‘Giving Back’: Senegalese Mercy Ships Volunteers Ready to Meet the Need at Home
For Mercy Ships volunteer David Bies, the upcoming field service in Senegal of the brand-new Global Mercy® holds special meaning.
That’s because for him, this will be a journey home.
David is from Kedougou, Senegal, about 700 kilometers from the capital of Dakar, and joined the national crew of the Africa Mercy® when the ship arrived in 2019. He remained with Mercy Ships, serving in Senegal until the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and then returning with the ship in 2022.
“Serving my own country, it’s a blessing for me,” David said. “When I’m giving back to my own people, it boosts my happiness, my health, and my sense of wellbeing.”
In February, as the Africa Mercy heads to South Africa for a period of maintenance, David and the crew of the new Global Mercy will set sail for Dakar. This time they’ll be serving not only the people of Senegal, but their neighbors in The Gambia as well. For Senegalese crewmembers, this field service is a powerful opportunity to make an impact not abroad, but at home.
After all, home is where they’ve seen the need firsthand.
Over the past four years serving in the Hospital Out-Patient Extension (HOPE) Center, David has met patients at crucial moments, both as they prepare for surgery and as they rehabilitate afterward. He’s seen them arrive burdened by conditions that limit their future or even threaten their lives. And he’s seen them leave filled with hope.
“The HOPE Center is for me one of the best places to serve Mercy Ships as a messenger of God,” he said.
When people come to the HOPE Center, David said, they hear: “We are here for you.”
“I’m preaching the word of God, but through actions,” he explained. “Loving them, taking care of them, listening to them, welcoming them.”
He remembers meeting a young girl, about 2 years old, with a cleft lip. When he saw her for the last time, after successful surgery to repair the cleft, he saw it as a reconciliation between the person she truly was inside — and the future she could now have.
“It was very emotional to see, and I said, ‘Wow, this is a blessing, this is a real miracle,’” he recalled. “She can become a professional, maybe a doctor or nurse, or maybe a minister or a pilot, or a secretary or journalist, and then a mother as well.”
David has been equally moved by his encounters with adults who waited years for healing. One woman asked if she could remove her mask to show him the results of her cleft repair. Then she gave him a smile.
“Now I can smile,” she said to David.
“Wow,” he said. “You can smile.”
David could feel the woman’s joy, and it filled him as well. Right here in his country, healing was taking place all around him.
“When I see that, I say, ‘God, thank you so much for bringing Mercy Ships here to Senegal.’”
Medical Capacity in Senegal
“Good healthcare is hard… We really need to increase the medical capacity in Senegal, and that’s one of the reasons God is sending Mercy Ships,” David said. “To boost the capacity, teaching and mentoring health professionals.”
Thanks to investments in his home of Kedougou, which has both a gold mining and tourism industry, David has seen gradual improvements to the access to healthcare services in the area.
“The Senegalese government has built a new hospital,” he said. “It’s better than 10 or 20 years before.”
Aissata Diop, also from Senegal, served on the Africa Mercy for most of 2022. During that time, she witnessed not only the need, but also the transformation that’s possible for patients who receive surgery.
“One day they are healed, they are OK, they are back to normal; nobody is rejecting them,” she said. “Most of them live in the streets because no one’s there to take care of them. But if they are healed, everybody wants to be close to them.”
Aissata is now the dining room team leader on the Global Mercy. She can’t wait to return to Senegal with a newer, larger ship, to continue the work and strengthen the relationships she and the crew have been building.
“Going back to my home country, giving back what I can to my home country … and being part of the hope and healing to them,” she said, “it’s something that really touches my soul.”
Two Countries, One Nation
For Mercy Ships volunteer Mame Cheikh Fall, the reason to return to Senegal is simple: Just like David and Aissata, he’s seen the need.
Mame served as an engine hand on the Africa Mercy for five months before joining the Global Mercy in the Canary Islands. Now he’s preparing to sail back and serve not only his home country, but also the people of The Gambia, nestled inside the borders of Senegal.
“When I can help people with anything I have, I have to do it,” Mame said. “It’s part of my nature.”
Mame has noticed that those who live with disease and can’t get treatment sometimes “disappear.”
“They have disappeared in their life because they never think that they will again have hope,” he said. “Mercy Ships, I think that it always brings hope to these people who are very sick.”
The need is great in The Gambia as well, with .82 doctors per 10,000, even fewer than in Senegal. In 2011, the World Health Organization found that gaps in resources like electricity and water supply were hindering even basic surgical interventions.
The decision to include Gambian patients in the upcoming field service is not just momentous, Mame said. It’s also completely natural.
People in The Gambia and Senegal share a common language: Wolof. They live and work in one another’s cities.
“It’s two countries, but the two countries, they are one nation,” he said. “They are just like brothers, Gambian people and Senegalese people.”
As Mame, David, and Aissata prepare to head back, they’re not alone. The two ships have reunited in Spain’s Canary Islands, where many crewmembers from the Africa Mercy are transferring to the Global Mercy in preparation for her field service.
“Both old crew and new crew are joining together for the hope and healing that we are assigned to do, so it’s really amazing,” Aissata said. “It will impact many lives.”
Just as the crews of the two ships are becoming one community, Aissata said, so will the patients they’re serving in The Gambia and Senegal.
“Two nations joining together,” Aissata said. “It’s like a family.”
Read more to learn what it takes to prepare a new hospital ship to serve in Africa.