Providing Medical Capacity Building Programs Through a Different Lens: Adapting to eLearning

When 2020 began, Mercy Ships had a full slate of our regular in-country medical training programs in the pipeline. Of course, like many others around the world, we had to adapt our plans when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out early in the year. We quickly realized that 2020 would look very different than we originally expected — and that our medical capacity building (MCB) programs would be more vital than ever.

While the Africa Mercy® temporarily paused her surgical operations in Senegal, we were committed to finding a way to safely continue our transformative training of healthcare professionals in many of our partnering African nations. The need is simply too great to wait.

Mercy Ships launched several new eLearning programs to ensure that participants could still access vital education and training, through a screen instead of in person. We’re thankful to share that even during a year of uncertainty and turmoil, Mercy Ships was able to offer virtual training to an even greater number of participants than we had originally planned.

A Glimpse into Our eLearning Successes in 2020

In 2020, Mercy Ships MCB team ran three different eLearning projects, each of which took place entirely virtually. Overall, 196 eLearning participants received training for a total of more than 2,100 participant hours.

Our eLearning programs included a Mental Health course, which trained 73 West African participants to effectively care for the mental wellbeing of their frontline workers. Participants in these courses included professionals from many different nations we’ve visited during our 30 years in Africa, such as Togo, Liberia, Benin, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Our MCB programs also ran a Mental Health Principles and Practices eLearning course, which likewise exceeded its target participant range. While the program was expected to train between 30 and 40 participants, the 720-hour course ended up training 48 professionals from afar.

Another eLearning success was our 45-hour Palliative Care Practices and Principles virtual course. The course trained 39 participants to strengthen their palliative care structure and technique in order to improve the quality of care for terminally ill patients.

Overall, according to palliative care student surveys, every respondent felt that the course affected them in some way, with 100% of surveyed students expressing increased confidence in their ability to apply the skills they had learned through the training. Every respondent said they plan to share the information they learned with others.

“I recommend this course because it’s full of information that we need in our day-to-day life, where we have patients that need our support and comfort,” said one student.

“My approach to care has changed with the new skills I am learning… I wish others could learn also,” said another student.

Adapting in Person Courses to a Virtual Classroom

In addition to our entirely virtual courses, Mercy Ships provided crucial medical capacity mentoring programs in Senegal and Guinea. The following programs were planned in person but were successfully adapted to a virtual delivery:

  • Clubfoot: 4 participants received 18.5 hours of Clubfoot mentoring in Senegal.
  • Biomedical: 3 participants completed 7.5 hours of Biomedical mentoring in Guinea.
  • Dental: 11 seventh year dental students were mentored in Guinea for a total of 392 hours.

Over the course of 2020, Mercy Ships also continued our training and mentoring of 107 student participants at the Gamal Abdel Nasser University dental clinic in Guinea. These students completed more than 9,300 student mentoring hours and were involved in 2,742 dental procedures.

Bringing eLearning Forward into 2021

Due to the challenges and uncertainty faced on a global scale throughout 2020, it comes as little surprise that our Mental Health eLearning programs hit a uniquely relevant note to our participants. As we head into a new year, Mercy Ships will continue to focus our 2021 eLearning plans on the topic of mental health.

Our next mental health program, designed for a virtual classroom of up to 40 participants, will continue to build our emphasis on maintaining personal safety and mental well-being. Participants will learn not just to take care of themselves, but how to train others to do the same. The goal of our continued program is two-fold:

  1. To equip participants with strategies and skills to reduce burnout during a crisis.
  2. To broaden the access to mental health services by empowering service providers to identify and manage the mental impact of trauma and disease, leading to stronger communities.

Through programs like these, we aim to empower communities, strengthen healthcare systems, and see a lasting impact in the nations we serve. Our goal is to support sustainable change in our host nations, and we see MCB as the foundation of these changes. By providing African healthcare professionals with the skills and training they need, we will continue empowering them to successfully care for their own people.

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Mercy Ships Food for Life Program: Changing Lives in Senegal, One at a Time

Mercy Ships has long been committed to strengthening health systems and providing direct medical services through surgical intervention onboard our hospital ships. But did you know, Mercy Ships is also dedicated to whole person care? Since 1997, Mercy Ships has provided education to help participants rebuild, restore, and renew their land and communities through organic agriculture development. Today, we call this life-changing training program Food for Life.

How Food for Life Transforms Communities

The program provides in-depth agricultural training, with special focuses on nutrition and business entrepreneurship. As course participants discover which crops to plant and best tending practices, they also learn how to produce, process, market, and sell their crops.

The result? A sustainable approach to agriculture that has the potential to transform individuals as well as communities. Since 2007, Mercy Ships has led Food for Life courses in 9 African countries, training more than 800 participants.

The impact of the course doesn’t end with its participants. By the end of the program, participants have also learned how to train others with their fresh skills and business acumen. Food for Life graduates are given the resources and tools to go back into their communities and create a ripple effect of transformation as they share their knowledge with other aspiring farmers. This “train-the-trainer” approach is key to our sustainable health systems strengthening model.

In 2021, we will provide another Food for Life training program in Senegal as well as Benin, where we are also partnering with Phaz Compassion to renovate a regional Food for Life campus.

Meet Birima, a Food for Life Student in Senegal

Birima Diop, a participant of the Food for Life Program, shows the business he created utilizing the skills he learned.

For program participants like Birima, a Food for Life student in Senegal, the opportunity to learn about organic agriculture has been transformational on every level.

The program was Birima’s solution to years of searching. He had looked far and wide for a successful job, even traveling from his home country of Senegal to Morocco. When he heard of an opportunity to participate in the Food for Life training program in late 2019, he decided to join. Throughout the 22-week course, Birima — along with a group of more than 30 fellow students — developed a foundation in the world of agriculture, including agroecokogy, nutrition, and food processing.

“Having this knowledge allows me to be independent and take care of my own food supply,” says Birima.

The course has empowered him to begin his own food production business. He started his venture with the equivalent of $40 — and it has already blossomed into a successful, sustainable business. Currently, Birima’s business produces moringa, a leaf-based powder that’s rich in heart-healthy antioxidants. He is also working on setting up a unit to process other local products, like fresh bissap and baobab juices.

Transforming Communities Through Agriculture

Birima Diop, a participant of the Food for Life Program, shows the business he created utilizing the skills he learned.

The COVID-19 crisis hasn’t stopped Birima from dreaming big. His plan is to eventually produce infant feeding flour, a product that will help with babies’ strength and early development. Malnutrition is a factor in many of the pediatric cases we treat onboard our ships, often contributing to weakened bones and orthopaedic conditions. By implementing effective agricultural training programs in the nations we serve, Mercy Ships aims to tackle this issue from its root. It is our hope that by collaborating with farmers, food producers, and agroecokogy workers, we can see better nutrition and healthier food systems in rural areas. Birima’s dream will become part of carrying out this vision for his community in Senegal.

Birima’s greatest lesson wasn’t anything that could be taught in the classroom. It was learning how to train other community members that transformed him with a new confidence. “Because of the training, everywhere I go, everyone listens to me. People ask about and are very interested in agroecokogy.”

“I was challenged by circumstances,” says Birima, “but through this opportunity to learn how to grow and process food, I have now built a vision for my life.”

As COVID-19 continues to highlight the vulnerabilities and inadequacies of global food systems, the Food for Life Program is helping communities grow a healthier, sustainable future.

Learn more about the Food for Life Program >>