Our March 2018 talk - reviewed by Mike Chitty

Dave Fryer, who lives locally, came to talk to us about 'Mercy Ships' - a charity with which he has been personally involved for many years. Founded in 1978 by an American couple, they go to parts of the world where there is no regular medical care. Almost all of the staff are volunteers, and funding for the ships comes from a variety of sources including philanthropic business people.

Dave began by outlining his personal history - hence the title of his talk - which involved a marine engineering apprenticeship and, from 1965 onwards, a spell on the 'China Boats' operated by the Alfred Holt Blue Funnel Line. Leaving from Vittoria Dock on the Birkenhead side of the River Mersey, Dave and his colleagues would not see the Liverpool skyline for another 3-4 months. After a few years with Blue Funnel, he joined Container Fleets which operated fast ships to Australia. Then he came home to lecture at Riversdale College.

It was on his retirement from paid employment that Dave joined Mercy Ships. He volunteered with them for five years, until 2011. We saw a photo of the Africa Mercy engineering staff, and heard where they came from: Sri Lanka, Texas, Norway, Ukraine, South Africa and South Shields. In all, the crew comprised 30 or 40 different nationalities - but the language of the ship was English.

The charity's first ship, the Anastasis ('resurrection') was a converted Greek cruise liner. The ship on which Dave sailed, the Africa Mercy, was similarly converted - in Hebburn shipyard on the Tyne. Its maiden voyage took place in 2007. The latest ship, Global Mercy, is under construction in China - the first 'new-build' vessel. Although based in Texas, the charity's ships are registered in Malta, because US-registered ships are only allowed to employ American officers and engineers. And although the charity is Christian, the crew don't have to be.

Dave described and showed us pictures of some of the places visited: Ghana, Sierra Leone, Benin and Liberia. The ship calls at each port by invitation, and up to 4,000 people (including carers) are taken on board in a single day, with up to 2,000 operations carried out. Eye surgery, cleft palate repair and tumour removal are all routinely undertaken, as well as dental treatment (and training), orthopaedic surgery and treatment for birth injuries. Dave described the operations as 'life changing' - not least because the patients have in many cases been ostracised by their family and their community.

Each ship is fitted out with six operating theatres, a CAT scanner, x-ray suite, etc. The wards are on the starboard side, and elsewhere on the ship is the crew accommodation. Some of the crew members are accompanied by their families, so there is an Academy to educate the 50 or so children who are on board at any one time. Mercy Ships also has 'land bases' in West Africa, and is involved in healthcare education, community development and sanitation projects.

Dave's inspiring talk made us aware of a charity that few had heard of before. The collection at the end raised £100 - a sure sign of the audience's appreciation - which we passed on to the Mercy Ships UK office in Stevenage.

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