon and Mr. Stephens stopped at one of many framed photos that line the hospital corridors. They marveled at the before and after images of a former patient who had received a life-changing surgery.
Mr. Stephens introduced President Talon to several hospital “employees,” most of whom are volunteers and some of whom are day-crew hired locally. Mr. Stephens also spoke of the training programs that Mercy Ships provides to teach local Beninois medical professionals the skills needed to help the healthcare infrastructure progress for the Benin of tomorrow.
Next, state-of-the-art hospital support facilities were viewed, as President Talon and team passed by the ship’s laboratory, x-ray room and CT scanning area.
At the tour’s conclusion, the honored guests sat to discuss their partnership, and President Talon and Mr. Stephens thanked each other for the privilege of working together to help the citizens of Benin. Mr. Stephens presented President Talon with a gift – a pen, fashioned from 60-year-old wood from the Anastasis, a previous Mercy Ship. As he presented it to the President, Mr. Stephens said, “This is for you as an Individual, not for the office of the President.”
Mr. Christ reiterated Mr. Stephens’ message, translating to the President, “It’s meant for you as a personal gift – to keep.” President Talon expressed his gratitude.
The President spoke with high regard of the work of Mercy Ships and said it was an honor to be onboard visiting. He also commended Mr. Stephens for his life-long contributions as President and Founder of Mercy Ships. Yet Mr. Stephens quickly pointed around the ship, saying, “It’s the people here who make this work.”
M. Aurielien Agbenonci, Minister of Foreign Affairs, signed the Mercy Ships guest book, writing the following message on behalf of the President:
“I have enjoyed my visit today with Mercy Ships. I address all my thanks and gratitude on behalf of all of Benin to the Mercy Ships team for so many sufferings relieved, so many diseases healed and so many patients whose conditions are improving. I express my encouragement to your team for the extraordinary work that is done to give joy of living to our fellow citizens. Long life to Mercy Ships.” – Patrice Talon, President de la Republic
Story by Windsor Marchesi