Madagascar 2014 – 2016


MadasurgicalpatientsThere is a lot of sentimentality floating around in the organization these days.  After two back-to-back field services in Madagascar, the Africa Mercy has departed the shores of the beautiful island nation we called home for nearly two years.

On Friday, 20 May the last surgery took place on board.  A week later the hospital closed and was packed up for the sail.  Just yesterday the gangway was raised, the moor lines taken up, and the Africa Mercy set sail for shipyard in Durban, South Africa.

It has been an amazing privilege to serve the people of Madagascar.  During my time there I met and developed some of the deepest friendships with people than any other country that I’ve been to with Mercy Ships.  Most guide books will describe the unique beauty of the country.  I can attest to that and will add that it’s all the more rich because that same beauty is found in the gracious and welcoming hearts of its people.

Thanks for your support, which allows me to have such extraordinary opportunities.  Thank you for the part you played in the 2581 patients that received surgery on the ship in Madagascar.


Field Service

I’ve been wanting to do something for awhile now and I still haven’t found the time, but I thought it would be helpful to make a glossary somewhere on this website.  There are some terms that we use within Mercy Ships that are quite specific and may need some defining.  So for today’s post I want to start off with a pretty foundational term for us.

Field Service is the period of time that the ship serves in a country.  It roughly follows the North American school calendar, usually starting in mid August and going until the beginning of June (about 10 months).  Madagascar has been unique in that we are nearing the end of back to back field services there.  The few field services prior to Madagascar were in Republic of Congo, Guinea, and Togo.

Due to maritime law and generally upkeep of the vessel, the months the ship is not in a field service (June, July, and part of August) we go into a maintenance period.  The ship goes into shipyard and general maintenance and upgrades are done.  Usually every second year, the ship must come completely out of water and goes into something called Dry Dock.  The upcoming maintenance period will be in Durban, South Africa.  Most of the hospital crew take PTO and return home during the maintenance period.

At the end of July I will meet the ship in Durban and we will sail to our next country of service which is Benin in West Africa.

Dental Team

Did you know we have a dental team? There is much more to Mercy Ships than the surgical programs that we run on board and one example of this is our Dental Program. Monday through Friday our dental team treats patients at the university hospital in Toamasina. Like our surgical programs, dentists and dental assistants come periodically and volunteer their skills to serve the people of Madagascar. Just last month the dental team treated their 6000th patient since September 2015.

MGC160310_COM200_KIRAN_AMIN_GBR_DENTIST_SCREENING_JF0003_LO ©2016 Mercy Ships Photo Credit Justine Forrest; Dental Screening at Hopital Be MGC160317_COM152_ANGELIKA_PERTL-SIGMAR_DENTAL_CLINIC_KK0001_LO




This is my cabin.  I am in a 3-berth and my space shown here is about 6.5 x 6.5 feet.  It’s cozy but certainly luxurious compared to the 4 and 6-berth cabins I have been in before and that many of the crew are housed in.  I am in cabin 4326, which is located is on deck 4 and about mid ship between the bow and stern.

Fire Teams


That’s right, we have Fire Teams.  Three, in fact.  Not something you may have thought about but we potentially could have fires on board and if one were to happen it could be pretty bad.

The men and women on these teams work hard to keep us safe.  We also have fire drills every two weeks.  That sometimes gets old for those of us not involved in the action…

All Smiles


Our orthopedic program has been finished since December but there are some kids still in casts waiting for their bones to fully heal and strengthen.  I remember the first time I met this patient way back in July in Tana.  It was winter then and she finally came to me at the front of the line all bundled up in several layers and wearing a knitted winter cap.

She has had a long period of recovery with some ups and downs along the way, but she exudes such joy every time I see her.

Antsirabe Screening

The posts I make here aren’t always chronological.  Mostly it is because I come across some photos that I realized I haven’t shared.  That is the case again this time.  Scrolling through the archives today I found some photos that were taken at our screening in Antsirabe in December.  It was a really great screening.  We partnered with a company called Socota Group.  They are a fabric and textile company and the largest employer in all of Madagascar.  They have been a wonderful partner to work with.  Instead of using a clinic or hospital like we usually do, we held the screening in a very large, old house that was the former office for the region.  Here are some photos taken by Ruben Plomp.

Patients wait to be pre-screened inside the old house

A patient and caregiver during a consultation with a screening nurse

Patients wait to be pre-screened

This was one of largest screenings and the line of patients waiting to be seen by us stretched far down the street.

Pre-screening a patient with Wenceslas

Our screening and security team plus members of the region and the ministry of communications

Midi Madagasikara Article

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 10.53.37

This is an article about our latest field screening in Morondava that appeared in a local newspaper on Monday.  It’s in French but google translate does an okay job…

The man in the photo comes to the ship tomorrow!

Morondava Field Screening

I am writing from the room in Hôpital Be Morondava where we are having our last field screening of the Madagascar II Field Service.  Yesterday was a very good day and we selected just over 30 patients to come to the ship for evaluations by the surgeon.  There were a few patients that came that we had originally seen in referrals months ago and had difficulty getting in contact with.  It was cool to see them standing before us.

We finished our prep work early and were able to travel out to the Avenue of the Baobobs on Tuesday evening for a spectacular sunset.  Perks of the job…


Early in December our team traveled to a remote city in the southwest called Fotadrevo and held a screening to select patients.  Here is part of the brief email report I sent to our Hospital Director and Chief Medical Officer:

I’m writing from my desk in the forward office.  We arrived back to the AFM about an hour ago.  There was no internet, no Orange service, and minimal Telma service in Fotadrevo.

It was a wonderful few days in Fotadrevo.  The sky is so big down there – beautiful, fluffy clouds hang over the dry, cracked landscape.  It is pretty wild and rugged in the south.  

Zoara Hospital gave us a warm welcome and showed us plenty of hospitality.  The hospital is simple, clean and appeared to be functioning pretty well.  The chief medical officer at this time is a general surgeon and asked us not to select for hernias and lipomas.  You will see this reflected in the stats.  

I was pleased with how well the word got out about the screening.  We had a high turn out but a relatively small amount of patients selected, which of course means the pre-screeners had the very difficult job of saying ‘no’ to many, many people.  We had people travel from over 200 km to come see us.  One man and his friend walked two weeks.  Most people we queried regarding how they knew about the screening heard from doctors or other aid/development workers or from Zoara hospital.  It is encouraging that our partners have helped us so much in this way.  

Honoré, one of the translators we hired in Toliara is originally from Fotadrevo so we made the decision to bring him with us to Fotadrevo as I was struggling to find local translators in Fotadrevo.  It turned out to be a wise decision and we were extremely grateful for his presence and willingness to come.  The dialect is quite different and our Screening day crew struggled at times to communicate with the people.  It turned out that Honoré is sort of a local celebrity in Fotadrevo, one of three people that he knows of from Fotadrevo that has gone to university.  We could tell that the people respect him.


Fotadrevo from the air.


The courtyard at Hopitaly Zoara.


Patients wait in line to be seen by the pre-screener nurses.


Fotadrevo landscape.


The airstrip in Fotadrevo. We had quite the send off.