Mercy Ships

World’s largest charitable hospital ship

As the holiday season sets in, we reflect on the holiday feast in more ways than one. ‘Tis the season that feeds off such channels as the early gospel stories, hymns, choirs and Charles Dickens. The Christmas Carol, in particular, is the founding story of the modern Christmas. Its moral, of sentiment of goodwill, helping those less fortunate, is reminded to us during the holiday season. And it is with this in mind that we have focused on Mercy Ships Charity Hospital, whose work delivering medical excellence and developmental programs to those in need encompasses the charity of Christmas, spiritual perseverance of Chanukah, sacrifice of Eid, etc., all the year round.

As the world’s leading non-governmental ship-based medical organization, Mercy Ships provides health care and relief aid to the world’s poorest countries. Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships’ reach has expanded the globe, operating in more than 70 developing nations over its history, and currently focusing on the “15 by 15”—countries in Africa that are 15 degrees to the north, sound, east and west of the equator.

Mercy Ships has 17 national resource centres worldwide, with its International Operation Centre based out of Garden Valley, Texas. Currently, Mercy Ships major vessel is the 16,500-ton flagship Africa Mercy. Crewed by 450 volunteers (80 of which are Canadian), the ship is servicing Freetown, Sierra Leone for its 2011 service, and is preparing to dock in Guinea in the new year to contribute by way of reconstructive surgeries, eye surgeries, orthopaedic surgeries, dental care, palliative care, education training, water and sanitation and construction.

National Director Tim Maloney

CBJ Senior Research Director Tom Cunningham spoke with Mercy Ships National Director Tim Maloney about the challenges and rewards of the vital organization. “The Africa Mercy has six operating rooms, a CAT scan machine, full labs, ward beds for 78, and a volunteer crew who not only volunteer their time but pay for their own room and board as well as their flights to and from Africa,” says Maloney.

The ship reflects the diversity of the nations it helps, with “42 countries represented in the crew this year. It truly is international, people of all walks of life doing what they can do to support the work of bringing hope and healing to the world’s poor.

“The model that we have chosen is part of what makes a difference is the platform, and that a western, first-class hospital that comes into port with the equipment that we need for a safe and secure environment.

“It is a wonderful organization to be a part of,” says Maloney. “We are sharing the bounty that we have.”

So how does one become involved? Maloney’s mandate for 2012 is to help elevate the organization’s platform, invigorate the donor base and build capacity for supporting the work of Mercy Ships. The organization is fortunate to work with many companies who donate time, money and supplies, such as Coastal Contacts of Vancouver, the Tooth Fairy Foundation in Calgary, who donated and will continue to donate 16,000 children’s toothbrushes, and Ship Constructors, based in B.C., who has taken Mercy Ships on as a charity, donating technology to help design and fulfil the building of ships.

“Those kinds of thing clearly make a difference in what we are able to do,” says Maloney.

Raising the public profile

“One of the challenges Mercy Ships has is we are a secret,” says Maloney. “My background is 30 years in non-profit, and the friend called me in October 2008 and asked me what I knew about Mercy Ships, I had to say nothing.”

“Really our key job here inside Mercy Ships Canada is to increase that awareness—to raise the funds in support of the projects, the work they do and to recruit volunteers,” says Maloney. “We are trying now to put some concerted effort into bringing our message into corporate Canada because I believe there are organizations and companies that would support this work if they knew it existed.”

Logistically, Mercy Ships works out of two distribution centres that supply the ship. Aside from the things that can be bought locally, which for the most part is very limited, the organization used two warehouses, one in Texas and the other in Rotterdam where materials, gifts-in-kind, food, sutures, wheelchairs…all that is needed on the ship is shipped every two weeks onto a 40-foot container destined for the ship.

These supplies require resources and funding which goes a long way in the lives of the patients it reaches. “Our hope is in a few years we will have a second ship. We actually are going to continue to provide these services for those in need, using this platform to educate and improve the lives of our fellow human beings.” 

To learn more about Mercy Ships and its work, please visit