California boasts largest Mercy Ships volunteer base


FALLBROOK, Calif. — California's contingent of volunteers with Mercy Ships was recently singled out for having the largest representation of any state serving aboard Mercy Ships, a global medical charity.

"I was surprised and proud to learn that California was the one state in the U.S. with the most Mercy Ships volunteers," said Paris Ivory, hospital ward secretary, from Oakland. "What an honorable recognition!"

Ivory is one of 20 volunteers from California currently serving with Mercy Ships in Sierra Leone.

Among them was Fallbrook resident Susan Duling, who recently returned from a trip where she served as a dental hygienist on Africa Mercy, the ministry's flagship, which is staffed by 450 volunteer crewmembers.

"It's great fun to serve with the Africa Mercy and a wonderful opportunity to help others using my dental hygiene skills," Duling said. "I keep returning because of the people. The African people are gracious, inspiring and a pleasure to work with."

Duling said she also benefited from her exposure to others on the ship.

"The international crewmembers are diverse, interesting and adventurous," she said. "Now I have friends from all over the world who I look forward to seeing again onboard the Africa Mercy."

During her volunteer tour, Duling assisted in an off-site dental clinic, helping dentists perform life-changing dental surgeries. In addition to the corrective surgeries like cleft lip and palate, tumor removal and orthopedics, the crew provides health care to thousands of people in Sierra Leone for free.

Like all of the other volunteers with Mercy Ships, Duling donated more than her time for the mission as she raised support to cover all of her expenses.

"We have a unique model," said Don Stephens, Mercy Ships president and founder. "Without the faithful service of our volunteers and those who support them, we would not exist today."

Mercy Ships volunteer crews come from more than 40 nations, working together to serve the poor of West Africa and other developing countries.

The Mercy model, administrators said, involves using professional volunteers who want to use their skill to serve the forgotten poor in West Africa. The Africa Mercy is staffed with such experts as world-class surgeons, ophthalmologists, maritime professionals, engineers, nurses, teachers, cooks, writers, photographers, and sales staff. Using the trained staff helps the Mercy Ships to be a self-contained floating city that offers more than just medical procedures. Other services provided by the ships include mental health education, agriculture instruction and other programs.

Founded in 1978, 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.

A way of life
Ivory, the Oakland resident who is serving in Sierra Leone, worked as a consultant for Kaiser Permanente before quitting her job to join Mercy Ships in West Africa, where she was scheduled to serve five months without pay. Always passionate about serving others, Ivory decided she wanted to weave service into her life, making it more than a hobby.

Before committing to Mercy, Ivory conducted thorough research about possible mission opportunities.

"Mercy Ships was hands-down the one that aligned with my core values as a Christian as well as my passions for healthcare and serving the poor and needy," she said in a news release. "Serving Mercy Ships allows me to blend both of my passions in service for the Lord."

According to the most recent study from the Corporation for National and Community Service, the national volunteer rate is the highest it has been since 2005 at 26.8 percent. The increase bodes well for ministries such as Mercy Ships, which benefits from more than 1,200 volunteers annually.

"When more people seek out volunteer work, our job gets a little easier," said Angie Fadely, international director of recruiting at Mercy Ships. "It's a privilege to place our volunteers in positions that literally transform the lives of those who are suffering."

Ivory said she was pleased at how well Californians have responded to the needs of the floating medical vessel.

"There are many causes that Californians support—from environmental to fighting cancer—and it's nice to see 20 people who have made a tremendous sacrifice to support a cause that Christ was very passionate about, the forgotten poor," Ivory said. "Just one of the added perks is we get back just as much joy as the happiness we provide to those we serve."

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Mercy Ships key facts and figures — Since 1978…
•Mercy Ships has performed more than 56,000 operations such as cleft lip and palate, cataract removal, straightening of crossed eyes, orthopedic and facial reconstruction.

•Treated more than 520,000 patients in village medical and dental clinics

•Educated about 29,000 local health care workers, who have in turn trained multiple thousands in primary health care.

•Trained local medical professionals in modern health care techniques.

•Completed more than 1,095 community development projects focusing on water and sanitation, education, infrastructure development and agriculture.

•Completed more than 563 port visits in 53 developing nations and 17 developed nations.