Friday, December 23, 2016

Joyeux Noël - Christmastime on the Africa Mercy

Christmas on the Africa Mercy is a time of sharing traditions from around the world.  

Did you know that our crew of 350-400 volunteers come from about 35 different countries?! Most of us are far from home and family, but Christmas is a very special season here on the ship as well.  

All the public areas of the ship are very christmasy! Even the gangway has garland going down both sides. 

We share traditions from home- these photos are from our Scandinavian crew member's Santa Lucia celebration.  It is beautiful every year!

Nick and I participated in the gingerbread house making competition - here is ours!  We really had a great time doing this, and we were so impressed with some of the other creations. (See pics below)

Our team:  Nick, Suzanne, Faya

For the last month or so, I've had the privilege of teaching a dance class for many of the young ladies here on the ship.  They danced to the song "Come and Worship" (Here's a link if you want to hear the song), and they shared their dance in our Sunday evening service this past week.  It was such a lovely evening, and I had a strong sense of love and celebration here with our Mercy Ships family.

Another tradition, "Carols by Candlelight" is hosted by our Australian crew.  In the states, we don't really associate Christmas with barbecues and outdoor events, but our Australian friends are right at home with warm weather Christmas celebrations.  

We set chairs up out on the dock, pass around candles and sing together.  Nick's addition to this event is to organize "The Wiggles" (West African Version) to make a special appearance.  They are completely full of silliness and sure to put a smile on every face.  :)

The last scheduled day of surgery for 2016 was this past wednesday, 22nd December.  The following day, some OR staff members got together to make cookies to bless other teams.  Few can say no to a warm chocolate chip cookie.  :)

This morning, a few members of the Ponseti team headed out for a christmas lunch at a local hotel (I got to tag along as well) :)

Here's Nick,  Ulysse, and Melchior.  Melchior and Ulysse both work for the local physical therapy clinic which Mercy Ships is partnering with here in Cotonou.  They are both excellent therapists who are enjoying using the Ponseti method. They are also great company, and Nick is very happy to be working alongside them this year.  

Also in this photo is Marina, who is working for the Ponseti program as the Ponseti Clinic Assistant- she is from Switzerland, and she is a fantastic addition to the Ponseti team!!!  We are so thankful for her!  She has captured some great moments out at the clinic, and if you have a minute you should check out her instagram page for some great pictures!!

Rubics cube 101 with Nick. 

More updates coming soon.  Nick and I are both well - this has been a season of very fulfilling work for both of us in our roles on the ship, and also lots of goodbyes as quite a few people we have known for a long time left the ship to head home.

Please keep us in your prayers!  Also, if you would like to consider helping us out with your end-of-year giving, we continue to look for long-term supporters or one-time gifts (anything is really helpful!).  We will be continuing our service with Mercy Ships into the next outreach in Cameroon 2017-2018.  Click here or go to the "support us" tab for more info.

We are wishing you a very merry christmas, from a warm place in the world.  :)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Q + A time. October edition.

This photo is kind-of posed, but this is basically what we are looking like this weekend.  We made it to our first "ship holiday" three-day weekend of the outreach. (Since we have so many nationalities on board, we can't celebrate everyone's holidays.  Compromise = "ship holidays" which are usually a 3 day weekend every 6 weeks.) 

This weekend has mainly been catching up on naps, blog updates, budget updates, and Nick has been working a bunch on his continuing ed hours for his USA PT license. (Between the two of us, we have somehow accumulated 5 professional/medical licenses to keep up. That's what happens when you get licensed in multiple countries. Practical aspects of an international marriage.)  :)

Funding Update: Nick and Suzanne could use some help...

A quick update on where we are at financially - the short story is that we are not fully funded and we need to let you (our supporters) know that.  We were fully funded for Madagascar last year, primarily through generous one-time gifts from so many amazing people!  We have some regular monthly support which is really what is keeping us going right now.  As we are looking to the future, and very likely going to continue for the next Mercy Ships port visit in Cameroon for 2017-2018, we just want to keep you all in the loop. :)

We are very happy to give further details if you would like more information, please contact us via email:

If you feel led to partner with us financially, details are found here on the "support us" page of this blog.

 <<  Q+A with Nick  >> 

Nick has lost no time getting the Ponseti Clubfoot Program up and running here in Benin: 

What does a week look like for you?

“So, a normal week for me involves about half my time in the local clubfoot clinic (off-ship), and the other half is spent here on ship treating the older clubfoot kids (older than 2 years).  In the middle of the week I have an admin day to catch up on office work and also meetings with the whole Medical Capacity Building team to go over how all the programs are running and what is coming up.  I really love being over in the local clinic teaching and training, that’s probably my favorite.  I also really like my admin day, I need it in order to get some planning done and answer emails.

Thoughts on treating the older clubfoot kids:

  “I really do love treating the older kids.  You can have a bit more fun with them because they are at the age where they can begin to tell that you are trying to help them.  You can build more of a relationship and play some games during their appointments.  With little babies, you can make huge progress in their feet in just a few weeks, but with the older kids it takes more time.  But, it’s very rewarding when you have an older kid who’s feet are quite stiff and they eventually begin to straighten out.”

How is the clubfoot program going?  Are you teaching off-ship again?

“Yes, we are running a similar program to the one we did in Madagascar (working together with a local clinic so that they are equipped to use the Ponseti Method to treat clubfoot). There’s a lot of planning on paper before arriving in the country, but it’s always a lot of intense hard work the first couple of months to get everything up and running.  Now we are really seeing everything come to life.”

(Thanks to Michelle for the picture!)

“It’s exciting to have the opportunity to run the clubfoot training program here in Benin. We are training a team which includes physical therapists and doctors, with the end goal of leaving behind a clinic that has a very high standard clubfoot treatment. We’re lucky enough to be in a place where there is already long term support coming from a partner organization, CURE international had already begun supporting this clinic before we arrived.”

How is the program different to last year in Madagascar?

“The main difference right now is that the clinic here in Benin has already partnered with CURE and already received some training.  It’s great to work with a clinic that already has a partnership in place.  Now, we’re more in a position to spend these 10 months exploring what the clinic’s needs are and really tailoring this mentoring program to strengthen their skills. 
These clinicians have had some experience with clubfeet already, so now we are working on fine tuning skills.  Ponseti is a very practical/hands on skill, so we spend lots of time talking about the therapists’ hand positioning while casting, how to make sure the child’s foot ends up in the ideal position, and also asking each clinician lots of “why” questions to build a very strong foundation of clinical knowledge.”

How have you seen God at work over the last few months?

“I think the biggest thing for me is that I’ve seen God’s hand in bringing the right people into the team.  It’s clear that this is a good, strong team that works well together, and it’s a joy to work with them.  There was also an opportunity for one of the local physical therapists named Melchior to come and work with me part-time as a Mercy Ships day crew/interpreter.  I really think he’s going to do great things for the future of clubfoot treatment in Benin, and I’m glad we get to spend these months together.”

3 sweet faces of clubfoot patients being treated on the ship (photos from Mercy Ships communications team)

<<  Q+A with Suzanne >>

Where are you working right now?

I am working in the Operating Room Department- I work in Sterilizing, I continue with the Ambulatory Surgery program, and also have an opportunity to help with the MCB (Medical Capacity Building) Sterile Processing Training which happens off-ship.  If you can’t remember how I ended up wanting training as a sterilization technician, read this blog post from a couple years ago.  I’ve really enjoyed these couple months to continue learning about this field of work, and I hope to build a strong base of knowledge so that I can use it to serve others.  It’s such an important role in the hospital and a huge need in the developing world.
Entrance to our OR department and a glimpse through the window

What have you been up to recently?

Participants from the morning session on our last day of class
Well, recently there was a two week sterile processing training which was offered to 5 local hospitals.  We ran one course session in the morning for the large teaching hospital, and one course in the afternoon for the staff of the 4 smaller hospitals.  This was a huge amount of work!  I was able to be part of setting up this course by helping to find participants, develop relationships with departments at each hospital, arrange for invites to go out, etc.  My friend Christina Fast teaches the course, and my role was really to help her maximize the 2.5 week visit she had here.  Going forward, my role will be to follow up with the participants in their own departments and work with them on identifying ways to apply knowledge from the course and reach goals they set for themselves.

Top: Left - Seidjolo and I at the sign-in table on day 1  Right- Bethesda Hospital hosted the afternoon class
Bottom: Left- "glow germ" hand washing exercise  Right - Christina Fast presenting during the morning class

What is the Ambulatory Surgery Program?

On each Wednesday, Dr. Lindsay Sherriff (our senior hospital physician) and I run a small program for ambulatory surgeries.  Ambulatory surgery is also often called “same-day surgery” - it means that the patients come and go without staying a night in the hospital.

This program is for people who have a small surgical need (usually small size lumps and bumps, up to about golf ball size) which can be addressed under local anesthesia only.  I coordinate care for about 3-4 new patients each Wendesday: bring patients on board in the morning, set up for the procedures in one of our OR rooms, stay in the OR and help for each case, and then discharge each patient with instructions at the end of the day.  This program was new when we started it in Madagascar, so it’s been a great experience getting to carry out a new idea for the organization.  Our patients are ones who we usually would have received a “no” for surgery because their problem wasn’t really significant enough to warrant being included on one of our General or Maxillofacial surgery lists.  

What does the rest of the outreach look like for you?

During the training program, Christina had a few instruments to give away.
We arranged an "instrument swap", new ones for ones which needed to be discarded.
I will continue in my role in sterilizing until the eye surgery program begins in January.  I’ll continue with the Ambulatory program, and also work as an OR nurse for the Eye Team.  I enjoy having a variety of roles, being in the OR department, having opportunities to continue helping out the MCB team, and speaking french every day! 

How have you seen God at work lately?

I loved seeing the sterilizing course really come together.  I can see God’s hand in bringing all the pieces together, especially with the participants.  We had amazing attendance to the course, and people were very eager to learn and asked great questions.  The course was a full 10 days long, so it was a big commitment for people to come every day. I'm really looking forward to continuing to visit them in their departments and seeing where this partnership goes. 

Thank you for reading our blog, and being on this journey with us!

Nick and Suzanne

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

These walls tell stories

The walls here tell stories. Past port visits, patients healed, handcrafted artwork. I've always admired the beautiful things on the walls; they serve as reminders of who we are and why we are here.

Just a simple post to share some of what we see in our daily routines around the ship....

Thank you gift from a patient in Sierra Leone:

These posters were put up all over Madagascar last year, sharing the dates and locations of our screenings.  

"Learn to do what is right. Seek justice; help the oppressed. Defend the case of the orphans, plead the case of the widow." Isaiah 1:17

Artwork from Madagascar

I love how this one mentions certain surgical specialties. From Guinea: "Thank you for your services - Hospital Day Workers"

This wall in the cafe is telling lots of stories!  These ladies all received surgery for obstetric fistula through Mercy Ships in Madagascar!

Gift from Togo, 2010

 I've always liked this painting!

Lots of other signs also fill the walls...most of them are reminders about life in community.  "Quiet hours are from 10am-8am"

Our academy students and teachers come from around the world!

Remnants from our ship's life before she became a hospital.  The Africa Mercy was once the Dronning Ingrid, a train ferry from Denmark.

 Our bench next to the OR sliding door in the hospital where so many patients have stopped to be prayed for before surgery.

This painting is still my favorite:

And lastly, our mission statement.  I love that it's posted in reception for all to see.

-Love God
-Love and Serve Others
-Be People of Integrity
-Excellence in All We Say and Do

(Mercy Ships values - love these as well!)

Thanks for joining in on this little tour of our floating home! :)