Nigel and Jane Paget had always known that they wanted to make a difference. Since opening their dental clinic in Wellington, Surrey, in 1981, the husband and wife dentist duo had grown their practice by 15,000 patients. But a desire to serve in a developing nation had long been on their hearts. With two children grown, it seemed the time was right.
In 2004 Nigel and Jane applied with Mercy Ships, the world’s largest nonprofit hospital ship, which operates solely with volunteers. That year, the pair arrived in Liberia for a two-week trip onboard the Anastasis, the first hospital ship operated by Mercy Ships.
“We didn’t know where to start or what we could do as volunteer dentists. We didn’t fully understand how great the need was until we arrived,” Nigel said. “Every day in Liberia, the queues were hundreds of people long.”
Today, the health care needs of West Africa’s 122 million people are still great. In Sierra Leone, a nation Mercy Ships has served seven times since 1992, there is an estimated one dentist for every one million people, according to the World Health Organization. Without charities like Mercy Ships, dental care is a luxury few West Africans will ever know.
The road to accessible dental care in West Africa is marred with obstacles. Ordering supplies only available in the United States and United Kingdom means significant shipping costs. Because electricity is limited, especially in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone that are still recovering from civil wars, the cost of operation and utilities is high as well. Mercy Ships is currently in Guinea, where 70 percent of the population lives on less than £1.40 per day; few West Africans could afford dental care, even if it were attainable.
Nigel and Jane returned from their first trip to Liberia deeply touched by what they had seen. As a result, they have returned to the ship annually for a month. Nigel and Jane have now served with Mercy Ships in Liberia, Togo, Benin, and Guinea, and they will return when the ship serves the Republic of Congo in 2013. “For us, the ship is like coming home,” Jane said.
In Great Britain, Nigel and Jane speak publically in local churches, schools and Rotary Clubs about the absence of dental care in West Africa and about the impact Mercy Ships makes in the nations it serves. From the contacts they made by sharing their work with Mercy Ships, Nigel and Jane were asked to travel to Burma and Mongolia to set up dental clinics in hospitals there. In September 2007, they sold their dental practice to allow them more time to pursue what they really love – serving the world’s poor.
“We’ve been so privileged, and doors have opened from the thousands of conversations we’ve had about Mercy Ships. We’ve learned about needs of other developing countries, and we’ve been able to travel there,” Jane said. “Wherever we go, we are ambassadors for Christ, and we carry the flag of Mercy Ships.”
“It’s true,” Nigel added. “Without Mercy Ships we would not have started down this path. Our lives have totally changed.”