01 Jun Volunteers’ Week: How volunteering with Mercy Ships can both refresh and rejuvenate your life
At the age of 27, nurse Lizzie Chitty quit her job at Nottingham University Hospitals and headed off to volunteer on board a charity hospital ship in the Republic of Congo.
She had heard of international charity Mercy Ships the year before when she saw one of its hospital ships having refurbishment work in the Canary Islands in 2012.
Lizzie, who lives in Nottingham, said: “The more I looked into Mercy Ships, the more it seemed to fit. I really wanted to use my skills to help people and I spoke fluent French, like those living in many of the places where the ships work in West Africa. I wanted to give something back.”
Mercy Ships operates hospital ships that deliver free, safe surgeries and life-changing healthcare to women, men and children in sub-Saharan Africa. Partnering with African nations for three decades, the international faith-based charity also provides training to local healthcare professionals and supports the construction of medical infrastructure.
Determined to volunteer, Lizzie gave up her houseshare, left her job, and committed the next eight months on board the Africa Mercy working as a ward nurse.
Little did she realise, volunteering would give her back much more than she could imagine.
Lizzie said: “It was like nothing I had experienced before. I was so used to the busy NHS and everyone feeling stretched but then I went to volunteer and it was incredible. You feel utterly part of the transformation you see on board. You see the fruits of your labour and the patient journey in a way you never experience normally.
“It was a really refreshing and rejuvenating time for me.”
So refreshing and rejuvenating, in fact, that she has volunteered an incredible six times since 2013, including in Guinea, Cameroon, Madagascar, Senegal and Benin. And she is not the only one who has been captivated by Mercy Ships and its work.
Each year, more than 3,000 volunteers from over 60 countries serve on board the world’s two largest civilian hospital ships, the Africa Mercy and the Global Mercy. Professionals such as surgeons, dentists, nurses, health trainers, cooks, and engineers dedicate their time and skills to accelerate access to safe surgical, obstetric, and anaesthetic care in sub-Saharan Africa.
Lizzie has even tried to improve her skills and gain more qualifications training in operating theatres and anaesthetic care to ensure she can be as much help to Mercy Ships as possible. She has real enthusiasm, not just for treating patients, but also for training in-country professionals to improve the way healthcare is delivered, leaving a lasting legacy.
Her passion has even made her father, aged 70, want to volunteer to help Mercy Ships.
Lizzie said: “My dad wanted to do something special to mark his 70th birthday with each of his three children. He came with me to see the brand-new Global Mercy hospital ship when it was in Rotterdam last year before it headed to Senegal to treat patients, and he was amazed. He really wanted to do something meaningful to support Mercy Ships.
“I think if mum and dad had known about Mercy Ships, they would have volunteered when they were younger.”
Instead, the former teacher and grandad from Watford has been motivated to undertake a tour of England entirely by bus next month – travelling some 1,650 miles.
Grandad Stephen Chitty is doing the 40-day national tour from June, using his free bus pass while raising money and awareness of Mercy Ships.
Stephen said: “Through my daughter’s experiences with Mercy Ships, I know how important the charity is and how crucial its work is.”
Stephen’s journey will see him start and finish from Watford Junction Railway Station bus stop on June 26th, travelling east through London to Dartford, then following a clockwise tour of England via Kent and the south.
For Lizzie, having just returned from serving on the Global Mercy in Senegal, and again witnessing the life-changing care and training, she cannot wait to return.
Lizzie added: “It makes you feel grateful to be a part of that and honoured to be making such a difference to people’s lives. I’d recommend it to everyone.”
To sponsor Stephen please donate via his JustGiving page.