International Women’s Day: There’s no stopping ship veteran Florence

Florence Bangura working as a volunteer engineer for Mercy Ships

International Women’s Day: There’s no stopping ship veteran Florence

Florence Bangura’s history with Mercy Ships spans 20 years, covering two countries and three ships – and on International Women’s Day, we wanted to share her incredible story.

At the age of 29, Florence worked as a welder on board the very first Mercy Ships hospital ship, the Anastasis, just a week after becoming officially certified in her trade. She later came on board the Africa Mercy as a crew member when it visited her home country of Sierra Leone in 2011, and in 2018 returned to the ship during its service in Guinea.

Florence’s journey from the oldest to the newest Mercy Ship came full circle when she met the Global Mercy in 2023, the same year that the purpose-built hospital ship began welcoming its patients on board. Today, you can find Florence, now 49, in the engine room as a hotel engineering assistant – and she says being on board again brings her back in time.

“When I am on the ship, it is like I am just 18 years of age. There is nothing too hard for me. They call me ‘Iron Lady.’”

A Guiding Light to New Purpose

Florence’s strength was forged by a lifetime of refining challenges. “I faced a lot of terrible problems in my life,” she recalls.

Married off at a young age and barred from working by her father, Florence sought purpose in an education. This prospect was upended by the outbreak of the Sierra Leone Civil War in 1991. However, she found new hope in 2000 when she enrolled in a welding school.

It was then that Florence first crossed paths with Mercy Ships, meeting a group of volunteers who encouraged and supported her journey toward graduation and even attended the ceremony to cheer Florence on.

Florence moved throughout the department over the years, working with volunteers from across the world. “Over 40 nations, we come together. We work in the same place. We are all one family, and you have your own talents, I have my own – we put it together.” She revealed, “I learned a lot, and if you work with Mercy Ships, you will learn a lot.”

Florence Bangura surrounded by members of her community
Florence Bangura working on her farm

Between working as a day crew member during services with Mercy Ships, Florence took odd jobs in other fields until she found another passion: managing a farm. In a village upcountry without a hospital, school, or shops, Florence’s mission is to support the isolated community through sustainable development. “I help them because I really love to help people, even though I don’t have much myself,” she said. “I will equip others. I will train others so that they also will do something in the future. That’s my goal.”

Florence holds this mentality on the ship as well, where she is recognised as a leader among her colleagues. She explained:

“When somebody is coming up, trying to do something, if you have the opportunity, help that person. Maybe it will be better for the whole world tomorrow.”

Do you want to volunteer and use your talents to help others? Apply today to find your place on board.