As the shipping world comes together this week to commemorate World Maritime Day and the vital role played by shipping in world trade and development, Mercy Ships highlights the contribution volunteer maritime crew have made in bringing hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor.
Since 1978, hundreds of maritime volunteers have kept the fleet of Mercy Ships sailing to over 555 ports in 70 nations. More than 100 career maritime professionals serve with Mercy Ships currently. In partnership with Mercy Ships health care and administrative volunteers, more than 1.7 million people have received life-changing medical and community development services.
Bosun Eric Thibodeau is one of 50 mariners serving onboard a Mercy Ship currently in West Africa. Thirty-six year old Thibodeau counts his service with Mercy Ships as one of the most fulfilling times of his life. With jobs under his belt as diverse as naval deployment to Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm, work with breakbulk freighters, long distance towing and oil rig supply from Russia to Alaska, and being part of a team that raised a section of the Civil War Ship Monitor, he still says that serving with a deck crew from 12 nations is a unique opportunity.
In addition to their maritime jobs, crew members often help on projects in the ports where the Mercy Ships serve. “I met this 27 year old guy teaching a whole school in an abandoned hotel building in Monrovia, Liberia,” reflects Thibodeau. “This one guy, teaching all these kids the best he could in a bombed out, abandoned building. Everything was a mess.”
Eric formed a friendship with the teacher, and worked with him to build benches, paint new blackboards, and clean out debris to create six new classrooms. He bought supplies like chalk, erasers, paper and the like. When the job was done, they wanted to name the school after him. “I told them - don’t do that, just call it the Mercy School. So they did.”
New Hampshire born Thibodeau holds a 1600 GRT Domestic Tonnage OOW (3000 ton ITC) STCW 95 Masters License & certification in GMDSS, ARPA, as well as an AB/unlimited MMD with a Tankerman Assistant endorsement. He looks forward to transferring to the newest vessel, the Africa Mercy when she comes online early 2007 for service in Liberia.