Humanitarian Work: When Hands and Hearts Work Together

Before Danita even knew about Mercy Ships, her father was quick to share his discovery with her, as he was certain that one day she would be on board the hospital ship doing humanitarian work.

Hands and Feet

In 2015, Danita took the plunge and boarded the Africa Mercy as a nurse. She chose this profession to be “the hands and feet of God in a very concrete way”. It is the inequalities, and the gap between the rich and the poor in the world, that pushes Danita to take action. She wanted to support initiatives that would allow her to get involved directly.

“Through Mercy Ships, I feel like I can make a very real contribution to bridging that gap while putting my skills to work for those who don’t live in a country where health care is free, reliable and easily accessible.”

In 2020, while on board, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Mercy Ships’ operations hard and Danita was faced with the choice of returning home or extending her time on board. After having participated in 5 missions with Mercy Ships, she now sees her place as longer term and is offering her services for a period of two years as a nurse, but this time as a team leader in the general surgery hospital ward. Danita had to be patient as surgeries could not resume until February 2022. In the meantime, Danita prepared for her tour of duty, went home to get ready and volunteered her time to fill other needs onboard. Today, she is pleased to have been able to witness the return of onboard surgeries, but not without challenges in adapting to the new reality of changing health protocols to protect both patients and volunteers onboard. 

In her new role, she oversees the care of general surgery patients and makes the rounds with the surgeons on duty.  She focuses on adults who get surgeries primarily for hernias or benign tumors. Since these are simpler surgeries, more can be done and the postoperative care is of shorter duration. On average, patients stay for 15 days from day one through going home, but only 2-4 days in hospital ward. Danita is committed to providing the best possible care to patients so that the mark left, beyond the scar, is deep in their hearts. These operations give a promising future to those who, in the prime of their lives, thought they had lost the chance to regain their health. 

volunteer Danita Gilbert
Danita oversees the care of general surgery patients and makes the rounds with the surgeons on duty. © Mercy Ships

Reunion on board

“A resounding no; it’s not for me.” That was the response of Reinskje, Danita’s former preceptor and colleague, whenever her friends offered to join them on board the Africa Mercy. “It’s too far out of my comfort zone, I can’t leave my job for a few months…it’s not for me,” she would say, while encouraging her friends serving. Until she herself was convinced that it was time for her to experience humanitarian aid, as if to answer a call to serve God, through serving the patients on board the Africa Mercy.

In the spring of 2022, Danita was delighted to have her former colleague and friend join her. It was a mutual privilege for them to work side by side. While they were colleagues in Canada, Danita remembers times when they read the blog of a mutual friend, a former Mercy Ships volunteer. Over the years, Danita encouraged Reinskje to join her for an experience in humanitarian work on the hospital ship.

“It was so great to work with Danita, as a friend but also as a former student and colleague it was wonderful to watch her grow her nursing career in this way. For her to have encouraged me to go to the Africa Mercy and then to work along side her in Senegal was very special.  To be able to witness a former student use her nursing skills in such a selfless way and be a leader on the Africa Mercy was very rewarding. She then became my mentor as I learned and settled in to working on the Africa Mercy hospital ward,” said Reinskje.

Danita Gilbert

While many years ago it was Danita who benefited from Reinskje’s experience in her early days as a nurse, this year it was Reinskje’s turn to benefit from Danita’s expertise as she took her first steps on board the Africa Mercy. 

To find out about the different roles onboard, visit our page for onboard opportunities or to learn about other volunteer stories.