Karin Zekveld, a registered nurse from Hebron Christian Reformed Church in Whitby, Ontario, spent part of her summer off the shores of Sierra Leone, volunteering with Mercy Ships International, a floating medical center.
Working primarily in the operating rooms, Zekveld found several contrasts between her nursing career in Canada and her work aboard ship.
Karin Zekveld in front of the Africa Mercy Ship, a floating medical center.
“Equipment was donated, and we were always short of supplies, so we had to learn to make do with what we had, to reuse materials when possible,” she said. “Many of the operations were much more drastic than what we would do in North America because there were no opportunities to run tests or do follow up.”
The need for additional medical services is great in Sierra Leone. One of the hardest things Zekveld and her coworkers experienced was being off the ship and having people bring their sick children to them, pleading for help. “All we could was direct them to listen to the radio to find out when they could book an appointment,” Zekveld said.
People would line up for days just to get an appointment card for surgeries to remove tumors or cataracts. Zekveld explained that, when done locally, procedures that are fairly routine in North America can often leave patients blind or disfigured. Operations on the ship completely transform their lives and bring them hope.
Zekveld said she would love to go again and encourages others to consider it as well.
“One of the biggest things that God showed me while in Sierra Leone was that we don't need earthly things to be happy. Many of the people that I met had few belongings, if any. But they thanked God for everything, and even when they were blinded by cataracts or had disfiguring tumors, they were able to praise God for waking up that morning. I have learned to thank God for every small gift in life and to not take anything for granted.”