While the main focus of the Mercy Ships mission is to provide safe, surgical care, understanding proper nutrition, and how to maintain it, is absolutely key to maintaining a healthy community.

The Mercy Ships Food for Life Program partners with local African agencies to help families and communities learn practical and natural food-producing skills in order to reduce malnutrition and increase food security.

“Mercy Ships as a surgery ship is investing in farming because we recognize that in order to have good health, you need to have good nutrition — and for good nutrition to be effective, you need to have safe food,” Agricultural Program Manager Eliphaz Essah said. “To do that, we need to get the best knowledge of how to produce safe food, and that’s why [the Food for Life program] is here.”

Essah’s words ring true as many conditions on the ship — such as orthopedic cases — are often linked to malnutrition. By educating a group of innovative and socially-minded locals, the goal is to see a ripple effect in each nation as they return to their homes and teach others what they’ve learned.

“When participants go back as trainers in their communities, there’s a type of paradigm shift that happens,” Essah said. “The impact that we see in the community is that people are able to secure their product and their income. The quality of the food that they eat improves, and even the way they put their food together changes.”

Last week, over 30 participants from Senegal began the 22-week course to learn the ins and outs of nutrition, crop production and packaging, and organic agriculture. During this course, the participants will learn how to train others within their communities, with the goal of returning home and continuing the education program long after they’ve graduated.

“There is hope and healing through this program for African farmers,” Essah said. “When someone starts understanding that the way they used to farm was not good for the field, they’ll try to understand the best way to be a friend to their land. When the soil is happy and yields good crops, healing can begin for both farm and farmer. Hope comes when there is sustainability and long-term growth.”

During the Mercy Ships 2018/2019 field service to Guinea, 32 participants completed the course, including Guinean NGO worker Marie-Louise Kantabadouno.

“I learned from this training that children are malnourished because there is a lack of means and a lack of education for their parents in the area of agriculture,” Kantabadouno said. “Their parents are farmers, but they do not have any experience. I’ll now have the chance to talk to families and help them evolve.”