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Irik & Cathy
Canadians like Irik and Cathy Mallie serve onboard the world’s largest civilian hospital ship to transform lives in developing nations. The Canadian office of the international charity Mercy Ships celebrated a major milestone: a baby born with a debilitating cleft lip in Guinea has received free surgery from Mercy Ships volunteers, marking the charity’s 100,000th surgical procedure onboard its hospital ships.
Five billion people around the world do not have access to safe, affordable and timely surgical care. In sub-Saharan Africa specifically, 93% of the population cannot get the surgery it needs. Mercy Ships addresses this global surgery crisis within Africa by sending hospital ships staffed by volunteers to the places where medical care is needed most. These surgeons also train local medical professionals who will stay in their home countries, effecting change long after Mercy Ships departs. Mercy Ships has touched more than 2.7 million lives since 1978.
While many people believe only medical professionals can serve with Mercy Ships, the organization relies on volunteers from a wide range of fields to ensure the ship can operate. Technical volunteers like Canadian Engineer Irik Mallie are vital to the ship’s operations.
The Africa Mercy is the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world.
Irik and his wife Cathy have served onboard the Africa Mercy in various field services since 2009, working in Benin, Sierra Leone and Madagascar. Irik works as the ship’s Chief Engineer and Cathy as a palliative care counsellor.
“This approach really appealed to us, as five billion people in this world do not have access to free, safe and timely surgery. We decided to volunteer,” says Mallie.
Working onboard the Africa Mercy is unlike working anywhere else. The ship, a converted Danish ferry, came into service as a ferry in 1984 and is similar in size to the “S” class vessels from BC Ferry Services. She was bought by Mercy Ships in 1999 and converted into a hospital ship.
“Working on a ship in West Africa has many unique challenges like no quick delivery of spare parts, no reliable water supply to the ship and the high temperatures and humidity,” Mallie emphasizes. “There is one thing more different than all other companies and that is that all of us want to work. That is very special and cannot be found on any other ship.”
Mercy Ships’ 100,000th surgical patient, baby Aissata.
In full operation, the Africa Mercy has six operating rooms, a hospital with 120 beds, hospitality, a pharmacy, housekeeping, and dining room personnel and deck and engineering departments, which all contribute to the life-transforming work. The ship also has a K-12 academy for children of crew members.
“I have the responsibility of 57 people in the Engineering department,” says Mallie. “There is a total of over 400 regular crew and another 120 day workers. Over a year’s period there are 1,200 volunteers helping to make this ship work and do her job. Some stay for two weeks and some for many years. The crew members come from many different countries, which makes this a unique place to work. Although our rewards are not in a monetary way the satisfaction is in the fact that you see the healed patients walk off the gangway.”
The ship visits a country for ten months at the time, and during that time thousands of people are given free, life-changing operations. As Mallie celebrates the momentous 100,000th surgery with his fellow Canadian volunteers, he also has another reason to celebrate: an invitation to serve on the new Global Mercy vessel as her first Chief Engineer.
“The new ship, the M.V. Global Mercy, is a lot bigger than the Africa Mercy and is built specifically as a hospital ship,” says Mallie. “She will be 20 meters longer and will have three more decks. Instead of 400 crew, she will have 600 crew. Instead of many cabins, which house several people at the time… she will have only two-person cabins. This ship will also have state of the art hospital equipment and bridge and propulsion machinery.”
A ship is the most efficient platform to deliver a state-of-the-art hospital to regions where clean water, electricity, medical facilities and personnel is limited or nonexistent. Moreover, with 50% of the world’s population living within 100 miles of the coast, Mercy Ships can reach people who need care. The ship docks for ten months in a host nation before moving onto the next partnering country in need.
Looking ahead, Mallie emphasizes that Mercy Ships will need many more volunteers, especially in the Deck and Engineering departments. He also emphasizes that there is no time like the present – the Africa Mercy currently is looking to fill a number of positions as the ship begins its 2019-2020 field service in Senegal.
Canada currently has a number of volunteers who donate their time and skills onboard the Africa Mercy. Over 100 Canadians served on the ship in 2018, donating time and a wide range of skills in both medical and technical positions. Volunteer commitment to Mercy Ships ranges from a few weeks to many years.
“If you feel the call to serve, do not hesitate and apply,” Mallie says. “Your reward is great.”
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