Finding a Perfect Fit on the Global Mercy®

When Dining Room Team Leader Maria Ekstrand boarded the Africa Mercy for the first time in 2018, it felt like she had been training her whole life for this assignment. Back home in Sweden, her day job involved working in the dining room for a ferry company, so she is no stranger to serving food in a ship setting.

Though Maria enjoyed her work in Sweden a few years ago, she started to feel unsettled with her life, saying, “I just needed to get out. Do something different.”

Volunteering with Mercy Ships seemed like the perfect way to experience something new. What began as 11 weeks onboard the Africa Mercy quickly grew into 23 weeks. She even returned to volunteer in 2020 and 2021. And she says it was all thanks to her fellow volunteers who made her fall in love with ship life.

“I think you get lifelong friends in a different way than I’ve done back home,” she said. “I like the variety of people, cultures, and views.”

Maria felt she had truly found a community when she returned to the ship in 2020 to continue her job in the dining room.

“People were sitting in the dining room waiting for me because they knew I was coming,” she said. “Then I realized that I made a difference for them because they were happy that I was back.”

She has now been asked to take on a big responsibility on the newly built Global Mercy, preparing the dining room and galley for the ship’s first field service planned for 2023. Right now, there is a limited crew to feed onboard the custom-built hospital ship, but Maria is developing a workflow that she believes will be effective when even more come on board.

No matter where Maria is serving, she says her favorite part of volunteering is intentionally spending time with people from different cultures, especially those from African nations.

“I want to get to know other people from different parts of the world,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a single person that I haven’t learned something from.”

While Maria brought with her decades of experience, she said there is a need on both the Africa Mercy and the Global Mercy for people with all types of backgrounds, even those who are still early in their career fields.

“Anyone can do dishes, anyone can serve food,” she said. “Anyone can bring something to Mercy Ships. … It’s just you need to have the want to be there.”

And for those who do have the want to join in the mission of bringing hope and healing to be there, Maria said, “Just do it. Don’t hesitate.”

Are you ready to be a part of that experience? Whether you’re near retirement or just starting your career, whether you have two weeks or several years to give, whether you bring decades of experience or just a desire to learn, we have a place for you. If you’re ready to Make Your Mark, visit mercyships.org/makeyourmark and get started.