Monday 23 April 2018: Asquith woman Helen Westmoreland will return home to her job as an anaesthetic and recovery room registered nurse at Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Hospital early next month after spending six weeks volunteering on board the world’s largest civilian hospital ship docked off the coast of Cameroon, Central Africa.
Mrs Westmoreland first heard of Mercy Ships, the international charity that operates the Africa Mercy, from a friend and colleague who had previously volunteered.
“I am always looking for a challenge and have a heart for the less fortunate people of the world,” Mrs Westmoreland said.
“When I heard about Mercy Ships from my colleague Jenny, I thought that it could be something I could do to help the very poor, and also something of an adventure for me to travel to Africa, a continent I had not ever visited.”
“There is a stringent application process which involves the initial application, references, physical examinations, vaccinations for almost everything you could think of, and then trying to get sufficient time off work to come to the ship.”
“There was some difficulty in coordinating a time when the ship needed me and when I could get the time off work but eventually it all fell together and here I am.”
With experience in anaesthetics and recovery, she was well-prepared for her service as a Paediatric ICU Nurse on board.
“I had done two missions trips to the Philippines with a church group a few years ago so I was prepared to cope with the difficulties, the culture shock, and the hardships involved with serving in a hot, humid developing country.”
The Africa Mercy docked in the port city of Douala, Cameroon, in August 2017 with plans to provide almost 4,000 thousand life-changing surgeries on board, to treat over 8,000 at a land-based dental clinic as well as providing health care training to local medical professionals during its ten-month stay.
“The people of Cameroon are mostly very poor and have limited access to health care. If they can get to a doctor or hospital they cannot afford the medicines and treatment, so most conditions go untreated.”
“The facial tumours that we treat on D ward, if treated a lot sooner when the tumour was small, would have required a much less invasive surgery, but by the time these people get treatment on the Mercy Ship the tumours are large and, in cases, life threatening.”
“Some of these patients need to stay on the ward anywhere from one week to several months. They are warm and friendly and have a strong independent spirit which helps them get better and get moving very soon after their surgery.”
After leaving the Mercy Ship in mid-April, Mrs Westmoreland will meet her husband for a holiday in South Africa and Botswana before heading home.
“Everyone at home, both colleagues and friends and family, think it’s awesome that I have come to the Mercy Ship. They are keen to see what I have been doing on the ward and to know what ship life is like.”
“Most nurses say that they hope to be able to do something similar in the future, once their children grow up and they can afford it financially.”
“In the future I would like so serve again, maybe every second year if leave from work and money permit.”
About Mercy Ships
Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class health care services, capacity building and sustainable development aid to those without access in the developing world. Founded in 1978, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $1.3 billion, with more than 2.56 million direct beneficiaries. Each year, more than 1,200 volunteers from over 40 nations serve with Mercy Ships. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, health care trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals and serve nations one at a time. Mercy Ships Australia, one of 16 international support offices, is based on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. For more information, visit www.mercyships.org.au
For further information, please contact:
National Office Manager
Mercy Ships Australia
(07) 5437 2992
High resolution photos are available upon request, with attribution to Mercy Ships.