Lessons of mercy out of Africa

Lisa Baker returned home last week after spending two months as a volunteer nurse working on a Mercy Ship in Togo. Photo: MELANIE RUSSELL
Lisa Baker returned home last week after spending two months as a volunteer nurse working on a Mercy Ship in Togo. Photo: MELANIE RUSSELL


When Lisa Baker, of Coledale, became seriously ill, she could only think how lucky she was to live in a country with high-quality medical care.

When she recovered six years later, she promised herself she would do something to help others.

A friend told her about Mercy Ships and she decided to help people in urgent need of medical treatment in West Africa.

Last week, Ms Baker returned from two months in Togo.

She had prepared herself before she left for the extreme poverty she would see, but had no idea of the riches in human spirit she would find during seven weeks on the world's largest private hospital ship, the African Mercy.

Her visit coincided with American TV program 60 Minutes filming some of the major surgeries, and following the journeys of some of the patients.

Ms Baker was filmed in her role as an admissions nurse on the ship, which has six operating theatres and a 78-bed hospital, but she is not bothered about whether she makes the final cut.

However, she does want the world to know more about the amazing people she met and the desperate need for help that exists in one of the poorest parts of the world.

"Their gratitude was humbling," she said.

"You would have people who were practically destitute coming in for operations and they would be giving you mangos they had carried in a bag for three days from their village to say thank you."

Despite 30 years' experience in many areas of nursing, Ms Baker had never encountered anything like it, or learned so much about medicine and life.

"Serving with more than 400 other volunteers on the hospital ship has definitely changed my perspective," she said.

"I was humbled by the happiness of African people and their joy in living."

Ms Baker said caregivers admitted with patients slept under their beds and would often sing, clap and drum to cheer up their loved ones and medical staff.

Whenever someone started singing or praying everyone stopped what they were doing and joined in.

"It was really beautiful. When mums with babies came in and went off to surgery, the nurses would carry the babies around on their backs while they worked." she said.

"I never heard colleagues complaining about going to work."

Ms Baker said some of the patients she had helped had the largest facial tumours imaginable but they always kept smiling and were very grateful.

Ms Baker said the volunteers knew that many of the people they saw would have died without a Mercy Ship visit.

"And you can actually see where your money is going," she said.

"We pay to go and that is the model that continues to fund more surgery."

Ms Baker said she planned to make the same trip again in 2014.

"I always thought we were very fortunate to live in Australia . . . but now even more so," she said.

"People would come in with terrible deformities and all they would do was smile and say 'I am blessed to be here . . . thank you'." "I think we could all take a leaf out of their book.

"You don't see any of that 'poor me' attitude from them.

"They are just full of the joy of life and count their blessings even though they live with virtually nothing."

Ms Baker encouraged others to consider becoming a Mercy Ship volunteer.

The African Mercy is about to embark on another field service to African Guinea and is short of nurses.

Ms Baker started a new job at Coledale Hospital in rehab nursing this week and is now more grateful for everything she has.

"A trip like this puts everything into perspective . . . it really, really does!"