A mobile hairdresser based in the Lennox Head has spent a month at sea keeping the crew of a mercy vessel looking ship-shape.
Ally Joy will soon be on her way home after volunteering on board a hospital ship docked on the coast of West Africa.
Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class health care services, capacity building and sustainable development aid to those without access in the developing world.
Founded in 1978, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $1.53 billion, with more than 2.71 million direct beneficiaries.
Each year, more than 1,000 volunteers from over 40 nations serve with Mercy Ships. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, health care trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and support staff donate their time and skills to the effort.
Ally joined the crew on board the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest independent hospital ship, shortly after its arrival in Guinea, having first heard about the project through a close surgeon friend who had previously volunteered
Joy was immediately inspired to get involved. ‘I got so moved I knew I had to go but I originally thought I’d have to train to be a nurse and do it later, but God had different plans as there’s one position as hairstylist.’
Ally moved to Lennox ten years ago and recently travelled to Europe with plans to relocate for a year to be with her Belgian partner.
‘I’d looked at the position a few times before. After awaiting a Belgian visa and it taking too long I applied for the ship and thought I’ll see what happens. Five weeks later I was flying to Guinea.’
When staffing a hospital ship, a hairdresser isn’t the first need to spring to mind but it turns out to be a vital requirement for the hundreds of crew members who travel from around the world to volunteer for anything from two weeks to two years and even longer.
‘At first I thought, “How important is a haircut in the scale of things?” but after coming on board and seeing the woolly mops walking around, I feel my role is a time for the crew to come and be refreshed physically and also be encouraged.’
The Africa Mercy hospital ship arrived in the port city of Conakry, Guinea, in August 2018 with plans to provide 2,500 life-changing surgeries on board, treat over 8,000 people at a land-based dental clinic and provide health care training to local medical professionals during 10 months in port.
Though serving in a non-medical role, Miss Joy has still had lots of opportunities to witness first-hand the transformations taking place on board. ‘One thing that I personally found special was being able to be there when a patient woke up, hold his hand and pray for him,’ says Ally. ‘I’m aware of the patients who don’t have family with them and they are the ones I really feel for in this journey. That was special for me.’
‘I love it so much. It’s my heart in so many ways and seeing the patients bravely come and trust the doctors moves me so much; our fears are small in comparison.’
Like all Mercy Ships volunteers, Miss Joy was responsible for covering the cost of travelling to Africa and expenses while on board.
She’d like to return to the ship soon if she can raise the finances. After being without a hairdresser for six months before her arrival, there is certainly still a need for a hairdresser’s skills on board the ship.
‘I’m going to pray into and process my time here. I definitely want to give my heart to serve the poor and the sick’