01 Jun Looking to make the most of your gap year?
You can combine personal growth with travel while transforming lives if you volunteer for Mercy Ships – like 19-year-old Teddie Ling-Hall.
Like many teenagers, Teddie Ling-Hall wasn’t entirely sure what to do next.
He was 18 and was looking for something that would satisfy his thirst for adventure while also giving him some vital life skills, work experience and the chance to reflect and focus on what comes next.
Teddie, from Skegness, had grown up in the hospitality business. His mum had a café and his dad ran family pubs and arcades in the seaside Lincolnshire town.
He said, “I had worked in hospitality from about the age of 13. I just went to mum’s café after school and would help out. It made me a sociable person and I learned a lot. My parents have always been like, ‘You do whatever you want to do,’ but I enjoyed it.”
So, when he finished school, it felt natural to undertake and complete a level 3 apprenticeship in hospitality management at Lincoln College.
But he was unsure of his next step when it ended.
“The college asked me what I want to do next and I went home that day and I just didn’t know. I thought I always wanted to travel but COVID-19 had made that look hard and I just did not know what I wanted to do next.”
His mum discovered Mercy Ships on a Google search and told him about it. Once the seed was planted, Teddie did more research about the charity and what it achieves, he decided to apply in Easter 2021.
Teddie said, “I actually thought it wouldn’t happen, but I might as well apply. All my friends were off to uni and I felt I wanted to do something else and this looked like it would give me the chance to try something completely new.”
By the end of August, he had heard he was successful in his application to volunteer in hospitality and, as his friends headed off to university, he jetted off on his first-ever solo flight to Tenerife where the hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, was stationed while it underwent crucial refurbishment work.
“I was very nervous, but I’m so pleased I went for it. It was the first time I had ever flown without my family. The whole thing has been such a confidence booster – everyone is so nice. It’s a great experience if you’re nervous about travelling and gaining confidence.
“Mercy Ships helped me with everything I needed so I did not need to worry about it: help with my visa, vaccines, everything.”
When he arrived onboard, Teddie got straight to work assisting new arrivals, making sure new crew members’ cabins were ready and doing tours.
But as his two months were coming to a close, there was an infectious enthusiasm about the ship heading to Senegal, west Africa, where it would carry out surgery. The ship had not been in Africa since the start of the pandemic. Instead, the charity continued land-based projects in sub-Saharan Africa, sending volunteers to hospitals and clinics and supplying PPE to tackle the pandemic.
“Everyone was so excited about Senegal and I was loving it already so I tried to find a way to prolong my volunteering.”
Unfortunately, all spaces had been taken in hospitality, but he discovered a role in reception and applied successfully.
He found it a bit hard to tell his mum that he was not coming home in January but May instead, but she was pleased for him.
“She was happy I would get the chance to go to Africa too but they all said they would miss me and came and celebrated New Year’s with me.”
As the ship headed for Senegal on January 28th 2022, Teddie celebrated his 19th birthday. As his age has grown onboard, so has his responsibility and confidence.
Now, Teddie’s voice is the frequent PA system announcer the crew all hear as he fulfils many of his front of house roles, including controlling the fire panels.
“It was nerve-wracking when I first used the PA but within minutes, I got 10 messages from people onboard saying how great I was. It’s amazing how supportive everyone is!”
He has grown an international group of friends as the crew comes from up to 60 nations to serve in every role from teachers to technical, plumbers to paediatricians and electricians to engineers.
Docked in Dakar, his Senegalese friends on the ship have taken him on day trips on days off to visit islands and local sites. And he has witnessed the joy of transformation, albeit from a COVID-19 safe distance.
“We can see the patients on the dock gathering for treatment and then we see them leaving the ship after as they announce it and everyone is so happy. We go to deck 7 and watch them leave.
“There was a lady last week who was a women’s health patient and as she left she was laughing, clapping and dancing! It just showed the joy of what is happening onboard!
“I never imagined I would make so many friends here and how quickly it would become home here!”
For him, although Mercy Ships is a Christian charity, it is a great place that welcomes everyone of any faith or no faith. And as a non-Christian, he is encouraging any gap year teens like him to take up the opportunity.
“Do it. Even if you’re not Christian like me – come. As long as you come with an open mind, are respectful and ready to experience life and grow in confidence– it’s the place for you.”
Thank you, Teddie, for all you are doing. There’s a place for you onboard too. You can Make Your Mark by visiting https://www.mercyships.org.uk/setsail/