August 14, 2008
Hospital Ship’s Window on Poor
By BLUNDELL, Kay
WORKING on hospital ships for 25 years and visiting the world's poorest countries has changed a Kiwi woman's perception of poverty.Returning to her homeland after serving on the ship Africa Mercy, Sharon Walls said the most frustrating thing was hearing people talk about poverty in New Zealand.
"We have the 14th highest standard of living in the world. Coming back from places like Liberia, which is right off the bottom of the chart, it is a shock hearing people talk about poverty.
"They may mean they only have one TV when their neighbour has two. I realise people do have personal struggles here, but rather than compare ourselves to Australia, we should compare ourselves with the rest of the world. If you have spare change in your pocket you are in the top 5 per cent of the world in terms of financial security."
One of her many heart-warming tasks on Africa Mercy was helping Peace, a young woman from Ghana.
Peace had a tumour growing from her mouth which was slowly suffocating her and starving her to death. Hospital staff removed the tumour and carried out a bone graft and plastic surgery for her facial reconstruction.
"My experiences on board enabled me to look beyond the exterior into the true person, the heart of someone," said Mrs Walls, originally from Kapiti.
The Africa Mercy, a rail ferry converted to a state-of-the-art floating hospital, is the biggest non-government hospital ship. It provides free surgery and health services to people with little or no access to healthcare.
As high as an eight-storey building, it has crew capacity of up to 484 -- surgeons, nurses, water engineers, agriculturalists, mariners and others who volunteer their time to serve the poor.
Crew working for Mercy Ships, a Christian charity, have treated at least 1.9 million people in more than 70 ports.
Mrs Walls (nee Jason-Smith) and her husband Graeme met, married and raised their three children aboard Mercy Ships vessels.
They now live in Auckland, where they head a new Mercy Ships support office in Penrose.
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