World Community Service Reports


Mercy Ships: Opening Health Opportunities for All

A Rotary project becomes a passion to support healthcare in Africa

Like many things I have discovered in life, one phone call, opening one door, asking one question, or reading one email can lead you somewhere you never thought you’d be.  That is how I learned about a project that has since become a passion for me.  That project is Mercy Ships.

Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals, communities, and nations by using hospital ships to deliver free world-class healthcare services to people in need.  These services include training and educating local healthcare providers and doctors and nurses as well as providing a wide range of surgeries and follow-up care for sustainable development.

Mercy Ships has worked in more than 55 developing countries, providing services valued at more than $1.65 billion, and treating more than 2.8 million people with just one ship.  The ship is crewed by volunteers from over 50 nations, averaging 1,300 volunteers each year.  Professionals ranging from surgeons, dentists, and nurses to cooks, engineers, teachers and cleaning crews donate their time and skills.

A second Mercy Ship, Global Mercy, has been partially funded by the largest Rotary International Grant ever, totaling $1,126,000.  Paul Denton, chair of District 1260 Global Grants committee in the U.K. said, “The Rotary grant galvanized the generosity of Rotary, truly capturing imaginations and hearts.  31 Rotary Districts, 340-plus clubs across the U.K. and the world from Oklahoma to Seoul all found a common cause to support Mercy Ships and shows that ROTARY OPENS OPPORTUNITIES.”

Building this ship involved over 800 workers 24 hours a day for nearly 4 years. It is over 570’ long, 93’ wide, weighs 37,000 tons, and is 12 decks high.  It contains new operating theaters, infection isolation rooms, post-operative recovery rooms, and intensive care beds.  Also included are training/education rooms and conference rooms for local healthcare professionals and staff as well as housing for patients, their families, and volunteers.  Surgeries performed will include tumor removal, cleft lip and palate repair and cataract removal.

Imagine a mother not being able to see her new born child.  This is exactly what happened to Adama, a young mother from Guinea.  During pregnancy, Adama developed cataracts and by the time she gave birth to twins, she was completely blind.  Unable to access the simple surgery that would restore her sight, Adama would never see her new family.  It was not until Adama received a free, 20-minute procedure from Mercy Ships that she was able to see her children’s faces for the first time.  Mercy Ships made such a difference in her life and that of her children.


Our Rotary Club 29 has partnered to make these types of opportunities a reality. Our club donated $5,000 toward this Global Grant which was matched by an additional $20,000 from the District. More importantly we have built strong partnerships with Mercy Ships and other Rotary Clubs that will ensure this work continues.

I agree that Rotary opens opportunities.  Each donation you make; every time you volunteer, can be your opportunity to make a difference in the world.

Ron Rocke

Rotary Club 29 World Service Committee member

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