- Stephen Atkinson CA volunteered as finance manager aboard the Africa Mercy floating hospital.
- The Mercy Ships charity provides surgical services and rehabilitation for people living in poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Volunteer places are available for people with a wide variety of skills.
Photo Emily Frazier
“The Africa Mercy is a 16,500 gross-tonne floating hospital – a vessel the size of an inter-island ferry – deployed to sub-Saharan Africa. The Mercy Ships charity spends 10 months (in a typical year) in a country providing surgical services and rehabilitation for people of all ages living in poverty. These people are marginalised by life-altering conditions that would easily be treatable in New Zealand.
My volunteer tour-of-duty started in January 2021 in the Canary Islands, after the hospital ship went in for a period of maintenance during the pandemic. I was still on board as the vessel returned to Senegal, West Africa in January this year to resume the surgical and medical mentoring field service paused by the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago.
My first role was finance director and then I filled the need for finance manager. These roles provided management and oversight of the finance function on board the hospital ship.
The personal finance initiatives ensure the crew have access to appropriate finance assistance and resources for personal needs while on board. The finance function deals mainly with three areas: administering the process and payments for medical resources and general commodities, vehicles and special projects; assisting the land-based International Support Centre with finance processing; and assisting crew with an on-board banking facility and personal insurance cover.
We processed local payments, worked with local banks and supported Mercy Ships teams on the ground in West Africa as they prepared for upcoming field services, or supported past Africa Mercy field services.
I very much wanted to contribute to an organisation or project that was bigger than just me. I found the 400-strong international volunteer community on board the Africa Mercy inspirational. People with all different backgrounds, cultures, skills and personalities work together to achieve a common objective: to bring hope and healing to those who would otherwise never receive it – and they do it with an underlying Christian motivation.
I urge other finance specialists to consider volunteering for a few months or even a few years. You’re investing your expertise on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable. Places are available for a wide variety of skills. It is an amazing experience and something that I will treasure for the rest of my life.”