Twenty-nine-year-old Talla Gueye, from Senegal, ventured into entrepreneurship hoping to find solutions to youth unemployment in his community. He has always been a take-things-into-your-own-hands kind of person: “Taking charge and seeking change to problems motivates me,” he says.
So, he started a clothing brand that would inspire and empower young people in Senegal. He named it Sigui Doxx, a term in his native Wolof language that translates to “keep your head up.”
His mother inspired the deep care for community that drove him to social entrepreneurship, as he grew up watching her exemplify compassion.
“Whenever she cooked, she put out a huge plate of food for anyone in the neighbourhood. She also invited relatives who were struggling to stay with us.”
Now, Talla brings that empathetic approach and entrepreneurial attitude to his work with Mercy Ships, where he started off translating for volunteer medical crew providing free surgical care in Senegal.
Translating More than Language on the Africa Mercy®
Talla first heard of the Africa Mercy in 2019 through a job posting on Facebook. He saw that the floating hospital was coming to Dakar, and they were looking for English-speaking Senegalese translators.
The more he read about the ship, the more Talla knew he wanted to be a part of it.
“I have always wanted to be involved with work that aligns with my values,” he explains. His university degree in English literature gave him a leg up during the interview, and he was hired as one of the hundreds of national crewmembers.
Just as he began serving on board in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted operations and the ship had to leave. It would be another two years before the Africa Mercy could return to Senegal.
During that period, Talla kept busy, volunteering in his community to teach students who had to stay home from school. And when he realized some people in his community couldn’t afford masks and hand sanitizers, he started a drive to offer them for free.
When Mercy Ships returned to Senegal to resume surgical care and medical training in 2022, Talla worked in the onboard hospital. He said those first few days on the Africa Mercy revealed the magnitude of the surgical need in Senegal.
“I saw people who had travelled from very rural villages to come to have surgery,” he recalled. “I have always lived in towns and getting to a hospital wasn’t too hard for me, but hearing some stories from patients who had lived with tumours for so long because they couldn’t get help made me happy I chose to work here.”
He helped translate conversations between patients and medical volunteers. “I would translate patients’ symptoms, doctors’ orders… Most of the time I would help nurses connect to their patients.”
Mercy Ships relies on the national crew like Talla to not only help translate the language, but to translate the cultural practices of the host country to volunteers from other parts of the world. This is crucial, especially in the hospital where volunteers meet patients from all over Senegal with different cultural norms and values.
On a typical day, Talla joined doctors on their rounds, played with children when their caregivers needed a break, helped with patients’ bandage changes, and took vital signs. His favourite moments in the hospital were the days when patients were sent home, healed from their surgery. “You can always see a difference. When they come here, they are so scared, but in the end, they are smiling… that’s my best moment.”
Volunteer nurse Ellee Rollins from the United States worked with Talla in the wards. She saw how he quickly gained a reputation for being dependable. “He goes above and beyond for the patients, for instance taking the time to carefully paint the toenails for one of our young orthopaedics girls who wanted them done when the nurses were busy,” she said.
A Different Kind of Serving on the Global Mercy™
In 2023, the newest addition to the Mercy Ships fleet, the Global Mercy, arrived in Senegal for her first surgical field service. As the largest civilian hospital ship in the world, she is designed with state-of-the-art surgical equipment and is serving the people of Senegal and The Gambia through the port of Dakar.
Talla was among the national crew who signed up to serve for yet another field service: “I wanted to come back one more time to be part of the work that was happening.”
This time, he chose to step out of the hospital and work in the deck department as a deckhand. In true entrepreneurial spirit, he saw an opportunity to grow and challenge himself on the new ship.
“It is a very different department and I have so many new things to learn…but I am okay with taking risks,” he shared.
Talla doesn’t have any marine deck experience, but while on the Africa Mercy, he spent a lot of time with the crew from the deck department. He grew curious and was inspired to start learning technical skills to work on a ship.
But the opportunity to work in the deck department is more than a career move for Talla. He says while it is a different role, he still gets the same sense of fulfilment he did working in the hospital.
“I may not be dealing with patients directly but I help keep the ship clean so they can have a comfortable place to stay and recover.”
When he is not working on board, Talla continues to focus on his clothing business, which he hopes to expand. His commitment to helping others and making a positive impact in his community remains a huge part of his motivation.
Want to discover a community like none other, where you can use your skills to bring hope and healing alongside international crewmembers like Talla? Learn how to get involved today.