My service with Mercy Ships on the m/v Africa Mercy

Please join me on my African Mercy Mission! Photos: Debra Bell

Email: /
Phone the ship: 1-954-538-6110 - ext 1610

Proverbs 31:8-9 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Who Is Mercy Ships?
Mercy Ships, a global charity that has operated hospital ships in developing nations since 1978, is the leader in using ships to deliver free world-class health care and community development services to the world's forgotten poor. Mercy Ships has chosen to follow the 2,000 year-old model of Jesus: the blind see, the lame walk, the mute speak. Mercy Ships brings hope and healing to the forgotten poor by mobilizing people and resources worldwide, and serving all people without regard for race, gender, or religion. The newest vessel the m/v Africa Mercy is the world's largest charity hospital ship, with six operating theatres, 78 hospital beds and crew of 450 + volunteers. Ship specs: length-152m, breadth-23.7m
(for more info go to my Jan 2011 archive: MERCY SHIPS and the m/v AFRICA MERCY HISTORY: 1/14/2011 update)

PARTNERSHIP WITH DEBRA: Please prayerfully consider partnering with me as I serve the ministry of Mercy Ships and the forgotten poor of the nations of West Africa. I am the ship's photographer, capturing impacting visuals that enable Mercy Ships to share with the world the hope and healing of a better life for the people of West Africa. We as volunteers are required to raise funds for participation in Mercy Ships project expenses such as crew fees and living expenses. Your donations, prayers and encouragement will make a great difference in the lives of the people we serve. It will allow me the honor to partner with you and enable me to continue serving long term with Mercy Ships. Thank you to those who have blessed me with friendships, partnerships & prayer support. Many lives have been changed including my own. For this I am eternally grateful.

1) Donate Directly On Line
2) Send tax-deductible checks payable to Mercy Ships, indicate on a separate note donation for Mercy Ships Project #2077

CANADIAN Donations mail checks to:
Donor Services, Mercy Ships Canada, #5-3318 Oak St, Victoria, BC, Canada, V8X 1R1, Toll Free ph: 1-866-900-7447 /
To set up credit card or debit donations: Ph: 250-381-2160
web: / email:
(Identify donations with Project #2077)

CANADIAN Direct ON LINE Donations click here: (Identify donation by Project #2077)

USA & other Country Donations mail checks to:
Donor Services, Mercy Ships Shipmates, Box 2020, Lindale, TX, USA, 75771, Ph: +1-903-939-7190
(Identify donations with Project #USMS2077
USA Toll Free ph: 1-800-772-7447 /

USA & other Country Direct ON LINE Donations click here:

Mercy Ships Crew Mates -Debra's Bio Donate-Contribute Now. (Identify donation by Project #2077)

Monday, January 16, 2012

SIERRA LEONE-Mercy Ships donates modular buildings to Rokupa Hospital


Crew from the Africa Mercy loads the disassembled modular buildings
onto a truck for transport to the Rokupa Government Hospita

The buildings are reassembled at the hospital, a 35-bed facility that serves over 350 surgical patients per year
  Throughout each field service, Mercy Ships is committed to investing in local health care infrastructure in ways that will continue to have an impact long after the ship leaves. In keeping with this long-term capacity-building strategy, Mercy Ships donated three modular buildings to Rokupa Government Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, at the end of the 2011 Sierra Leone Field Service.

On 7 December 2011, the buildings, which had been refitted and converted into seven offices, were delivered to premade foundations at their new location, which was chosen in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.

Africa Mercy Off-Ship Maintenance Coordinator Ryan Hare
hands over the keys to Dr Matilda King, to be used as an
Outpatient Department, Cholera Treatment Centre
and administrative offices.

Rokupa Hospital is a 35-bed facility that serves over 350 surgical patients per year. Formerly, the Outpatient Department at the hospital consisted of a concrete slab in the parking lot covered by plastic tarps and a steel roof. The new buildings will provide a new tuberculosis, leprosy and HIV Outpatient Department and Cholera Treatment Centre, as well as administrative offices and storage space.

This donation provides the staff at Rokupa with a secure, controlled environment in which to treat outpatients. It is an area that can be permanently set up and maintained, which will save time and allow for safe storage of hospital records and equipment.

Dr. Matilda King, the representative from Rokupa Government Hospital, was thrilled with the donation. "I want to thank Mercy Ships so much for their generous donation," she said. "I hope the buildings will be in the same shape when Mercy Ships returns to Sierra Leone!"

January 2012
Story by Catherine Cooper
Photos by Debra Bell

Sunday, January 15, 2012

TOGO-The Africa Mercy Arrives port of Lome, Togo (Jan 5, 2012)

After a 10 hour sail from Ghana, we arrived safely into the Lome, Togo port on Jan 5th. 

The Lome tugs escort the Africa Mercy into port.

 Press Release:
Mercy Ships the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship returns to Togo for a 5 month Field Service returned January 5, 2012 to Lomé.

 In 1990, Togo was the first country in Africa that Mercy Ships visited and 2012 will be the fifth visit of a Mercy Ship to the West African nation. This year the Africa Mercy will consist of follow-up with patients operated on by Mercy Ships during its previous visit in 2010 and a phase of new surgeries. Mercy Ships will use its state-of-the-art hospital ship with six operating theaters, lab, pharmacy, 78 beds, and an outpatient clinic to provide free health care to the people of Togo and training for health care workers in Togo until end of May 2012.

The Africa Mercy docked in Lome port
 In March 2010, Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe and Prime Minister Gilbert Houngbo Fossoun visited the Mercy Ship during its earlier visit in an expression of gratitude to the volunteer crew on this ship of compassion. After a six month Togo field service in 2010, the Africa Mercy required shipyard maintenance in South Africa for an extended period where new generators were installed.

Clementine Tengue-an Africa Mercy Crew and a native Togolese,
carries the Togo flag down the gangway.
Following a ten month field service in Sierra Leone where thousands of patients were treated, Mercy Ships decided to return to Togo to complete another five month field service. Many patients who had received surgery will be checked again and patients who were on a “waiting list” for surgeries will finally receive a long awaited free surgery.

 The 2012 field service in Lomé, Togo, will include following services:
cataract and pterygium surgeries, eye training, maxillofacial surgeries, plastic reconstructive surgeries, life-changing general surgeries, VVF (vesico-vaginal fistula) surgeries, dental care and basic oral health education and ministering of terminally ill individuals and their families.
His Exellency, Minister of Health gives a welcoming speech on dockside

Mercy Ships will also help in the capacity building by organizing leadership conferences and agriculture training program. In total Mercy Ships hopes to provide more than 1,250 free surgeries, 11,000 dental procedures and the training of 900 local leaders of churches, communities and government representatives.

A general screening is planned for Lomé, February 1st, in a location yet to be determined.

ABOUT MERCY SHIPS: Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class health care services, capacity building and sustainable development to those without access in the developing world.  Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $834 million, impacting more than 2.9 million direct beneficiaries.

Each year Mercy Ships has over 1200 volunteers from over 40 nations. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, health care trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. Mercy Ships seeks to become the face of love in action, bringing hope and healing to the poor. For more information click on

Friday, December 16, 2011

SIERRA LEON-Abraham-the boy with the scrap hand

Abraham's hand before surgery
Abraham Bangali (witten by himself)

Abraham's hand before surgery

“This is the story about Abraham and Mercy Ships …,” Abraham Bangali writes on a fresh sheet of paper in his cherished sketchbook. An avid artist, Abraham was bitten on the wrist by a snake as an infant. As a result, his hand contracted over time until it was permanently bent back at a 45-degree angle to his wrist. Below is Abraham’s story, in his own words:

Abraham's hand after surgery during physio therapy excercises
  When I was in my home, I was abandoned by my friends. Wherever they were I did not go there because of my problem, and wherever I went people laughed at me because of my problem. One day, my brother took me to Kenema and put me in school. When I started attending, I had a lot of friends, but some of the students hated me because of my problem, and wherever I went people pointed at me.   
There was a girl I liked. Her name was Zainab. I told her my name, but unfortunately she forgot my name. One day, this girl went to my house to visit me. I was in my room. She went to my parents and asked for me. She said, ‘I am looking for a boy.’

Abraham scetches the Africa Mercy

My mother asked, ‘What is the name of the boy?’
She replied to my mother, ‘The boy with the scrap hand.’ As she described me like that, I came out. When she saw me, she became ashamed about what she said about me.
One day, I was listening to the radio, and I heard news about Mercy Ships saying that whoever had a problem like cancer, burns, etc. should go to the hospital and register. That very day, I went to government hospital and did my registration, and the doctor gave me an appointment card that I should come here on September 1. When I came, I went for admission, and on September 8 I went through my surgery.
My hand was so bad, but Mercy Ships said that my hand should not be like that forever. Now I give thanks to God and Mercy Ships and also the day-workers.

Abraham now can create art once again.
To end the story, I would like to say a proverb: ‘A baby on her mother’s back does not know that the way is long.’ God is so good.
November 2011 Photos by: Debra Bell / Story by Catherine Cooper and Abraham Bangali

Monday, December 12, 2011


Salley before surgery

Salley before surgery
“Sometimes, I would just sit down and cry,” said Sally with great emotion.  For seventeen years, people laughed at her and mocked her because of her legs – horribly misshapen and knock-kneed. The constant verbal abuse made her feel ashamed. Walking was difficult and tiring, so she didn’t go to school. She just stayed at home in her misery.
The problem was caused by an automobile accident when she was only ten years old.  A witch doctor blanketed her legs with a native concoction of boiled leaves. Splints of wooden sticks were tied to her legs for three months. But nothing changed; she returned home with bent legs. Without money for surgery, she had to learn to live with her disability.
Salley after surgery
 Three years ago, Sally’s parents died.  Since she had no siblings, she went to live with a friend. Her friend found a mentor to teach Sally to sew, and she eventually went to work at a dressmaker’s shop.  In fact, she hopes to own her own shop some day.
Salley after surgery
A new friend at work told her that a Mercy Ship, offering orthopedic surgeries at no charge, would soon be in Sierra Leone. She encouraged Sally to go to the screening. The volunteer surgeons on the Africa Mercy surgically repaired her legs and put them in casts.
When she awoke in the ward, she was delighted to see that her legs were both straight in the casts. But when her casts were changed, she was ecstatic.  “I could SEE my legs were straight!” said Sally with a brilliant smile.  “It’s like a dream, and I’m an angel that can walk on straight legs!”While Sally was recuperating from surgery, she received some very special guests – the wives of the President and Vice President of Sierra Leone!  The moment was captured by a photographer and printed in the local paper. This was a highlight for all the patients in the ward, who dubbed her “Queen Sally.” She had never received such recognition before and thoroughly enjoyed the reflected glory of the event. It was a great start in helping Sally think of herself in a new and more positive light.

Salley has her casts changed

Another bonus of the surgery is that her straightened legs add height to her physical stature.  When she walked on her bandaged legs for the first time, she exclaimed, “I’m so amazed! I used to be a short somebody. Now, I’m tall!”
A free surgery revolutionized the life of this young woman with the bubbly personality.  Sally already knows what she will do first upon being released from the hospital ship.

Salley has both casts removed and walks without crutches.

 “I want to give my testimony at church of what Mercy Ships did for me,” she states firmly. “If it were not for Mercy Ships, I was going to die with legs like that, because I had no money. I was mocked every place I went. I’m thanking God for what He has done for me, and I’m asking Him to bless you people.”

Photos by Debra Bell  / Story by Elaine Winn

Sunday, December 11, 2011

SIERRA LEONE- Josephine's Miracle-Struggling for breath


Josephine's life is saved with surgery
Two-year-old Josephine inhaled something that affected her breathing. Her parents, David and Judith, could hear the rattle with every struggling breath. They took her to a local clinic which sent them to an emergency hospital . . . which sent them to a government hospital . . . which sent them to a satellite clinic . . . which sent them back to the government hospital.  After five days in the government hospital, specialist Dr. Karim Kabineh told them that Josephine was so tiny that she would die if he performed the necessary operation. He needed a pediatric anesthetist, anesthesia equipment, and a critical care unit with 24-hour nursing care – all unavailable at that hospital.

 After eight days of hopeless searching for help, the desperate parents took Josephine to the office of the Minister of Health, where David hoped to plead his case and find someone who could help. At that moment – in the miracle of God’s timing – Ann Gloag, a member of the Mercy Ships International Board who is well-known for her charity work in Africa, was meeting with the Minister.
As this compassionate woman walked by the family sitting in the reception area, she heard the labored breathing of little Josephine. She put in a call to Dr. Gary Parker, Chief Medical Officer onboard the Africa Mercy, the hospital ship docked a short distance away in Freetown Harbor. After explaining to him what appeared to be the problem, arrangements were made to use an ambulance to transport Josephine, her parents and Dr. Kabineh to the ship.
Dr. Gary examined Josephine, took x-rays and discovered a small stone lodged in the little girl’s bronchus. A virtual think tank was begun to find a way to remove the stone from her tiny body. Dr.Gary approached engineering to see if a medical device could be fashioned that would be the right shape to fit into the bronchoscope and retrieve the stone.  Every plausible idea was examined and eventually rejected. 
Dr. Gary and Dr. Kabineh worked for five hours trying to remove the stone without success. Dr. Gary called Ann back to explain that what Josephine needed was a cardiac thoracic surgeon, and there wasn’t one on the ship. David was devastated. Mercy Ships was his last hope. But crew member Clementine Tengue encouraged him, saying, “God will find a way.”
ICU nurse Melissa attends to Josephine
 Josephine was admitted to the intensive care unit with 24-hour care. About 3:00 am, ICU Nurse Melissa Warner was working the night shift when Josephine lost her breathing tube.  Her vital signs were crashing.  Dr. Michelle White, the pediatric *anesthetist/ anesthesiologist, was paged, but it would take her several minutes to respond.  “In my mind, I said ‘I need help!’”Melissa said. “And when I looked up, there was Corina Buth standing in the doorway in her pajamas!” Corina, a pediatric ICU nurse from the Netherlands, had been restless and couldn’t sleep.  Corina did CPR, and Josephine’s vital signs returned to normal. Then Dr. Michelle arrived and replaced the breathing tube.
Josephine’s condition was rapidly deteriorating. Analysis was made of the hospitals nearby. Ghana had the required surgeon, but he was absent at that time, and the travel expense to South Africa was prohibitive.
Meanwhile, Ann had phoned a professor friend of hers in Nairobi and explained that she needed a pediatric cardiac thoracic surgeon who could fly to Sierra Leone right away. The professor knew just the right man – Dr. James Munene, head of cardiac surgery at Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital. Although it was quite late, he phoned Dr. James, explained the problem and asked him to go to Sierra Leone to operate on Josephine.
“Wait!” Dr. James said, rather forcefully. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Just talk to this lady,” the professor responded.
Ann called a few minutes later and told the doctor he needed to fly immediately to Freetown where his skills were urgently needed.
“I was a bit reluctant,” said Dr. Munene. “I had never heard of Mercy Ships. I had no information on this case, and it was the middle of the night!”
Ann called back with information on his flight. “Be at the airport at 6:00 a.m.,” she said. 
“It was a little difficult to say no to the lady. I told my wife, ‘I guess I’m going to Sierra Leone in the morning,’” Dr. Munene said.

Josephine's parents are relieved and thankful to the Dr's
 Then Dr. Gary called to say he was emailing information and x-rays of Josephine.
“I was thinking, ‘It’s not happening! It didn’t sound real!’ But by 1:00 a.m., I had the ticket and all the necessary papers ... and there I was at the airport at 6:00 a.m..,” explained Dr. James.
This confident specialist with the gentle demeanor landed at Lungi Airport, not yet totally comprehending the situation. And he still had to endure the bumpy boat ride across the bay to Freetown. “It was surreal!” he admitted.

Dr. James was overwhelmed by the Africa Mercy, the more than 400 crew members volunteering from 35 different countries, and the concept of bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor. He couldn’t believe such a mission could have been in operation for so many years, and he didn’t know anything about it.
Teaming with Dr. Gary, Dr. James operated on Josephine, fishing the stone out of her bronchus with ease. Because Josephine was so tiny, it was a vital requirement to have a pediatric anesthetist as part of the team. Dr. Michelle White was serving in this capacity at the time and was a vital part of the team.  “Working with such a tiny body, I wouldn’t have proceeded without her,” said Dr. James. 

Josephine recuperates in the ICU
 Josephine awoke shortly after the surgery and sat up on the gurney all the way to the Intensive Care Unit, looking around and asking for a glass of water. To everyone’s surprise, she was anxious to eat right away. After a few days of recuperating in the ICU – and enjoying the attention of the nurses and other crew members – the little girl and her grateful parents left the ship-
In reviewing this story, it is amazing to see the many things that had to happen for this tiny girl to survive.  Her parents had to keep her alive for eight days after she inhaled the stone.  Ann Gloag had to be visiting the office of the Minister of Health at the same time that David, Judith, and Josephine were there. Dr. James Munene had to agree to perform a surgery for an organization of which he had never heard; and Nurse Corina had to be drawn to the ICU because she couldn’t sleep.  This incredible timing and all of these wonderful people were part of the miracle that allowed Josephine to grin happily as she left the Africa Mercy as a healthy little girl.
Dr. James was captivated by the mission and hopes to return to volunteer his services. “Really, it’s a privilege to come and see what people are doing while others are sleeping and doing nothing,” he said.
And God never sleeps – miracles still happen every day.  Sometimes we are blessed to be a part of them.

Photos by Debra Bell / Story by Elaine B. Winn

SIERRA LEONE- Atamin Avon-Crossed Eyes

Atamin Avon
Atamin before surgery
Mariama was a fifteen-year-old sophomore when her sister died giving birth to a baby daughter named Atamin. With her father’s support and the income from her part-time job as a hairdresser, Mariama left school to take care of Atamin, her sister and two brothers. There was no one else to help. This was a big responsibility for such a young girl, and the job was made even more difficult since Atamin was born with a crossed eye.
Little Atamin became the target of taunts from the neighborhood children.
Atamin after surgery
“Cross eyes! Cross eyes!” they would call, which would bring on a torrent of tears. This wounding of her soul provoked the normally gentle child to misbehave. “She’s wild, causing problems with those other kids,” explained Mariama.
When Atamin was five years old, she was given some very exciting news – she was going to a big, white hospital ship called the Africa Mercy for surgery on her eye. She confidently believed that her eyes could be normal.
A Mercy Ships volunteer ophthalmologist performed the surgery. The next morning he removed the eye patch and handed Atamin a mirror. But the mirror reflected much more than just a properly focused eye – it displayed the joy blooming in a little girl’s glowing smile. The transformation in her personality was immediate and electric!  Obviously in awe of the change, she relished the moment, savoring everyone’s exuberant response to the successful surgery.
This beautiful child who loves to dance, play games and sing at church can now thoroughly enjoy doing those things without the overshadowing fear of being shunned.

Atamin's mother glowing with a smile

“I have a lot of thanks for you (Mercy Ships),” said Mariama. “When Baby was at home, people were laughing at her for crossed eyes. May the Lord bless you people. You have healed our daughter.”

Photos by Debra Bell / Story by Elaine B. Winn

SIERRA LEONE-Harding Sesay- Maxillo Facial

Harding Sesay

Harding before surgery
Harding Sesay was an active 16-year-old in Guinea – a busy high school student and a midfielder on his community football (soccer) team. Then a boil on his nose began to grow until it stuck out like a giant muffin, blocking the vision in his right eye.
The emotional suffering was even worse than the physical. His gentle spirit was crushed when classmates laughed and made fun of him. Strangers stared and giggled. He was so embarrassed, he stopped going to school. For three years, he tried to remove the growth using traditional African medicine, a mixture of leaves pasted on his skin. But it didn’t help.
When his parents abandoned him, he went to Sierra Leone and moved in with friends who understood his problem. For seven years, he sat at home and they took care of him.   One day Harding heard a radio announcement that Mercy Ships was on its way to Freetown to offer surgeries for facial tumors – free of charge! He went to the Minister of Health, who directed him to a medical screening.

Harding after Surgery
A few days later, Harding was admitted to the hospital ward. Nurse Corina Buth prepared him for surgery and witnessed his operation. When she noticed how much blood he was losing, she registered to be a donor for him, since her blood type matched his.  And, later that evening,

Corina was called to the Intensive Care Unit, where she donated her life-saving blood.
The next morning, as Corina was caring for him, Harding wanted to tell her how grateful he was that she donated blood for him, but he couldn’t find the words. But Corina understood. “His eyes told the whole story,” she said.

Dr Leo Cheng Harding's surgeon

Harding was overwhelmed by the love and care he received on the Africa Mercy. He couldn’t believe the volunteer surgeons had done such a wonderful job removing the tumor from his nose. “He was asking for a mirror all the time,” said Corina.

While recovering, he was invited to a Bible study. Despite the fact that he was a Muslim, he attended. Many of his questions were answered, and when the study focused on 1 Corinthians, he got very excited.  He told the Clementine, the Bible teacher, he wanted to give his life to Jesus. She explained the importance of such a decision, and asked him why he wanted to become a Christian. “Because this is the true love,” he answered.

The nurses say goodbye to Harding
Harding was discharged on a Sunday morning. Before he left, he asked to speak to the crowd gathered at the Sunday service in the ward.  “For so many years I suffered,” he said, referring to the seven years he hid from society. “I was a Muslim when I came. Now, I am happy. Thanks to God for what Mercy Ships has done for me.”

Harding leaves with a broad smile



Photos by Debra Bell  / Story by Elaine B. Winn