Traralgon nurse Michelle McEwan is not new to traveling with a purpose.
For many years Ms McEwan travelled many disadvantaged countries to help people in need and experienced first hand how local people lived.
She slept on the floor in the Philippines, rode congested trains in India, and helped build an orphanage in Kenya.
Just recently, the 50 year-old spent 11 weeks as a volunteer for international medical charity Mercy Ships, onboard Africa Mercy that travelled to the Republic of Congo for a medical mission.
Founded in 1978, Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class health care services to poor people in the developing world.
It has 16 international support offices including one in Australia.
Africa Mercy, one of the not-for-profit organisation’s vessels, was on a 10-month mission to Congo to provide more than 3300 surgeries onboard and treat more than 20,000 people at land-based dental and eye clinics.
“I first heard about Mercy Ships back in 1987. I’d like to go and do it but the timing hasn’t been right,” Ms McEwan, who has been doing outreach missions for her church since the 1990s, said.
But unlike the missions she has done in the past, this was the first time Ms McEwan was able to use her skills as a nurse.
She had been assigned to the ship’s recovery room where patients who underwent surgery stayed until they were ready to be transferred to the ward.
Ms McEwan said it was “confronting” to see how some people live in dire poverty and where health care was very poor.
She said she visited some of Congo’s village hospitals and found a lot of them in a “very sad” condition.
The Traralgon nurse said volunteering for Mercy Ships was an “enriching” experience because she was not only able to offer her skills for a noble cause, but she also enjoyed the company of other volunteers and made new friends.
Every volunteer at Mercy Ships – doctors, nurses, and other health care workers – had to raise their own funds for food, accommodation, and insurance while onboard.
There were about 450 volunteers on the ship at a time.
“I think we’re just a lot of ordinary people who go and make something extraordinary happen to someone else,” Ms McEwan said.
“They (people) have no hope unless someone does go and help them and make a difference.
“Even just a cleft lip (operation) can transform a life because over there they are ostracised.”