Jessica Palmer was ready for an adventure even before she finished her nursing degree.

The young Aucklander, who was raised in Warkworth where she attended Holy Name parish with her family, had her imagination was captured when she learned about a Christian hospital ship serving Africa’s poor.

“I felt inspired that I could travel to new country, use my skills, knowledge and compassion through my nursing practice, meet new people, bring hope and healing to the poor; all as a volunteer with Mercy Ships! I think it was really the pictures — the huge smiles and the happiness I could see on the faces of the patients and volunteers — that tugged at my heart and told me to pursue being a volunteer nurse.“

After graduating from the University of Auckland in 2012 with degrees in nursing and health sciences, Ms Palmer nursed at North Shore Hospital. “I developed my knowledge and critical thinking skills. While nursing in New Zealand I had only cared for adults, so I was a bit nervous to be caring for younger children and babies with Mercy Ships!”

“My mother is a huge inspiration to me,” Ms Palmer said. “She was a midwife and served as a missionary in Kenya. She told me this was one of the best experiences of her life, and suggested I contact a family friend who shared her nursing experience with Mercy Ships. Melanie had so much enthusiasm, passion and excitement for the transformational difference Mercy Ships makes – to patients, and to lives of the volunteers. It enriched her life. I wanted to have that kind of experience too.“

For five months earlier this year, the 27-year-old not only volunteered as a ward nurse on the Africa Mercy in Madagascar, she paid her own travel expenses in order to do so. “I looked after a 15-year-old boy who came to have a large mass removed from his armpit area. I have never seen a patient look so scared. He didn’t smile and he didn’t tell us he was in pain. The surgery was successful although he had complications afterwards and he became quite unwell. I will never forget the bravery he showed. Within a week of his operation he was a completely different person; smiling, joking with us, and laughing. He gave me a drawing that in English said ‘I will never forget you’.

“I am so grateful for the Malagasy patients, translators, nurses and volunteers I met on the ship.  The experiences and friendships have developed my faith in God, enriched my life and helped me grow into more compassionate and grateful person. I will never forget the laughs, adventures into the villages, walks around the port, chats in the cabin, talks and more laughs over lunch, breakfast or dinner in the dining room. . . . I will never forget the fun, celebration, joy and love that was shared amongst our patients, their caregivers, and the volunteers.

“The dedication, strength and commitment of people volunteering with the common goal — to bring hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor — was shown in many different ways. Not only by working in the hospital, but also working in the galley, in the IT department, and in other roles on board. “My experience taught me if something is a challenging or difficult I can still pursue it. Putting myself outside my comfort zone can result in huge personal growth. Now, my next challenge is to be able to use the learning, enrichment, love and resiliency I have gained from my experience to help my community in New Zealand. Hopefully I can inspire a few more people in my community to sign up for the amazing, challenging, very rewarding experience offered through volunteering.”

For information visit www.mercyships. org.nz

Photo: Catrice Wulf, Mercy Ships

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