New Mercies: Aby Diouf’s
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The Mouthpiece of Her People

Aby Diouf had completed her degree in English and was working on a Masters in translation when she heard that the Africa Mercy was coming to her home country of Senegal and would be hiring local translators. Aby quickly applied and was thrilled to be accepted to work on board, serving to bridge the language gap between patients and nurses and doctors. 

In this episode, Aby reveals how working on the ship taught her things about her home that she knew nothing about. She shares how seeing the need of her own country inspired her to help and motivate the patients she cared for. Through her stories of helping a scared patient, to her newfound love for children and teaching them — Aby will touch your heart with her passion and commitment to helping her own people.

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New Mercies Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the New Mercies, a podcast by Mercy Ships, where we’ll take you behind the scenes and on board our incredible hospital ships that are transforming lives all over the world. We invite you to join us each week as we sit down with our crew, patients, volunteers, and partners to hear their stories of life-changing hope and healing.

Aby Diouf had completed her degree in English and was working on a master’s in translation when she heard that the Africa Mercy was coming to her home country of Senegal and would be hiring local translators. Aby quickly applied and was thrilled to be accepted to work on board serving in the hospital to bridge the language gap between patients and nurses, and doctors. From her time in translation, Aby learned things about her country and herself that she never expected. Get ready to be encouraged by this woman and her compassion, work ethic, and commitment to caring for the people of her country.

Raeanne Newquist:

Aby, I am thrilled to have you on the podcast today. Thank you so much for joining me, and I am so excited to hear some of your stories.

Aby Diouf:

Thank you. Thank you for inviting me to be here to be able to share some stories about what I’ve experienced in Mercy Ships. Thank you.

Raeanne:

Why don’t you start by telling us where you’re from? And a little bit of your background?

Aby:

Yeah, I’m from Senegal, actually, I was living in Dakar. I’m a translator and I’m doing an internship as a teacher here in the US. I have a bachelor degree in English and then I decided to get another master degree and I chose translation.

Raeanne:

Oh, wow, that’s amazing! So, you were born and raised in Senegal?

Aby:

Yeah, I was born and raised in Senegal. I was born in the village in the region of Thies, which is not far from Dakar. So, I spent my young life there. I did primary school, secondary school. And after I graduated eighth grade, I went to Dakar where I got my high school degree, and then went to the University in Senegal to get my bachelor degree in English, and then received my masters in English.

Raeanne:

That is amazing. Tell us how you heard about Mercy Ships? And why did you want to go serve on board?

Aby:

I heard about it by some colleagues who said there is an open call for an open application by the Department of Health in Senegal. And I’ve seen that they needed a position in translation. At that time I was doing my first year of my master’s degree and thought — wow, this is going to be a chance for me to really try what I’m learning at school. So, I applied with some friends.

Raeanne:

Well, we have heard on the podcast over and over again, from nurses and from doctors how absolutely essential our translators are. Because really, we couldn’t do what we do without someone to help communicate to the patients, our nurses, our doctors from all over the world. They don’t speak local languages most of the time. So, like you mentioned, Wolof, which is the main language of Senegal, even though French would be declared as the maybe the national language but the local people speak Wolof and then each individual village and tribes speaks their own language as well. It’s such a gift and an asset to have these beautiful translators on board to help bridge the gap with the patients. Where did you serve on board as a translator? Because the translators volunteer in every aspect of the ship? Where did you serve on board and what was your role?

Aby:

I was serving on the wards, and my main task was to translate between the nurses and patients and also the doctors and the patients. So that was my main task.

Raeanne:

So, you were working in the hospital in the wards? Were you nervous at all to be in the hospital?

Aby:

Yeah, the first day, I was really nervous. Because the fact is, I’ve learned translation at school and at our school, we have learned a lot about medical translation and how it was really sensitive. Like how maybe you can make a mistake from medical translation and can cause someone their life. So yeah, the first days I was nervous, because I didn’t want to make mistakes that could be harmful to a patient. So, I was really nervous.

But after awhile, I was getting confirmed — you did the training, you don’t have to be nervous here. I wanted to give the best and help the patients and also the doctors and nurses because, as you say, translators help bridge the gap, because the doctor needs to communicate with the patient, the patient also needs to communicate with the doctors and nurses. And if you’re nervous, or if you’re scared, it can scare the patients too! So, at some point I really had to be confident to really show the patient that I’m here for you. I’ll explain everything you want so you can get the best care.

Raeanne:

Absolutely. Well, it’s amazing because you really are the voice of the patient, talking to the nurses and doctors, but then likewise, you are the voice of the doctor and the voice of the nurses, comforting the patients and explaining things to patients. It is such an incredible job. Now, I want to know, what was it in your background or growing up that caused you to want to go into translation?

Aby:

I can say that as a young girl, I loved to play in languages. With Wolof and my local language and French. I wanted to know what people were saying. And then I started playing with languages. Like whenever someone talked to me, in my head, I just translated. And also at home with French, sometimes I used to play with my mom because she didn’t go to school and she didn’t speak French. So, I translated things from the news or from the movies.

Raeanne:

Wow, that is so neat. Well, it’s such an important job. I love that your mind was always thinking and translating because it’s such a useful skill to have. Now with your job in the hospital on board the ship translating you were serving your own people, because the ship was in Dakar, Senegal and you are Senegalese. Were there things that you learned about your country that you didn’t know, before?

Aby:

Yeah, I learned a lot of things! When I first applied, I went to do some research about the ship. And I saw the surgeries and I was like — they’re not going to find any of these patients here in Senegal. I don’t know what they’re going to do here. I thought I knew Senegal, but the ship showed me I didn’t know Senegal. And then when I saw the patients, I thought — wow, they’re really from this country! And I felt so privileged and lucky. Maybe I’ve spend all my life complaining about something I didn’t have, but when I saw the patients, I felt so lucky. And before the ship, if someone asked me if there were those kinds of people who really need help and struggle with disease in my country, I would say no. There are not people like that in Senegal. So yeah, the ship helped me to know the real Senegalese people.

Raeanne:

Wow, that’s so interesting that you grew up there and had no idea that these conditions existed in your own country, you just didn’t see them in your villages and in your cities. And I love how you say you researched the ship and saw patients with conditions, and you thought oh, they’re not going to find that here. Yeah, they’re not going to see that here. What did that do to you to have your eyes opened in that way to parts of your country and people in your country that you didn’t know anything about that?

Aby:

The first thing I felt was shame. Shame on me that I didn’t know people suffered like that in my country. I felt very privileged in my village, even though my village was not far from them. So, if I have a real problem, even if there is no big hospital in my village, in maybe an hour I can reach the hospital to see a surgeon or see a good doctor. I was ashamed really, but I was also frustrated. I was frustrated to see those people struggling and see how things work in the country. After that shame and the frustration, I was like, Okay, so now, here’s the situation I didn’t know before, but now I do. So, what are you going to do? Now it was a motivation for me to help those people. I was not here just to translate, but to help and to motivate. That’s how I want to work and I did my best to be that person.

Raeanne:

I love how you say, you weren’t just there to translate, but you were there to help and to motivate these people as well. Tell us a little bit about some of the patients that you met and your time with them?

Aby:

The patients were great. I love to talk about the ship because it’s the GREATEST place I’ve ever worked. And for the patients I’ve had, I had a great experience, especially with the kids. Whenever a patient came, I was like, give them hope, because most of them were really hopeless. And motivate them and show them even if things are hard, there’s always hope in life. Yeah, I have great memories from the ship and from the patients. My best memory from a patient was Jama who was eight or nine. She came for plastic surgery. She had a few surgeries prior to coming on the ship and had lost of trauma from those surgeries. She was very scared. She was scared of everyone wearing blue scrubs. She didn’t care if you’re a nurse, of you’re a translator or a doctor – she didn’t want to talk to you.

So, I started talking to her. I started to gain her confidence, telling her that we are here to help you. After a few days she started to trust me. And after her surgery, one day she was having a dressing change and the first dressing change can be awful. And some of the kids told her it was going to be bad, so she was scared. I talked to her I was like — Okay, it’s going to be scary. I’m not going to lie to you. But you have to do it. Do you want to stay with this forever? This is not cute. You know, if you take it off, you will be able to move your arm. And she was like, no. So, I kept talking to her day after day. And then at some point she said — I’ll do it if you come with me. First I thought, I don’t know if I can go with you. And then we looked at the calendar, she was scheduled on a Saturday, and I was off. I’m not going to work, you know, so I can’t come with you. She said then she wasn’t going to do it. So, it was kind of tricky. But I went and changed my day off so that I could come be with her.

The dressing change was really hard. She was crying and so upset. I know she was suffering, and I know she was scared from her past surgeries. I stood with her, and it was awful, but at some point, she did it! And I was really proud of her. We did it! And after that she wanted me to keep going to the dressing changes with her. Soon she was dismissed to the Hope Center, and I really enjoyed seeing her playing and doing her physical therapy. And I was proud of who I was and proud of her. She was a patient that really worked in my life on the ship.

Raeanne:

How incredible that she found such comfort in your presence, that she said, I’m not doing this without you. It was scheduled on your day off and how beautiful that you chose to come when you weren’t supposed to be working just to comfort this little girl. And that just shows how important this role of being a translator is. It brings such comfort to the patients to know that someone understands them, speaks their language, but also knows their culture. And that’s so much more than just the spoken language, but you understand her culture. And that is something that brings such comfort to the patient. Now, I know that you also had a lot of strong relationships with the crew members. Because I recently saw you at a wedding in the United States from one of our crew members. I know you got very close to them. So tell us a little bit about your relationships with the crew.

Aby:

My greatest friends are from the ship. The ship offered me not just friends, but family. I used to call all the nurses “best friend.” I had had a strong relationship with them, especially working with them day and sometimes nights, talking with them, learning about their culture. And they all came to my village to visit to know also about Senegal. When you guys were leaving the ship, it was hard. Like, it was hard for me. I spent weeks crying. Just thank you. So that is the magic of the ship. That’s what I always say.

Raeanne:

And it’s true, it is the magic of the ship. The family that is created on board is a family like none other. And you’ll have those relationships with you for the rest of your life, which is amazing. Now you keep saying here in America, Aby, tell us where are you right now? And what are you doing?

Aby:

I’m here in Kansas City, Missouri. I’m doing an internship in education. I’m teaching in a in a French Immersion School. Even the ship impacted on my decision to work with kids. Yeah. So, when I had the opportunity to work with kids here, I was like, yeah, it will be fun, because I love working with kids, especially when they’re not in hospitals!

Raeanne:

Aby, you mentioned, it was really difficult for you when the ship left Senegal, because you missed your family, your ship family, and it was really hard for you. Obviously, it was hard for us to leave, we didn’t want to leave. But as you know, in February, the Africa Mercy returned to Dakar, Senegal, two years later. And then just at the end of May, the Global Mercy just arrived and Dakar as well. So, both ships are there right now continuing what we started a couple years ago. What does that mean to you to know that Mercy Ships continues to have a relationship with your country, and they’re serving even right now?

Aby:

I’m really proud of that. I’m telling you, I’m very proud of it. When the ship came back to Dakar, lots of my friends were sending me messages saying your ship is here! And they sent me pictures. I’m very proud and very happy that the relationship with my country continues because I love Senegal, and I love the ship. So, when both of those things you love are together, it’s just happiness and pride. Because as you say, it was hard to leave some patients, and I’m very happy that those patients are going to have their surgeries. I’m really proud of the fact that the ship is in Senegal and serving.

Raeanne:

Absolutely. So, Aby, do you think that you’ll go back one day?

Aby:

Yeah, I definitely think I’ll go back to the ship and help, but I don’t know in which position. I want to go back and to give back what they’ve given to me what they have given to the population of Senegal.

Raeanne:

Aby, as we wrap up our time together, tell us how your serving with Mercy Ships has impacted you. How are you different because you volunteered on board?

Aby:

First of all, I realize that I was really very privileged. I felt privileged to be who I was in Senegal. I got to go to school, whenever I was sick, I’ve had a chance and sort of privileged to see a doctor, I went to high school, to the university. I realized that that was not given to everybody in Senegal, especially women. But it also helped me to realize that I have something to do for my country, I need to do things for my community. And also, as I said, I love working with kids, the ship helped me realize that and now I’m thinking about teaching.

Raeanne:

Aby, you are such a gift to all who have met you and all who know you. Thank you so much for saying yes to going and getting on board to be a translator. I know that so many patients were blessed by your care and your love for them. And I know so many crew have just been impacted by your wonderful friendship that will last forever. So, Aby, thank you for serving on board and we hope that you get to come back one day. But in the meantime, blessings to you as you finish up your internship in the United States. And thank you so much for sharing with us part of your journey today.

Aby:

Oh, thank you. Thank you so much.

For more information about Mercy Ships, go to mercyships.org, and to keep up with the guests on New Mercies, follow us on Instagram at NewMerciesPodcast.

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