Emily’s Mercy Ships Adventure

In 2023, we shared the inspiring story of Emily Daniels (Class of 2014), who had ambitious plans to embark on a mission to Africa with Mercy Ships. Today, we are thrilled to report that Emily has turned her dream into reality. Her journey aboard the Mercy Ship has been life-changing, filled with profound experiences and impactful moments. Here, Emily shares the highs and lows of her incredible adventure, offering us a glimpse into the world of international medical missions.

How was your experience aboard the Mercy Ship? Did it align with your expectations?

When I got the green light to join Mercy Ships I was filled with joy! It has been something I have wanted to do for years. I went into nursing wanting to give back and I finally had an opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives.

My experience can be described as a once in a lifetime. It was a unique environment, living in a like-minded community where every single person was working towards the same goal. It was so much fun living in a community environment with endless activities and conversations. The ship is huge – there was always something to do on days off. And everyone was always willing to go the extra mile and help out where they could.

My expectations were pretty high to start with but during my time there, they were met and then some. Everyone is so happy to be there, from patients and families to staff and day crew. It was interesting to work with people from all over the world, to share our experiences and expertise and work together safely and in line with the values of Mercy Ships.

How do you think your time on the Mercy Ship will impact your nursing career?

I had the opportunity to work solely in a surgical paediatric ward for three months, something new for me. Up until this point, I have done a mix of adults and paeds in Emergency care. I have always loved working with children. Children have an infectious joy and energy that make them so incredibly special.

I’ve learned so much from people from all over the world, from Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, the United States and even Sierra Leone. I re-discovered my passion in caring for others. Something Mercy Ships reminded of is that everyone is unique and deserves to be loved for who they are, with respect and dignity.

It was devastating to hear from patients, their accounts of ostracisation due to their physical disability. Therefore, to be seen for the first time as a special human being by our staff, is where the healing journey begins for so many patients. As they board the ship, they see other patients in similar circumstances, who are appreciated and loved for who they are, by a large community of staff. Over the months, you can feel their energy shift from desolation to joy. Every single person is so incredibly unique and as you spend time with patients, you see them slowly start to shine, in their eyes; the spark, the joy and the happiness of being welcomed back into a community again. It was such rewarding work. Having worked more clinically with children and in this incredible environment, I am motivated to work more closely with paediatric care in the future.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your volunteer experience?

One of the challenges was learning how to communicate with translators and work with people from all over the world. It’s hard when you don’t speak the local language and you have to rely on others to translate; sometimes, information is lost in the translation. I was fortunate that the patients and the translators had a lot of patience with me! I even managed to learn some Krio words.

Another challenge was navigating the cultural differences and the extreme poverty. There is a vast cultural divide that exists between living in a rural community and on the ship for extended periods of time. Some examples were the contrast between sharing one meal between the family per day to eating three meals per day. Hygiene education, such as washing hands and the importance of keeping casts clean and dry. At first, it was difficult for patients and families to process but it soon shifted, and they then imparted their knowledge to the new patients that came on board. The community of patients and caregivers thrived on sharing resources and knowledge. They all became incredibly friendly over their shared experiences.

Life on board, within the hospital, was exactly how community living is on shore. The sharing of resources, food, clothing and even caregivers helping other caregivers and patients with daily tasks was such a wonderful thing to witness and be a part of. The staff on board really feel like an extension of that community.

How do you think it impacted yourself on a personal level?

On a personal level, Mercy Ships has changed the way I look at my own circumstances, my outlook on the world, and my own faith.

I am so grateful to have had such rich and colourful childhood/adulthood, filled with opportunities to travel, an enriched education through school and university. I have been incredibly fortunate in my life, and I embrace the skills learnt to forge ahead in life. I wake up every day, grateful to have my health, the ability to provide healing to those in my home country, to have a job, to be able to follow my passions freely and no fear where my next meal is coming from.

I also am so grateful for the people I have met on board. There is a very specific type of person who is drawn toward this kind of lifestyle. It isn’t for everyone. In serving others, it often means sacrificing something for yourself. It is a sacrifice to leave the security of a safe country, family and friends, a job with financial security for an extended time. Every single person I met onboard, greeted me with a genuine smile, and the environment is so different to anywhere in the world. The staff want to be there, serving in some way or another, through direct patient contact or in the running of the ship.  The ability to have such incredibly in-depth conversations with people you’ve just met was astounding.  It was like seeing an old friend after years and jumping right into where you left off.

Mercy Ships quoted Micah 6:8 during my time there, “To do justice, to love goodness and walk humbly with your God”. I personally believe that this embodies the incredible healing powers of the ship to both patients and those who serve. It allows you to have these open and honest conversations around faith, what you believe faith to be and what your values are. It gives you the space to explore these topics in such loving and supportive environment. I was even able to take part in a women’s retreat and start an Alpha course whilst I was on board!

Could you share a particularly impactful or memorable moment from your experience?

I have so many, but I will narrow it down to three that had the most impact on me.

I spent three-days travelling across the world to get to Sierra Leone and landed on New Year’s Eve! I remember driving through town and seeing the street lined with people, cars and scooters everywhere! The streets were filled with music and singing, as it is traditional to welcome in the New Year by visiting church and partaking in worshiping and praise. Upon arriving to the Global Mercy Ship, it was overwhelming. The ship was so much more than I had imagined. I was able to welcome in the New Year on the highest level of ship, surrounded by strangers who were happily singing and dancing to a live band, dressed in bright colours, the air filled with laughter and smiles. The ship’s horn went off at midnight and it was an epic evening. It is such a wonderful memory of how life on board can be and continued to be.

I had the pleasure of bonding with so many patients, they all felt like an extension of my own family in the end. A particular memory that stays with me, was with a particular patient who had been through so much, and I knew she was struggling. When I found out she was going back for a revision surgery, I rushed to her side and asked her what would bring her some joy in-amongst all the stress and unease she was feeling. She asked if we could pray together before she went to surgery. I was moved to tears at the simple request. I remember being unable to speak at first and struggled to find the words. I gathered a few people – other patients and their family, colleagues and translators, and together we prayed for her ongoing healing and strength of faith and spirit. It was such powerful moment. It demonstrated the power of community, and the ethos of Mercy Ships, in which healing isn’t always in the operation but in the love and faith we have in each other and in God. As I took her down to theatre, we embraced and cried together. And when she came back from her surgery, I was there to hold her hand. I was there again where she walked for the first time and when she was discharged from the ship. She had faced so many obstacles on her recovery, and I was so humbled to be a small part of her healing journey.

Having been onboard for the entire orthopaedic block, I was honoured to see each patient walk into the ship, and see every patient disembark. It was such a wonderful experience every time. The chance to come together and to sing, dance, cry and laugh as each patient walked back through the halls of the hospital on their way back into society on their newly corrected limbs, was such a memorable occasion. Every single time, the mass influx of people coming together to sing and dance, it was a moment for the community onboard to celebrate the healing of each individual patient. I was able to be a part of every parade for each orthopaedic patient’s walk back off the ship. There was endless tears, joy and sadness; the dancing and music was loud, and the energy was palpable. I still can’t listen to Waka Waka without smiling and crying, knowing that each child got such a memorable sendoff back into their world. Even on the day I left, I saw the last two kids leave an hour before I did. I don’t think I stopped crying until I got on the plane.

I had such a wonderful experience. I can’t stop talking about it to anyone who will listen. It was life changing for me in more ways than one. I am so excited to be heading back to Sierra Leone later in the year to continue to serve those in need and provide hope and healing in ways that go beyond the physical.

Emily’s stories of hope, healing, and community highlight the powerful impact of compassionate care and the importance of serving those in need. As Emily prepares to return to Sierra Leone later this year, her journey continues to inspire us all. We thank Emily for sharing her remarkable adventure and wish her continued success and fulfilment in her mission to bring hope and healing to the world.

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