Hobart nurse ships her skills and compassion to Africa

HOBART local Sophie Cunningham has returned home after spending two months volunteering her time and skills with medical charity Mercy Ships in the east African nation of Madagascar.

As an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse at the Royal Hobart Hospital, Miss Cunningham spent her time in Madagascar serving as a women’s health nurse and working with patients suffering from childbirth injuries.

Miss Cunningham said Mercy Ships surgically helped these women and her job was to take care of them afterwards.

“We worked hard, but more importantly we showed them love and taught them skills to integrate them back into society,” she said.

“Working with the women was like an emotional rollercoaster as they can have really good days, and then there are really hard days – it can be emotionally taxing.”

However, Miss Cunningham said she loved the atmosphere at the clinic.

“There was a real feeling of community,” she said.

“When one person hurt, we all hurt. When one patient accomplished something, we danced in the hallways.”

Mercy Ships operates the world’s largest civilian hospital ship, “Africa Mercy”.

During its 10-month stay in the port of Tamatave, Madagascar, the volunteer crew will provide more than 2,200 surgeries on board, treat more than 10,000 people at its dental clinic and provide training and education to local health-care professionals.

“You simply have to be around these women to see how worthwhile the work you are doing is,” Miss Cunningham said.

“Their whole lives have just been transformed and you can see it in the way they interact with us.

“I really believe that this is a worthwhile project.”

Miss Cunningham said Mercy Ships was working with the local hospital with the aim to train health care professionals so they could perform the surgeries at the clinic.

“Then, when Mercy Ships leaves, they can continue supporting these women,” she said.

“I would love to go back to Madagascar later in the field service to see the clinic when we are about to hand the entire project over to the local hospital.

“There would be something special about setting up the clinic and then coming back to see it being handed over to the Malagasy people.”

Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class health care services, capacity building and sustainable development aid to those without access in the developing world.

Founded in 1978, the organisation has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $1 billion, with more than 2.5 million direct beneficiaries.

For more information visit www.mercyships.org.au

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