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is at the heart of Rotary. But what does that involve?
In this issue, we explore the many facets of vocational
service. We speak with the founder of Mercy Ships,
which staffs its medical ship with volunteers
including doctors, nurses, teachers, and cooks; share
tips for putting together a vocational training team
(VTT); and look at the opportunities to serve in The
Rotary Foundation Cadre of Technical Advisers.
Vocational service also involves using your leadership
position to model and encourage ethical behavior
among employees, associates, and your community.
Need ideas? Read on.
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ercy Ships, a nonprofit that uses the
hospital ship Africa Mercy to deliver
free health care, is a global model of
vocational service. Each year, more
than 1,600 volunteers from dozens
of nations board the ship, including
surgeons, dentists, nurses, teachers,
cooks, and engineers. (Rotarians
can get involved with Mercy Ships
through its strategic partnership
with The Rotary Foundation, which
offers packaged grants for vocational
training teams (VTTs) of medical professionals.) Donald Stephens
and his wife established the charity after their child was born with
disabilities; the couple asked themselves how they would face
similar circumstances if they lived in the developing world. Since
1978, Mercy Ships has provided services valued at more than
US$1 billion to almost 2.5 million people.
Why did you choose a ship as your health services delivery
system? What are the advantages over building hospitals?
Our hospital ship can arrive in the port of a developing nation
with a self-contained, state-of-the-art surgical unit, along with
the housing and infrastructure for the expertise we provide. The
hospital on board can also serve as a center of excellence for
health care training in a controlled environment. I’ve spoken with
those who have built hospitals in difficult areas of the developing
world, and it is extremely challenging. The hospital may not be
guaranteed electricity or running water. Supplies can be difficult
to keep stocked, and can often be stolen.
Long-term volunteers are aboard the ship for at least
two years. That is a long time. What’s the appeal for
professionals who take a break from their careers to serve?
Our volunteers know that what they are doing serves a cause
far greater than themselves. That is a tremendous motivator.
Joining with hundreds of others who share a common vision
provides a powerful experience that money can’t buy.
You and so many Mercy Ships volunteers live on an
oceangoing ship nowhere near your homes. What types of
adjustments are necessary?
The old adage is true: Home is where your heart is. There
is a tremendous community spirit aboard our hospital ship,
where crew are living and working in the same place. The
friendships can last a lifetime. It can be difficult to find a quiet
place sometimes or to have a boundary between “work ” and
“home.” The close quarters aren’t easy for everyone to adjust
to. The ship changes ports every year, so while your “home ”
stays the same, your surroundings are always changing.
Cabins may be small, but they’re no less “home ” than on land.
Marriages and humanitarian nonprofits can be demand-
ing endeavors, yet you and your wife, Deyon, have
managed to succeed at both for many years. Do you have
any advice for other couples who want to undertake a
humanitarian mission together?
First of all, it’s a team effort. Each one of you is only
50 percent of the team. It is important to have open
discussions about roles, responsibilities, and how best to
show love for each other. It’s also important not to let the
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