Over recent years, Sinclair and Kathy Carter of Whangamatā have embarked on intrepid adventures that have led them to extraordinary destinations. In 2020, the couple volunteered with the hospital ship charity Mercy Ships.
An international faith-based organisation, Mercy Ships has focused entirely on partnering with African nations for the past three decades. Working with in-country partners, Mercy Ships also provides training to national healthcare professionals and supports the construction of in-country medical infrastructure to leave a lasting impact.
The Carters’ maritime journeys have unveiled a novel realm, where they seamlessly merge volunteering efforts with their overseas explorations - most recently walking the Camino Trail. As a seafarer, Sinclair was challenged to use his skills to make a difference for people living in poverty.
Sinclair served as second engineer, and Kathy as technical administrator for five months aboard the Africa Mercy in Senegal, West Africa and in the Canary Islands. Subsequent volunteer tours of duty have taken them with the new hospital ship Global Mercy, from China to Europe, back to Senegal, and to Sierra Leone, West Africa.
Sierra Leone has a population of 8 million people, and only 5 general surgeons.
Kathy shared some highlights from their life on board: “5am and the regular checks are being made by one of the watchkeeping engineering crew down in the Engine Control room (ECR).”
“The importance of the watchkeeping shift cannot be overstated,” said Kathy. ”It’s a critical job as this engineering crew member is part of a 24x7 rostered team that must be physically present in the ECR to ensure the safe operation and running of the vessel.”
It generally takes at least 3-5 years to gain the required training and experience to be qualified to form part of the watchkeeping team. What they are not so well known for is the training of crew, particularly in the technical areas of deck and engineering.
Before the ship arrives at its next field service, the recruitment of “day crew” has begun locally by an advance team. Upwards of 200-300 locals are offered paid jobs onboard the ship for the length of the field service across all departments ranging from housekeeping, hospitality, galley, deck, and engineering.
Sinclair is one of the engineers who has served with Mercy Ships on both her vessels, and he has been heavily involved with the training and development of many of the engineering crew. “The great thing about Mercy Ships is that there is a pathway for someone to do on-the-job learning and get a qualification that they can then take elsewhere and earn a living.”
Some of the national technical day crew who join the ship have industry experience, but many do not and it is a steep learning curve for them. Those who persevere gradually gain their STCW qualifications; first deck or engine rating, then able seafarer deck/engine and some carry on to achieve their Officer of the Watch qualification (OOW).
“It is humbling to watch the effort made by some of the technical crew to not only work but also study, some of them in a different language. Training the guys and gals is an aspect of the job that I most enjoy,“ said Sinclair.
The Carters disembarked the Global Mercy a few weeks ago, after helping sail the hospital ship to Sierra Leone. During the 10-month field service there, the 36,000 gross-tonne hospital ship and her crew of 640 international volunteers will provide around 2350 essential surgeries that are not usually accessible to the average person in Sierra Leone.
These specialties are provided without cost to patients and include; paediatric orthopaedic surgery, reconstructive plastic surgery after serious burns, enormous benign tumour removal, cleft lip and palate correction, and cataract removal for babies, children and adults.
Alongside individual surgical care, Mercy Ships is committed to strengthening the nation’s medical capacity through training, advocacy, and education of local colleagues; similar to what Sinclair is achieving in the maritime sector.
“We feel strongly about helping the poor of Africa. That is why we have been with Mercy Ships since the start of 2020. Of course, we are adventurers at heart, so it appeals to our sense of adventure to travel to countries that we have never been to; exploring different cultures and gaining an understanding of how others live. It humbles us and makes us very grateful for our lives,” said Kathy.
For more information about volunteering with Mercy Ships visit mercyships.org.nz/volunteer
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