February 18, 2016

Mercy Ships: Language Learning

international travel nursing on medical mission

Mercy Ships nurse and 16-year-old NatachaOne of the patients I was blessed to care for over the last two weeks was Natacha. Natacha is 16 years old and had surgery to release a burn contracture. When I started my first shift, Natacha was lying in bed and seemed very shy and quiet. I did my assessment and gave her vitamins. She took them but didn’t talk to me or really make eye contact. I figured the rest of the day she would be quiet and not interact with me much, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Every afternoon from 1430-1530 the patients get to go up to Deck 7 where they can run around, ride bikes, sit and talk, and just get fresh air. As all the patients were making their way to the stairs, Natacha reached out, grabbed my arm, and held on to it as we went up the stairs. Once we got to Deck 7, Natacha motioned for me to come to sit next to her.

Earlier I was told she knew some English, but when I tried to get her to speak English, she shyly turned her head and giggled. We sat next to each other for a little bit just looking at the ship on the other side of the Mercy Ships patient wrote a kind note to a nurse that says I don't forget youport when another patient came and sat on the other side of me. He was an older gentleman who spoke English. So for the rest of the time, the two sat there and attempted to teach me Malagasy. They would ask me to write an English word down on paper, then take the paper, write the word in Malagasy and have me say it. While I talked to the gentleman, Natacha had the pen and paper. When I looked back at her, she pointed to where she had written, “I don’t forget you.” As she pointed to it, she read it to me with the same shy smile she gave me at the beginning of the day and squeezed my hand. My heart melted.

During the following shifts, I spent most of my downtime painting nails and teaching Natacha English as she attempted to teach me more Malagasy. Sadly, I am not the best student when it comes to learning a new language. My time here in Madagascar has been full of moments and patients I will never forget. Natacha and this experience will definitely be one of those moments.

In May 2014, Travel Nurse Across America (TNAA) announced a partnership with Mercy Ships, as part of its ongoing philanthropic activities. TNAA sponsored four nurses to volunteer on a healthcare delivery mission in Africa. Mercy Ships, a global charity organization, uses ships – floating hospitals – to provide free surgery and dental care in impoverished countries. Mercy Ships has been in operation since 1978. The nurses sponsored by TNAA worked for eight weeks each on the African mercy ship docked in Cotonou, Benin. Follow the TNAA blog for Mercy Ships updates.