Edmontonians chase volunteer dream on hospital ship off Guinea coast

Two Edmontonians volunteered in the sterile processing department on a recent Mercy Ships mission in the West African country of Guinea.

'They have to live with deformity for years and now their hope is come true'

Lan Nguyen and Wincy Ho recently returned from a six-week trip volunteering on a hospital ship off the coast of Guinea. (Submitted by Lan Nguyen)

Wincy Ho wanted to explore something new and she was curious to see what a hospital on a ship would be like.

So after 19 years of sterilizing operating room equipment in Edmonton, Ho travelled to the other side of the world this year to volunteer for Mercy Ships, a charity that performs surgeries on patients who can't afford them.

"It's always been my dream to use my career to help others," said Ho, in an interview on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Tuesday.

Ho and her Edmonton colleague Lan Nguyen volunteered in the sterile processing department on a recent Mercy Ships mission in the West African country of Guinea.

They were there for only six weeks, but they made a difference that will last people in need for the rest of their lives, helping provide surgeries such as cleft lip and other facial reconstructive procedures, and pediatric orthopedic operations.

'I'm going back'

"They have to live with deformity for years and now their hope is come true," said Nguyen.

During their journey, they visited the Hope Centre, where patients wait before and after surgery. As they were leaving, a man with a large facial tumour started pointing his finger to his chest and then pointing to the ship.

"It's like he was telling us, 'I'm going there' ... and he looked happy," said Nguyen.

"So we knew we were doing something very important for someone who, like we said, probably couldn't afford to have the surgery."

That was the moment she knew she would return.  

Nguyen and Ho paid the full cost of the trip, including their airfare and accommodation.

"We go there and we pay to work. We don't get paid but we are so happy that we got to serve them," said Nguyen. "We got to serve and we got to satisfy and we got happiness out of it. That's the main reason that I say I'm going back."

Thousands of medical volunteers travel to help perform surgery on those in need with Mercy Ships. The international non-profit parks a large boat off the coast of several West African nations to perform the desperately needed surgeries.

The volunteer surgeons also train local medical professionals who will continue to serve in their home countries long after the charity departs.

 Ho said she was able to see the transformation in patients' lives.

"I can see from their eyes, from their smile, they are happy because they got healed and they got their normal life back," she said.


Thandiwe Konguavi


Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist, born in Zimbabwe. She is a reporter/editor at CBC Edmonton. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca. Follow her on Twitter @cbcthandiwe.

With files from Sheena Rossiter


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