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Always more to be done

With varied work experiences identified as keeping nurses in the profession, many are offering their skills to those in need.

It didn’t take long in Togo for Freemantle nurse Jacqui Smith to realise how fortunate she was to live in Australia. And it was with that realisation that she knew she had to return to the West African nation.

Smith spent three weeks in Togo, working among a crew of 450 onboard the world’s largest charity hospital ship Africa Mercy.

“The time I spent there reinforced two things for me,” she says. “One is my resolve to return to Africa to help the people who live in some of the world’s poorest nations. The other is the recognition of our living in a country where we never have to worry about the availability of healthcare services.”

Hearing about the work being done by volunteers serving with Mercy Ships from a presentation made at a nursing conference, Smith knew she wanted to “do her part”.

“I have always felt that I wanted to do some kind of voluntary aid work.”

At the time of hearing about what goes on onboard the Africa Mercy, with its six operating theatres and 78-bed hospital, Smith sensed the opportunity was the right time to take advantage of it.

Making contact through the charity’s website, she filled in the application form, than thought about what she had just signed up to.

“I have to admit I had never heard of Togo before making my application and had to look it up on a map,” she says.

“Then it was off at my own expense, in keeping with all other volunteers, on the flight to Togo. After working for 30 years in operating theatres, I felt it would be a shame to let all that experience go to waste after I retired. My time onboard was spent assisting with a variety of operations aimed at correcting disability, deformity and blindness.”

Smith says living on the ship provided a very safe environment, but going into town and through the country made her very aware that many who live in Africa are very poor.

“The great thing about what I was involved in was to see the results in patients who had been forced to live with health problems for many years. Some conditions were life-threatening or so disfiguring that they had been ostracized by their families and communities.

“It was wonderful to watch the faces of patients who could now see themselves without disfigurement. Local doctors were also being trained onboard so they could provide more help in the hospitals of Togo.”

The only downside to the whole experience was the recognition that during the eight-month assignment by Mercy Ships to Togo this year was not long enough to help the huge number of people still requiring surgery, she says. But, there are also many moments of joy.

“Every Friday there is a ceremony called ‘Celebration of Sight’. It’s a time when those who have received free eye surgery, mostly removal of

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