I first heard of Mercy Ships in 2010, when I was at university and planning an undergraduate dental elective. At that time I wasn’t able to volunteer because I didn’t have two years experience, but I knew immediately it was something I would love to do in the future.
I first volunteered with Mercy Ships in 2015 in Madagascar and it was one of the most amazing and inspiring experiences of my life. The dental work was difficult – witnessing the level of dental neglect was heartbreaking, and the days were long and hard work because we wanted to provide as much treatment as possible. But the patients were very grateful to be seen, and it was incredibly rewarding to be able to relieve them of pain. Most of the patients had never seen a dentist before, and many had travelled long distances for treatment.
Mercy Ships is a faith-based charity and Christianity plays an intrinsic role for most volunteers. Although I have no religious belief and consider myself agnostic, I strongly empathise with the humanitarian ethos of Mercy Ships work and I felt fully included in all aspects of life on the ship.
Living on the ship was really exciting and I have made some life-long friends.
I graduated from Dundee University in 2012. I spent a year working in general dental practice in Kirriemuir followed by further training posts in Glasgow Dental Hospital – in the departments of Oral Surgery, Restorative Dentistry, Paediatric Dentistry, Special Care Dentistry and Orthodontics. I also spent 6 months working in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in Fife and 6 months in the Public Dental Service in Forth Valley. I currently work in the Public Dental Service in Tayside, providing dental care to patients who are unable to access care within a general practice setting- e.g. custodial care in prison, domiciliary visits to care homes, clinics for homeless people, and treating patients with additional needs.
Mercy Ships takes the safety of their patients and volunteers extremely seriously. Prior to being accepted, volunteers must meet strict medical and inoculation requirements. The ship is primarily equipped for surgery and routine medical care, it is not set up to deal with infectious disease outbreaks and therefore had to postpone a previous trip to Benin during an outbreak of Ebola.
There is a real sense of community on the ship. The Africa Mercy is run by over 450 volunteers from all over the world – from the captain to cooks, cleaners, engineers, surgeons, nurses and administrative staff- and they were some of the kindest people I have ever met. Living on the ship was really exciting and I have made some life-long friends.