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Volunteering aboard Africa Mercy

Volunteering aboard Africa Mercy
Volunteering aboard Africa Mercy
The Africa Mercy, above, is the world’s largest civilian-owned hospital ship. Owned by Mercy Ships, the repurposed rail ferry docks in ports of countries with poor health care access for several months and serves as a free care center for its citizens for the duration of its stay.
J.C. Lyell, Staff Writer, [email protected]

“God has given us big dreams, and it’s up to us to follow them,” said Michele Manter, speaking to a packed house at the Pleasant Ridge United Methodist Church fellowship hall on a Sunday evening in November.

Several members of Smith Camp Ground UMC were also in attendance.

Volunteering aboard Africa Mercy
Michele Manter, a 2006 graduate of South Central Junior-Senior High School, volunteers at the Hospital Out-Patient Extension (HOPE) Center, a temporary accommodation for patients who received care on board the Africa Mercy. Submitted photos

One of Manter’s dreams had been to help those in need, and, through prayer and discernment, it came to fruition last year when she volunteered aboard the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest civilian floating hospital, for seven weeks out of the ship’s 10-month stay in Guinea, Africa.

Members of Pleasant Ridge and Smith Camp Ground UM churches helped raised funds for the trip.

Manter, a 2006 graduate of South Central Junior-Senior High School, is the daughter of Steve and Yvonne Beanblossom and wife of Joshua Manter. After high school, she earned a bachelor’s degrees in psychology and nursing, the former from the University of Indianapolis in 2011 and the latter from Valparaiso University in 2012.

Manter now works as a registered nurse in the cardiovascular intensive care unit at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, N.C.

The Africa Mercy is owned and operated by Mercy Ships, a predominantly Christian international humanitarian organization with “a dedication to serving the medical needs of the world’s forgotten poor by following the model of Jesus.”

Volunteering aboard Africa Mercy
Manter pauses for a photo with a patient she cared for and her caregiver. While volunteering on the ship, Manter primarily worked in the maxillofacial surgeries wing, where surgeons work to heal maladies such as facial tumors and cleft palates.

The charity parked its flagship vessel in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, from August 2018 to June 2019 to provide free health care to Guineans.

The West African country has a population of about 12.7 million people, 85% of which claim Islam as their religion.

“How awesome is it that a Christian organization can help a primarily Muslim country meet its needs?” Manter asked. “What an incredible witness it is to share the love of Christ despite our differences of race, religion or creed.”

Guinea has a tropical climate, with both a wet season and a dry one. Manter was there during the dry months. The country has a primarily agrarian economy, and about 55% of its population lives in poverty.

“The countries served by Mercy Ships are some of the poorest in the world,” Manter said.

The Africa Mercy is entirely staffed by volunteers who pay their own way, including the price of transportation, room and board fees, immunization costs, etc.

Volunteering aboard Africa Mercy
Manter signs in conversation with students at a local school for deaf children, where she volunteered during her trip.

Manter raised funds for the trip with the help of family, friends and the two church communities.

While docked in a country’s port, crew members aboard the ship provide numerous medical services across the spectrum of health care needs, as well as training for local professionals. The organization also provides support in the months and years following their trips with hopes of equipping the nations with the tools and resources needed to better care for their people.

The Africa Mercy is outfitted with five operating rooms, CT scan and X-ray equipment, laboratory services and a Nikon Coolscope for remote diagnoses (an on-board satellite communication system transmits data for remote analysis).

“People from multiple nations from all over are serving at any given time,” Manter said.

She said she primarily worked in the maxillofacial surgeries wing of the ship, which works to heal maladies such as facial tumors and cleft palates. These are deformities that often go untreated in that part of the world due to little or no access to health care services.

Michele Manter
Back stateside, Manter gives a presentation about her experience to members of Pleasant Ridge and Smith Camp Ground United Methodist churches, who helped raise funds for her trip. The dress she wore was made by a tailor in Conakry out of local Guinean fabric.

“It was really and truly a season in which the Lord was leading me into the wilderness,” Manter said of the experience. “My time before and during service was a time in which the Lord spoke tenderly to me. This was a very special season in my life, and I treasure the extra time I had growing my relationship with God.”

Manter has a few food allergies, which prompted her to take precautions before setting off for Guinea.

“It sounds really silly, but I packed a whole suitcase full of food,” she said.

In her first week aboard the ship, Manter said she got her sea legs while learning ship procedures and how to work different roles in the floating hospital.

“It really does take an army to make a ship of this capacity operate every day,” she said.

Guineans came from far and wide, Manter said, for a chance to receive professional care.

She told the story of a woman afflicted with a tumor that was increasing in size and had started compressing her airways. She walked several miles to get to the ship, stopping to lay on her side about every 10 steps.

Though that woman did receive care, Manter said many who made the trip were unable to be helped due to the limitations of the hospital.

“Some patients traveled many miles and waited in a long line just to be told they can’t get the procedure they need,” she said.

During her stay in Conakry’s port, Manter said she occasionally went out for ice cream, one of her favorite desserts, and outings with co-workers to experience the local food culture and markets.

“When I wasn’t participating in work or had time off, I tried to go on as many adventures as possible,” she said. “I was able to explore surrounding islands, do some hiking, biking and swimming.”

One of those adventures led to Manter purchasing Guinean fabric that she had made into a dress by a local tailor. She wore that dress during her presentation at Pleasant Ridge UMC.

Manter and others also volunteered at local facilities Mercy Ships partners with, such as local schools, women and children’s centers and the HOPE Center.

The trip opened Manter’s eyes to the needs of the world, she said, and not just medical needs, but the needs of others’ hearts and spirits.

“Since the trip, I’ve learned to appreciate the small things in life and understand how sacrifices, such as using less water, being more conscientious of my resources and willing to extend a hand, can make a difference in the world,” she said. “I’ve learned God has truly given us an abundance, and it’s differences that make us unique.”

Looking to the future, Manter has signed up for another trip with Mercy Ships. The organization is in the process of constructing a new ship, to be called “Global Mercy,” which is planned to set sail sometime this year.

The charity’s next service trip will be in Liberia starting this fall.

Manter, who applied to work in the post-anesthesia care unit, an area she is familiar with, said she is waiting to hear about when an opening will be available.

“I thought this would be a great experience because I wouldn’t just see one type of surgery, but would help recover patients from all the different types of surgeries the ship offers,” she said. “I would be present when someone wakes up after anesthesia and they are able to see for the first time the results of their life-changing surgery.

“That an expression of hope and healing unlike any other, and, to me, that’s an incredible moment to behold.”

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