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Kanwal Prakash Singh | Indianapolis, Indiana
Posted: 05:16 PM | January 05, 2011

Aboard the Africa Mercy

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Photo Source: Kanwal Prakash Singh

The Africa Mercy Ship docked at Lome, Togo.

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Photo Source: Kanwal Prakash Singh

The Africa Mercy Ship docked at Lome, Togo.

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Photo Source: Kanwal Prakash Singh

Entrance to the Africa Mercy ship.

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Photo Source: Kanwal Prakash Singh

Kanwal Parkash Singh with wife Janice (in orange) and Captain Tim Tretheway with other members of the Vision Team.

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Photo Source: Kanwal Prakash Singh

Kanwal Prakash Singh in the Eye Surgery Theater.

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Photo Source: Kanwal Prakash Singh

Celebration by cataract surgery patients at the eye clinic in Lome.

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Photo Source: Kanwal Prakash Singh

Vision Team members John Paul and Joyce Ann Ketels at the craft market, Lome.

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Last summer, I had the special experience of visiting Togo, West Africa, and the majestic Africa Mercy, the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship. I witnessed the important work of providing hope and healing to those with dramatic health care needs in that country.

The Africa Mercy, operated by the global charity, Mercy Ships, headquartered in Texas, delivers free medical and healthcare services to some of the world’s most disadvantaged people, primarily in Africa.

My wife Janice and I, and Noel and Ruth Yarger of South Bend, Indiana, were invited by Joyce Ann Ketels and her husband John Paul, who serves on the board of directors of Mercy Ships International, to join them on a humanitarian vision trip to the Africa Mercy ship that was engaged in a ten-month port call docked in Lome, Togo.

On the World Heath Organization’s index of all countries, Togo ranks near the top for the highest in need of essential medical and healthcare services and near the bottom in terms of capability to meet that need. For Togo, Africa Mercy is a blessing. For our group, and me the vision trip was an inspiration.

Mr. Ketels introduced me to the founder of Mercy Ships, Don Stephens, a few years ago in Washington, D.C. I was very impressed by Mr. Stephens’ spiritual and morally grounded vision and humanity, and learned that Mr. Ketels, a partner in the law firm, Clifford Chance LLP, provides legal services to the Mercy Ships as their proud contribution to this humanitarian endeavor.

We came to know that Mercy Ships is one of the largest faith-based organizations engaged in charitable and humanitarian missions of providing much needed health services to the poor in developing countries. A hospital ship from the Mercy Ships fleet, stays at a port for up to a year with the permission of the government of the country.

The screened patients come on board for the treatment for a variety of medical conditions such as cataract removal, dental and facial reconstructive surgeries, removal of massive growths, and a host of other critical health and hygiene services.

The Africa Mercy is a state-of-the-art hospital with six operating rooms, eight wards, numerous screening rooms, first class medical equipment, and electronic interface with research hospitals for diagnostic purposes.

The all-volunteer crew of 400 aboard the Africa Mercy includes doctors, nurses, physician assistants, teachers, engineers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, cooks, sailors, and many other skilled caregivers who come from more than 35 countries. Each brings his/her own financial sponsorships - from a religious or philanthropic organization, work or business related institution, or his/her own personal resources - to have the privilege of serving the poor. Philanthropists and individual contributions sustain this endeavor. Each year, the Africa Mercy serves thousands of patients.

As we entered this seven-story tall and nearly 500-foot long imposing white ship, we immediately realized that there was much more to the story than our previous knowledge based on conversations, brochures, videos, and the story of Ships of Mercy, a fascinating book by Don Stephens. We witnessed the nature and scope of services provided on the Africa Mercy.

What we saw during the next five days was simply incredible. We had briefings from the senior staff, saw cataract surgeries, visited with patients on the ship and in clinics managed by Mercy Ships, and had informal discussions with many volunteers. We saw a school for children and a variety of facilities and services for the residents of the ship. The coordinator of Vision Trips, Anouchka Bourgeois; Managing Director Donovan Palmer, Captain Tim Tretheway, and others made our stay aboard this mini-floating city a memorable experience.

What we saw was a deeply transforming experience. It was a powerful testimony of human goodness at work. Over the years, we all have read about many philanthropic organizations and individuals doing wonderful things for others across this planet: rallying to help victims of hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, famines, and great human tragedies. For me, Mercy Ships ranks high among the truly imaginative endeavors that are being carried out by volunteers.





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