Teaching the world onboard a floating hospital

Moving to a brand-new environment and school as a child can be a daunting prospect. Mercy Ships Academy teacher Carey Anne Dooley should know.

Born in South Africa, Carey Anne emigrated to the United Kingdom at 13 years old and had to learn a new way of life very quickly. Together with her brother and sister, she learned to adapt to a new way of life, and she embraced the different culture she and her South African-born parents found themselves in.

Not that she realized it at the time, but she was a ‘third culture kid’ — people who were raised in a culture other than their parents or the culture of their country of nationality and lived in a different environment during a significant part of their childhood. And soon, she would use her knowledge with other third culture children while volunteering on board a hospital ship in Africa. 

The Mercy Ships Academy is made up of the multi-cultural children of volunteers who are being taught while their parents from different nations volunteer on the ship in everything from medical to marine and catering to carpentry. They volunteer so that the hospital ships can deliver free life-transforming surgery to developing nations and training and resources to local medical professionals.

Carey Anne understands her class of five and six-year-olds on the Africa Mercyª are developing a sense of identity in numerous ways, and she works on helping them embrace the experience of living among different cultures and view it as a gift, as she does.

“I have always been very passionate about helping people, and I have always had a heart for Africa, having been born in South Africa,” she shared. “My dad is a pastor, and as a child, I saw him go off on mission trips. I would help him set up his supplies and pack for his trip — I would send toys with him.”

After finishing school, Carry Anne worked as a nanny before deciding to go to school for teaching. But she discovered soon after embarking on her teaching career that she was drawn towards students with additional needs.

“I loved being in class but always felt drawn to the children with other needs,” she said.

She had friends in pediatrics, and they piqued her interest. So, she went back to university and did a degree in occupational therapy and set about combining both her degrees into a career.

For the next eight years, she worked for a pediatric occupational therapist, visiting schools and assessing children with a wide range of development and coordination needs. She even traveled to China to deliver therapy to children in orphanages.

“I always wanted to be a teacher or a nurse, and I always wanted to travel for as long as I can remember,” she said. “I felt four years ago that God wanted me to do something about this, so I started looking at different opportunities. Then somebody mentioned Mercy Ships, and I just thought, ‘Wow, this looks incredible!'”

She applied to volunteer to teach at the Mercy Ships Academy, and after a delay due to the pandemic, was able to start serving in 2021. When Carey Anne first saw the ship, she described it as an emotional moment after so much anticipation.

“I absolutely love it. I’m the most content I have felt in my life, in my work,” she shared. “The children are such a blessing. The people I get to work with are just incredible. There is a perfect mix of adventure and the unknown — everyone has come to work and serve, and it’s amazing meeting so many like-minded people in one place.”

Her occupational therapy expertise is also utilized by her putting together programs for milestone developments and creating a checklist for fine and gross motor skills that will be implemented on both the Africa Mercy and the new academy set to open on the brand-new Global Mercyª in the new year.

She added, “We are guiding the kids by helping them learn, and they use that to unlock their lives and be whatever they want to be. By teaching these kids to the best of our abilities, we are enabling their parents to serve.”

We are so grateful for everything that Carey Anne and all our volunteers who bring hope and healing to those who need it most. As our hospital ships begin to serve sub-Saharan Africa, Mercy Ships will need more volunteers like Carey Anne. Whether you’re a physician, an accountant, or a teacher Mercy Ships needs you.

Find out more on how you can serve on board a hospital ship at mercyships.org/makeyourmark.