Teaching citizens of everywhere onboard a floating school

Teaching citizens of everywhere onboard a floating school

When Carey Anne Dooley started volunteering for Mercy Ships teaching children in an accredited school onboard a hospital ship, the 35-year-old realised she had a lot in common with her pupils.

Moving to a brand-new environment and school as a child can be a daunting prospect. Teacher Carey Anne Dooley should know.

Born in South Africa, Carey Anne emigrated to the UK aged 13 and had to learn a new way of life very quickly. One minute she was living in Durban and the next she was in Year 9 at Maiden Erlegh School near leafy Reading, Berkshire, and everything had changed.

Together with her brother and sister, she learnt to adapt to a new way of life, and she embraced the different culture she and her South African-born parents found themselves in.

Not that she realised at the time, but she was a ‘third culture kid.’ And that, she herself, would one day be teaching exclusively to third culture kids, onboard a hospital ship.

Carey Anne said, “Third culture kids are kids who find themselves in a culture different from their parents or raised in a different culture from their nationality or a different environment. That’s exactly what all these children on the boat are – third culture kids. And I was one too so I feel I can share this with the kids and what a privilege that is!”


The Mercy Ships Academy is made up of the multi-cultural children of volunteers who are being taught while their parents from different nations volunteer on the ship in everything from medical to marine and catering to carpentry. They volunteer so that the hospital ships can deliver free life-transforming surgery to developing nations and training and resources to local medical professionals.

Carey Anne’s understands her class of five and six-year-olds on the Africa Mercy are developing a sense of identity in numerous ways and she works on helping them embrace the experience of living among different cultures and view it as a gift, as she does.

“I travelled a lot as a child. I have always been very passionate about helping people and I have always had a heart for Africa, having been born in South Africa. My dad is a pastor and as I child I saw him go off on mission trips. I would help him set up his supplies and pack for his trip – I would send toys with him.”

After her A-levels, Carry Anne worked as a nanny in Durban and decided to train as a teacher, through a distance learning institution, the University of South Africa (Unisa). This meant Carey Anne could study for her bachelor’s in education remotely and gain teaching experience at UK based schools.

But she discovered soon after embarking on her teaching career that she was drawn towards students with additional needs.

“I loved being in class but always felt I was drawn to the children with specialist needs.”

She had friends in paediatrics, and they piqued her interest. So, she went back to university – this time the University of Cardiff – and did a degree in occupational therapy and set about combining both her degrees into a career.

For the next eight years, she worked for a paediatric occupational therapists, visiting school assessing children with a wide range of development and co-ordination needs. She even travelled to China to deliver therapy to children in orphanages.

“I always wanted to be a teacher, or a nurse and I always wanted to travel for as long as I can remember. I felt four years ago that God wanted me to do something about this, so I started looking at different opportunities.

Carey Anne Dooley teaching onboard


“Then somebody mentioned Mercy Ships and I just thought, ‘Wow, this looks incredible!’ It seems like an amazing organisation, and it would suit me really well. It just ticked all my boxes for what I was looking for. Mercy Ships helping bring hope and healing really resonates with me.”

She applied as a teacher and due to there being no immediate vacancies she waited patiently. Then she got a job, but the pandemic delayed her start until September 2021.

When Carey Anne first saw the ship, she described it as an emotional moment after so much anticipation, but she was soon busy teaching and helping implement a new curriculum.

She enthused, “I absolutely love it. I’m the most content I have felt in my life, in my work. The children are such a blessing. The people I get to work with are just incredible. There is a perfect mix of adventure and the unknown – everyone has come to work and serve and it’s amazing meeting so many like-minded people in one place.”

Her occupational therapy expertise is utilised by her putting together programmes for milestone developments and creating a checklist for fine and gross motor skills that will be implemented on both the Africa Mercy and the new academy set to open on the brand-new Global Mercy in the new year.

She added, “We are guiding the kids by helping them to learn and they use that to unlock their lives and be whatever they want to be. By teaching these kids to the best of our abilities we are enabling their parents to serve.”


With the ship set to head to Senegal, she cannot wait to play her part as best she can.

“I’m so excited. We have been gearing up a little bit and people who have been [to Senegal] have shared their experiences. I really want to learn Wolof and French. I’m ready to be in a space to be able to serve people. I feel blessed.”

To someone thinking of applying she said: “Do it. I keep thinking to myself, ‘What if I had not applied? I would have missed out on this!’ Of course, like anything, there are days that are a challenge, but it is overwhelmingly an amazing experience.

“Mercy Ships brings together so many of the things I love and identify with.”

We are so grateful for everything that Carey Anne does! Mercy Ships will need more teachers like Carey Anne than ever before as it runs two accredited schools on both its hospital ships at the same time. Could there be a role for you? Find out more https://www.mercyships.org/makeyourmark/