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Family returns to volunteer on floating hospital in West Africa

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The Cheng family in 2014

The Cheng family in 2014

Opting for a rather different family holiday in the new year, a London-based family will travel to Benin to spend 2 weeks volunteering on board the world’s largest floating hospital. 

Marking International Volunteers Day today (5th December), Dr Leo Cheng, his wife, Hilary Cheng, and their two daughters, Kat and Zoe Cheng, who reside in Chingford, have announced that they will return to the floating hospital, the Africa Mercy, which is currently docked in Benin.

This will be the 14th visit to the Africa Mercy for Dr Cheng, a Consultant Oral, Maxillofacial, Head and Neck Surgeon at St Bartholomew’s, The Royal London and Homerton Hospitals, however it will be the 2nd time the Cheng’s have volunteered for Mercy Ships as a family.

Mercy Ships docks in some of the poorest countries in Africa to offer free healthcare and humanitarian aid. Since the charity’s creation in 1978, Mercy Ships has transformed the lives of more than 2.56 million people.

The "Africa Mercy"

The “Africa Mercy”

Whilst volunteering on the ship, Dr Cheng will perform 2 or 3 surgeries a day, often on patients who have never received any kind of healthcare. His patients are children and adults suffering from large thyroid, head and neck tumours, and serious wounds.

Hilary will be serving as a Chaplain for the patients on board, supporting them through their life-changing journeys and providing them with spiritual guidance. Kat will be serving as a nurse and Zoe in hospitality.

Every Mercy Ships volunteer pays to be on the ship, meaning that the Cheng’s are financing their own travel and accommodation, and all other expenses involved in spending time on board. As a result of Mercy Ships’ unique business model, all donations made to the charity go straight to patient care and maintaining the hospital ship.

Dr Cheng said: “It is such a privilege to serve on the Africa Mercy with my family again. When we deliver hope and healing to those desperate patients and their loved ones, we also receive far more through the grace, patience and gratitude from those we serve.

“Our culture tells us to acquire more and more for personal gain but on the Africa Mercy, the volunteers find purpose in their lives by serving others.”

Dr Cheng’s daughter, Kat, added: “Returning to the Africa Mercy is like going to my second home. Now I am further on in my nursing career, I have a greater understanding and appreciation for the life changing care that is delivered by each and every volunteer on board and I strive to make a positive difference to the lives of those I meet in Benin.”

Lea Milligan, Executive Director for Mercy Ships UK said: “We are very happy to welcome back the Cheng family, who not only regularly volunteer on our hospital ship, but also dedicate so much of their time throughout the year to support our charitable efforts. Our volunteers really are the heart of the ship – they are the ones that truly make a difference to the people of West Africa.”

With a crew of over 400 professional volunteers from more than 40 nations, many of whom are from the UK, Mercy Ships volunteers will deliver and support the provision of free medical services to Benin’s population of 10 million, in addition to carrying out mentoring and training programmes.

About Mercy Ships

Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class healthcare services, capacity building and sustainable development to those with little access in the developing world. Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $1.3 billion, treating more than 2.56 million direct beneficiaries.

The Africa Mercy is crewed by 400 volunteers from up to 40 nations, an average of 1000 each year. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, healthcare trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. With offices in 16 nations, Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals and serve nations one at a time. For more information click on www.mercyships.org.uk

About International Volunteers Day:

International Volunteers Day aims to inspire potential volunteers. Over 21 million people volunteer in the UK at least once a year and this contributes an estimated £23.9bn to the UK economy. It was designated by the United Nations in 1985 as an international observance day to celebrate the power and potential of volunteerism.

It is an opportunity for volunteers, and volunteer organisations, to raise awareness of, and gain understanding for, the contribution they make to their communities. It is also viewed as a unique chance for volunteers and organisations to celebrate their efforts, to share their values, and to promote their work among their communities, non-governmental organisations (NG0’s), United Nations agencies, government authorities and the private sector.

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