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.
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.
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.
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.