Mercy ship up­bring­ing steers ca­reer cour­ses

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By DANIELLE STREET

Trav­el­ling to Third World coun­tries on a float­ing hos­pi­tal has steered the fu­ture ca­reers of three sib­lings.

The Walls chil­dren, Ja­son, Chelsea and Daniel, spent sev­eral years as young­sters on Mercy Ships trav­el­ling around Africa.

On the trips they wit­nessed peo­ple treated for med­i­cal con­di­tions rarely seen in New Zealand.

‘‘I re­mem­ber one per­son in Liberia who had been blind her whole life. Af­ter a 20-minute cataract surgery she could see for the very first time,’’ 18-year-old Chelsea re­calls.

‘‘The look on her face when she saw her mother for the first time is some­thing I will never for­get. There was so much joy.’’

Mercy Ships is an in­ter­na­tional char­ity that was launched in 1978 by Don and Devon Stephens.

There is one ves­sel in ser­vice, the Africa Mercy, which fo­cuses its ef­forts in West Africa.

Its ser­vices in­clude free health care, com­mu­nity health ed­u­ca­tion and men­tal health pro­grammes for some of the world’s poor­est cit­i­zens.

The ship is manned by an in­ter­na­tional crew num­ber­ing close to 500 peo­ple.

The Walls fam­ily be­came in­volved with Mercy Ships back in 1983 when a flag­ship came to New Zealand, says mother Sharon.

‘‘My hus­band and I didn’t know each other then, we got in­volved as young sin­gle peo­ple and both of us were just re­ally in­spired by their work. I was 19 and I re­ally wanted to in­vest my life in some­thing that was big­ger than me.’’

When the cou­ple had chil­dren there was no ques­tion that they too would be in­volved.

‘‘Rais­ing a fam­ily on the ships and work­ing in de­vel­op­ing na­tions and in­ter­fac­ing with all that was part of the pack­age,’’ Mrs Walls says.

Help­ing peo­ple who were af­flicted with con­di­tions that are un­com­mon in the Western world had a pos­i­tive af­fect on the Walls chil­dren.

‘‘Other peo­ple just see scars and their tu­mours, but we were taught to look at the per­son inside and not look at the tu­mours,’’ Ja­son, 20, says.

‘‘And that re­ally im­pacted on a lot of the peo­ple we talked to be­cause it was the first time in their lives they had been treated like an ac­tual per­son.’’

Ja­son, the el­dest of the Walls sib­ling, stud­ies com­mu­ni­ca­tions and vol­un­teers his time at sev­eral char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tions, while his sis­ter is study­ing to be a nurse with the goal of head­ing back to Africa.

Mean­while the youngest, 16-year-old Daniel, is still find­ing his feet on the ca­reer path, how­ever his time on Mercy Ships still res­onates with him.

‘‘You see it in the ads, you see these kids liv­ing in slums with dirt floors and la­trines run­ning through the mid­dle of the slums,’’ he says.

‘‘I think see­ing it in per­son has a lot more im­pact than see­ing it on TV,’’ Daniel says.

Mercy Ships vol­un­teers have per­formed more than 61,000 free op­er­a­tions, such as cleft lip and palate, cataract re­moval, straight­en­ing of crossed eyes, and or­thopaedic and fa­cial re­con­struc­tion.

Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

Bright fu­ture: Sib­lings Chelsea, Ja­son and Daniel Walls have shaped their fu­ture to­wards hu­man­i­tar­ian causes af­ter liv­ing on Mercy Ships.

Go to auck­land­c­i­ty­har­bour news.co.nz and click on Lat­est Edi­tion to see a video about Mercy Ships.

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