Living onboard a hospital ship is a unique experience for our volunteers. Whether serving in the hospital or in offices, every one of our volunteers has a story to share. This #internationaldayoffriendship, Georgia Ainsworth, a former writer for the Africa Mercy, shares her experience.
You’ve all heard the amazing patient stories, you might even know a little bit about the ship itself — but what they don’t tell you about signing up for a stint on the Africa Mercy, is that you’ll make life-changing friendships!
When I left the U.K. to serve with Mercy Ships back in 2017, I volunteered with my husband so I already had a bestie in tow. But for many people, traveling out to the ship is a solo affair. I was nervous about making new friends as an adult, having left a solid friendship group back home in England. It’s different when you’re kids — one chance meeting at the park, and you’re swapping friendship bracelets and handshakes, making it all look so easy. Yet once you become an adult, finding your ‘gang’ takes time and quite a bit more effort.
Well, I can tell you first hand that it doesn’t stay that way for long when you join the Mercy Ships family.
Because my role within Communications was a one-year minimum commitment, everyone signing up in that department has to undergo six weeks of training at the Mercy Ships international base in Texas. In 2017, most of the Comms. Team was made up of new recruits, giving a few of us the opportunity to really get to know one another during training before we even made it to the ship.
I can still recall so clearly the first time I met those who now hold the biggest place in my heart. It was an early Monday morning, I was severely jetlagged having landed in the U.S. less than 12 hours earlier, and we had all congregated in a training room to learn about basic fire safety ahead of being official Africa Mercy crew.
And there they were — my communications team and future friends for life! And now more commonly known by our group chat name, ‘The Originals.’
First up was the Media Liaison, Kate — a bright and bubbly American whose role it was to host media and big donors onboard. Her positivity, beaming smile, and hyperactive helpfulness were too much at the time for my British, jetlagged mind to take in, but she would soon become one of the most genuine, heartfelt women of integrity I’ve ever known.
Then there was Rose, my fellow writer, who I ended up needlessly collaborating with on EVERYTHING just because we could. I never submitted a single piece of writing without her comments, and never realised just how blessed I was to find such a friend in the workplace – a friend who I would later travel across the world to be a bridesmaid for.
Next up, Caleb, the videographer, who was unlike anyone I’d ever met before. His fearlessness and creativity were something to be marvelled. He produced some of the most beautiful and organic footage of patients I’ve ever seen. Working alongside him brought me so much joy, laughter, sweat, and the BEST roadside podcasts. I think Caleb wins the friendship competition though, as he found his ultimate buddy in the other writer on the team, Rose, who he then went on to marry.
Even the Communications Director, Michele Mega — my boss — has become a life long friend whom I hold so dearly. Her take on life and her listening ear are things I greatly treasure. How many people can speak so highly of their boss?! They’re more than just your line manager on the ship, they’re your mentor, your cheerleader, and their reason for being onboard is a good as yours. You both share a goal so devoted to excellence and love. This shines through in the way department heads interact with their workers and one another.
Then finally, there was Shawn, our photographer. Late to class with a cereal bowl in hand — the classic creative. I can’t imagine what my time on ship and working in communications would have been like without him. His creativity, his talent, his work ethic, and attention to detail would push me in my role as a writer and bring about a beautiful working relationship that I could only have dreamt about.
The thing about ship life is that it’s a vacuum. You live, work, rest, and play with the same people day in day out, so a month of ship life is like a year on land. I spent two years with these amazing people, and yet within six months of knowing them, I couldn’t imagine my life without them. Ship friendships require you to be completely vulnerable because there really isn’t any other option, but it’s the best way to be within a community that becomes your family. I was so grateful to meet even more amazing people onboard apart from my friends on the communications team, that also have become part of my “forever gang!’
I feel so utterly blessed and privileged to have called these guys and many others ‘co-workers.’ It’s not often you find a bunch of people who are happy to work long hours together and then also hang out on the weekends.
There were times when we were assigned to visit our patients in their villages, where we would spend hours on the road in the blistering heat with limited toilet facilities, genuine hanger, and debates over directions — all the while fighting to catch the good light. Yet my memory chooses to remember those ‘work days with colleagues’ as ‘adventure days with friends.’
If you’re thinking about signing up and worried about meeting new people (or living with 400 of them), let me tell you it’s so worth it! I now have friends all over the globe, which makes the world seem that little bit smaller and ready to be explored. I’m a better person for working in Communications on the Africa Mercy and meeting some of the best people I’ve ever had the honor to work alongside.
As the cheesy saying onboard goes #friendshipsarethebestships.