A ship on the west coast of Africa isn’t a normal place for a classroom, but that is exactly where Rebekah Wilson will spend the next two years volunteering as a teacher.
The 25-year-old Rotorua woman will be joining the MV Global Mercy ship in January. Mercy Ships is an international faith-based organisation that operates hospital ships to deliver free, safe surgical care to those who cannot access it in their own countries.
Wilson, who has been a teacher for four-and-a-half years and studied information technology, said she will be teaching IT to the roughly 60 children of crew members on the ship. She will also be running the library for students of primary school age.
“I think it will be a really eye-opening experience - the ability to meet a lot of new cultures and help other people, and just experience a whole new corner of the world that seems very foreign and distant to ours.”
Since 1978, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 55 countries, with the last three decades focused on partnering with African nations.
Each year, volunteer professionals from more than 60 countries serve aboard the world’s two largest non-governmental hospital ships, MV Africa Mercy and MV Global Mercy.
Professionals such as medics, tradies, IT professionals, hospitality workers, educators and engineers dedicate their time and skills to the cause.
After hearing about the volunteering programme through her Christian circles, Wilson decided she wanted to do more to help others and took up the opportunity.
“I’ve never been to Africa before, so that will be very new,” she said.
On January 19, Wilson will fly to the Canary Islands, where she will board the ship. It will leave on January 31 for Senegal, and will go to Sierra Leone at some point next year.
Wilson’s work will mostly be full-time. During the school holidays, she will help out in other areas on the boat or “on land initiatives”.
As one of 17 educational staff on board the ship, Wilson said it was worth going for two years since she would be travelling a long way from New Zealand.
“But also, they like to have teachers go for longer so you can build proper relationships with students and connect with the school, understand it all and do a better job.
“If I get a chance, I might do a weekend out somewhere. I’d like to go to the safaris or something, but [will] mostly just [be] onboard.”
Wilson is self-funding the programme, at a cost of about $19,000 for two years.
“Luckily, I’ve been really supported by the churches that I’ve been to, and a lot of really generous people have been supporting me in that - so, I’m fundraising quite a lot, and almost there.”
She thanked her local churches, especially Rotorua Baptist Church and St John’s Presbyterian Church, for their support.
“I’m really looking forward to it.”