Lorraine Walker was born in Brisbane but it took her 30 years to find her favourite place in the world: Africa. After first visiting six years ago, Miss Walker returned to Africa in November to spend two months volunteering with a medical charity working in the West Africa nation of Benin.
“I came to Africa for the first time with my sister as I wanted something to focus on rather than the fact I was turning 30. Seven weeks, mostly on safaris, on this continent made me realise this is where I love and where I belong,” Miss Walker said.
A pharmacist in Narangba Valley, Miss Walker decided to use her skills to help the people of the Africa by joining Mercy Ships, the organisation that operates the world’s largest independent hospital ship.
The Africa Mercy, with its five operating theatres and 82 patient beds, also houses a medical laboratory, CT scanner, blood bank and pharmacy and provides free surgical and medical aid to underdeveloped countries.
Miss Walker first learnt about Mercy Ships after watching two television documentaries.
“I knew within minutes of seeing the first one that it was something in which I had to be involved. The second documentary just confirmed my opinion.”
“All I knew about Benin before I came was that it was the site of the last slave ship to leave Africa, and the port was a major source of income for the country.”
“My expectation was a big, sparkly ship filled with people who believe in the greater good being done by this charity. I think the only thing that has surprised me is once you’re inside the ship it’s not nearly as big as it looks outside.”
“But it is filled with exactly the type of people I imagined; people willing to step out of their own comfortable lives for two weeks, or even years, to give people they've never met a few of the opportunities we take for granted.”
The Africa Mercy arrived in Benin in August. During the current 10-month field service docked in the port city of Cotonou, Mercy Ships plans to provide more than 1,700 surgeries to adult and paediatric patients, to treat over 8,000 people at a land-based dental clinic, and to provide training and mentoring to Beninese health care professionals.
“A lot of my time is spent filling stock in the OR and the wards and we fill scripts for both patients and crew. The computer system is a lot more complicated than at home. The actual dispensing is easy enough once you master the computer system but writing labels in French has been interesting.”
“There are so many things that I had never seen or done before. Most of them are simple little things like watching the little tugs push and shove the container ships around the harbour. I had never been inside a shipping container let alone tried to fit a few thousand bags of IV fluids into one. I had never helped to soak the casts off a little boy’s legs and watched the new ones carefully reapplied.”
“But ultimately the best thing I have to say about my decision to serve is that I have the privilege to be somewhere that I love, doing a job to help people that desperately need it and I believe deserve it.”
“I truly believe every single person here is vital. I don't care if you're the person serving our food, mopping the floors, keeping the engines running or performing the life-changing surgeries.”
Miss Walker will return home to Petrie early in the New Year with a desire to continue joining volunteer projects.
“But I have to figure out how to fund my volunteering while still paying a mortgage,” she concluded.
For further information, please contact:
National Office Manager, Mercy Ships Australia