Shipping out on a mercy trip

Cathy Dobson

A local teen has been approved to volunteer in Africa on the world’s largest private hospital ship.

Sophia Kooy, 18, says the mobile hospital was scheduled to anchor at the Republic of Benin, next to Nigeria, but changed its destination to East Africa because of the Ebola outbreak.

“The Ebola epidemic requires immediate and strong medical assistance, but the Africa Mercy ship does not want to put its crew in danger,” said Kooy.

Kooy, a former Ecole Secondaire St. Francois Xavier student, is taking a year off to travel before attending McMaster University in Hamilton where she intends to study medicine.

She is currently attending high school in an Austrian village, learning German and experiencing the culture. In February, she will board the Africa Mercy for three months.

Kooy answered The Journal’s questions via email.

“When the Ebola situation worsened, (the ship) changed its destination,” she said.  It will be located at Toamasina, Madagascar on the east coast.

While onboard, Kooy will work as a hospitality hostess, welcoming arrivals and preparing accommodation.

The international charity “Mercy Ships,” which operates the project, has issued a statement that Kooy will be part of a team of doctors, surgeons and support crew that provide care for thousands of people without access to medical services.

Treatment includes surgery for facial disfigurement, removing tumours, eye and dental care.

All participants are volunteers and must raise funds to cover the costs.

Kooy has already raised the $3,500 she needs from her church community, but is accepting donations for the charity itself.

She said she first heard about Mercy Ships from Sarnia surgeon Dr. Joan Ross, who was speaking at the Lakeshore Community Church.

“The stories of healing and the pictures she showed during the presentation had a very strong effect on me. Something that had always seemed so far away to me – Africa, sick people, being able to change lives – was now at my fingertips.”

Dr. Ross described life on board the floating hospital and inspired Kooy to apply.

“I want to be a part of their mission of healing and bringing Jesus’ love, be it only in a small way, and be able to give whatever I can,” she wrote. “I also want to learn the reality of what is going on away from home so that I can continue my education with a broader horizon.

“I’m very excited.”

In Africa, nearly 50 percent of the population has no access to a hospital or doctor, according to Mercy Ships.

For more information, visit www.mercyships.com.