International Women’s Day

4 March 2020

It takes volunteers from many different backgrounds to fulfill the Mercy Ships mission of providing access to safe, affordable healthcare. When we think of the importance of International Women’s Day, we are moved by the strength of the women that serve with us – and the women we serve.

Rosa Whitaker, President of Mercy Ships

Rosa Whitaker, who has served as the President of Mercy Ships since 2018, has long been recognized for her work and involvement within the African continent. She is passionate about the empowerment of the African peoples and nations, hoping to help shape their continent’s rise on the global stage.

“Mercy Ships is doing more than providing much-needed health treatment and lifesaving surgeries,” Whitaker said. “We are providing medical training, establishing health partnerships, catalyzing healthcare infrastructure development, and leaving a legacy and a culture of care when we disembark. We understand that the value of human life is incalculable, and we bring that awareness with us everywhere we go.”

Dr. Sarah Kwok, Volunteer Anesthesia Supervisor onboard the Africa Mercy

Dr. Sarah Kwok currently serves onboard the Africa Mercy as the Anesthesia Supervisor, lending her skills as a team leader on the surgical team. Initially, Dr. Kwok left her job in London to serve onboard our hospital ship for one year. It soon turned into a two-year stint after she was impacted by the culture and community.

“We have women in leadership in the operating room, and also on the ship,” she said. “I think that is very encouraging to see. When you see that, you can go home and tell others about meeting a female doctor serving on this ship who is helping bring safe surgery to Africa… isn’t that great?”

Denise Ngum, Volunteer Electrician onboard the Africa Mercy

While Mercy Ships is known for our hospital ship, it takes more than just healthcare professionals to bring hope and healing to those we serve. Denise Ngum, a volunteer electrician onboard, was surprised that she could submit an application and be considered for the position. She had previously faced challenges being a woman in the industry. Being given a chance to serve onboard, Denise was able to be a part of a bigger mission, while refining her skills in an environment of encouragement.

“I want to address the African nation that there is still hope for us,” Ngum said. “I never knew there was a lot in me I could explore, and I am so happy and ready to go back to my country to help in the best way I can. We can do it together!”

Dr. Fifonsi Odry Agbessi, Plastic Reconstructive Surgeon with Mercy Ships

Dr. Fifonsi Odry Agbessi first knew the career she wanted to pursue after hearing a heartbreaking story when she was only 12 years old.

“I saw a woman on TV… her husband had burned her with acid, and her face had become fused to her neck, so she could never look a person in the eye.,” Dr. Agbessi recalled.

In Dr. Agbessi’s country of Benin, there were no surgeons that could help the woman. Other people came together to raise the money to send the injured woman abroad to receive proper care. This story touched Dr. Agbessi’s heart, and through her perseverance, she eventually went on to become the first plastic reconstructive surgeon in all of Benin.

Dr. Agbessi decided to pay the knowledge she had earned over her career forward by teaching in the Medical Capacity Building (MCB) mentoring program with Mercy Ships. There, she is able to work with and help train local medical professionals, offering knowledge and skills to help them succeed in their careers.

As many as 5 billion people worldwide do not have access to safe, affordable healthcare. In developing nations and underserved communities, women are often are the most affected by poverty, and less likely to have access to the limited healthcare resources that are available.

That’s why Mercy Ships runs the Women’s Health Program, which helps women like Mairamou.

After a long, painful labour, Mairamou lost her baby, and suffered from obstetric fistula, leaving her incontinent and an outcast in her community. Thanks to dedicated volunteers and supportive partners, the Women’s Health Program helps women like Mairamou by giving them the free surgery the need to heal physically, and the holistic healing they need to recover mentally.

Thanks to the kindness of strangers, Mairamou received free surgery onboard the Africa Mercy, and is now back at home, ready to start a new life with hope and happiness.

We are so thankful for all the women who are serving with Mercy Ships to bring hope and healing to more women like Mairamou. This International Women’s Day, we are honouring women everywhere – women who selflessly give to help others, women who endure unbelievable challenges to survive, and women who are working to make the world a better, more equal place.

Help us spread the word by sharing a #IWD2020 #MercyShips post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn!