13 Jan From 18 Stone to cooking 1,800 meals a day!
At 22, Adam Hopkins, from Manchester, was all set to travel to Florida for his dream job: working as a chef at Universal Studios. But then the pandemic struck.
“I was unable to go because of COVID-19, but I’m still confident this will happen in the future. Instead, I’ve decided to return to a place where I had one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve decided to return to the Africa Mercy to volunteer in the kitchen,” he said.
At 18, Adam volunteered with Mercy Ships onboard the world’s largest charity-run hospital ship, the Africa Mercy. Adam helped in the galley and cooked over 1,800 hot plates of food every day, enough for the 400-strong crew serving with him.
But Adam’s journey to a successful career as a chef hasn’t been easy. At school he was bullied for being overweight and suffered from a painful spine condition, which made standing for long periods difficult.
He said, “Although my school experience wasn’t the best, I wanted to prove to myself I was somebody. I used to be 18 stone but decided to lose the weight which then improved my spine and my confidence. It was then I decided to apply to Mercy Ships and volunteer in the kitchen.
“My Nanna taught me how to cook and how ‘everyone in the world needs feeding,’ I say this all the time and it is my motivation.”
Adam volunteered onboard for a year after he left school, an experience that changed him almost as much as the patients being healed in the hospital.
“Whilst I was on the ship, we docked in Benin and Cameroon, and the shipyard in Las Palmas. I met so many wonderful people and travelled so much. I definitely got the travel bug after my time with Mercy Ships. The experience built my confidence to apply to university to study culinary arts.
“After I left the Africa Mercy, I was privileged to get a place at the University of Derby. I was determined to go from cook to a chef.”
Whilst studying for his Culinary Arts Bachelor’s degree, Adam continued to develop his skills and his confidence, travelling to work in the USA, Cypress, and cooking for many high-profile diners. Eventually, Adam graduated from university with a first-class degree.
“I have come a long way and I’ve overcome issues with anxiety. I’m trying my best to become that chef that I always wanted to be. I can now look back and say I am proud of my culinary achievements and the things I have done since I was last on the ship,” he added.
Adam at University
After the pandemic interrupted Adam’s plans to work in Florida, it was an easy decision for him to return to volunteer with Mercy Ships. He was excited about returning, meeting new people, creating new memories, and building his portfolio.
The Africa Mercy sails to developing nations to provide free healthcare to those in desperate need, and training and resources to local medical professionals. Adam travelled to the shipyard where the Africa Mercy is currently undergoing its annual maintenance before its next field service.
The ship has five operating theatres onboard, 80 hospital beds, and teaching spaces. However, only half of the volunteer crew serving on this floating hospital are medical. Many of the crew, who come from over all over the world, work outside of the hospital in administration, engineering, or catering roles.
Volunteers just like Adam keep the ship running and make it possible for the hospital to perform over 1,400 free surgeries each year for people who have no access to safe surgery.
Adam, now 23, has just returned from serving for three months onboard. And just as hoped he had gone from cook to chef – he was the senior chef.
“When you are told you can’t do something, try your best to prove that you can. I’m so grateful for my time on the Africa Mercy, that’s why I headed back.”
Of his return trip, he said, “I loved it. I was acting as senior chef and I had all the responsibility of overseeing everything. The galley floor when I was 18 was great but this time I felt fully involved in the entire process and I got so much valuable experience. I like to teach, learn and serve so it was a great place for me to be, to oversee, do and delegate.”
Right now, the chefs, kitchen staff, engineers, plumbers, electricians and seafarers, who are all volunteers, are working hard to prepare the ship to return to West Africa. Once there, the Africa Mercy will continue to save and change lives forever and rebuild weakened healthcare systems.
“I want to pay it forward to those who need it because that’s what it’s all about. You give and you will receive back.”
Could you use your professional skills to help transform lives, like Adam? If you are interested in being a hero of mercy by helping some of the poorest people in the world, check out https://www.mercyships.org/makeyourmark/