Time on ship sways sib­lings

Central Leader - - NEWS - By DANIELLE STREET

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

Ja­son, Chelsea and Daniel Walls 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,’’ says Chelsea, 18.

‘‘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 cur­rently one ves­sel in ser­vice, the Africa Mercy, which fo­cuses its ef­forts on West Africa.

Its ser­vices in­clude free health­care, 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 in 1983 when a flag­ship came to New Zealand, mother Sharon says.

‘‘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 re­ally wanted to in­vest my life in some­thing 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.’’

Help­ing peo­ple who were af­flicted with con­di­tions un­com­mon in the Western world had a pos­i­tive ef­fect 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 stud­ies com­mu­ni­ca­tions and vol­un­teers at sev­eral char­i­ta­ble or­gan­isa- tions, 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, but his time on Mercy ships still res­onates.

‘‘My eyes have re­ally been opened to the prob­lems other peo­ple face in Third World na­tions. 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 ... I think see­ing it in per­son has a lot more im­pact than see­ing it on TV.’’

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

Fund­ing for the ships comes pri­mary from pri­vate do­na­tions and vol­un­teers serv­ing the ships and field con­trib­ute monthly fees.

The Walls are par­tic­i­pat­ing in a fundrais­ing evening, Mercy by Moon­light, to raise money for the ships.

Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

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

Bright fu­ture:

Chelsea, Ja­son and Daniel Walls have shaped their fu­ture to­wards hu­man­i­tar­ian causes af­ter liv­ing on Mercy ships.

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