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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Greetings from Monrovia, Liberia! Already a month has passed since our last newsletter. As we come closer to the final days of this Field Service, the pace seems to quicken and our busy days seem to find ways to become even busier. We are thankful for good health and the ability to be serving here in Liberia! Liberian Flag

This month we celebrated Thanksgiving Day on November 6th with our Liberian friends and crew. In Liberia, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the first Thursday in November in contrast to our United States celebration on the last Thursday of November. We had special services onboard along with a wonderfully prepared meal and we all (from 33 nations) gave thanks to God for His provisions and our many blessings!

So for our family and friends in the United States that have yet to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, we pray it will be a wonderful day for you and your families! May you have time to enjoy a wonderful meal together and time to reflect upon the provisions of God and His many blessings poured out! And that you are able to watch some good ol’ American Football!

Our Liberian Thanksgiving Cornicopia!

This picture is of our Thanksgiving Harvest in Liberia! Many of these fruits and vegetables were grown right here in Liberia. I think the apples though were imported (probably from Europe). The crew were invited after the service to help themselves to one of these fresh fruits and vegetables and the crew was very excited about that! Many of the crew are not able to get out to the markets to shop and even if they do, it's difficult to find the fresh produce. I've made a slideshow of some of the market sites and you can see it here. Market Photo Show

Three bananas!

The children on board dressed up as fruit and vegetables ( a living cornucopia). The girls to the right are dressed up as bananas and were the stars of the night! The girls are (R-L) Anna Peet, Freida Tvedt and Joyce Everleens. It was a lot of fun and the kids enjoyed it too!

This month has found Denise very busy with Administrative training and continuing in her role as mentor. This past week was another Graduation for the Administrative trainees from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. (More about this in our next newsletter with pictures)

Also, she has been very busy for the past two weeks in her support role in Staff Development as we’ve had Dr. Andrew Clark from our International Operations Center, here conducting a training seminar to the ship's leadership team.

Dr. Clark had spent much time in preparation for the seminar and brought along many training aids, props and handouts to assist him during the week long seminar…unfortunately, his luggage didn’t make the trip with him. The luggage arrived Thursday evening just prior to the last day of the seminar so, needless to say many extra hours were devoted to recreating the material from notes and downloads from various sites. God is and was in control, so in the end He was glorified and the seminar was a success.

Walk to Benin

Many of our crew, including ourselves, are involved in a fun virtual walk to Benin and back! (See the picture above) It is 903 miles to Benin and the map above shows our teams and the other teams progress. There are 6 crew members on each walking team. Benin Advance Team Dedication

One of our team members, Yvonne, is actually leaving for Benin on Monday (November 24th)! She is on our advance team and will prepare for the Africa Mercy's arrival in February! In the picture to the right is our Benin Advance Team, during their Dedication Prayer on Thursday night (Melissa in blue shirt Anounchka in Green, Yvonne in Red and Brenda, the team leader in Black) Please pray for them as they go ahead of us!

We are starting to see, planning charts posted detailing the many varied activities which will have to take place in order for us to systematically prepare for sailing in a little less than four weeks. All departments have the responsibilities for various tasks and functions, all which must happen in a certain order. All thought out, laid out, and prepared. Systems are being checked and double checked. Watch bills are being prepared to shift to Sea Watches. We have begun doing Swimmer's Watch to keep the swimmers off the dock and ship at night. The crew is asked to serve a watch of two hours throughout the night for 4 watches each night until we sail. Safety procedures are being emphasized even more than usual, soon the At-Sea Drills will begin to remind us of the activities required of us as crew.

Simple things like, which lifeboat to muster at for the general crew instead of going on the dock looking for a placard with the letter representing your last name. Where is that life vest anyway? It sounds a little funny maybe, but in all seriousness the better we prepare the safer we will all be. Many of our crew have not been onboard during a sail. Our last sail was in February we can all use a refresher!

Rob is busy as the final orders are being sent in to our Marine Operations Department for repairable and consumable items required prior to sail and for the work to be done in Tenerife for the technical departments, Deck and Engineering. Our Marine Operations Department in Texas at the International Operations Center will coordinate the logistics of sourcing, ordering and delivery to Tenerife. Rob helps to source and prepare the requisitions for these orders.

Building the school at our church in New Georgia

The church that we attend while here in Liberia is the New Georgia United Methodist Church. You can see it in the distance in this picture. If you look closely you can see Rob standing on the porch in his blue shirt! This pictures shows the progress on the new school project that the church has started in the last few months. It is quite an ambitious project, but the community is really excited about it and they are working very hard to make it a reality! A church in Indiana, Delphi United Methodist Church, is partnering with our church and a team of 9 (including their pastor) recently came to help with the project for a couple weeks. It is exciting to be a part of this future plan to help and improve the education of this community! We won't be here to see it's completion, but it is so good to know that we were able to come alongside these precious people for a time that the Lord arranged. We have seen them grow in the Lord, establish a vision and now the vision is at work!

Africa Mercy at Sunset

As we come to completion of this Field Service, we are thankful to finish well, for the many lives (including ours) that have been forever changed. We are also thankful and prayerful that in a small way, we as a crew (collectively) have with God’s help enabled the citizens of Liberia to have hope and to have experienced some healing, both physical and spiritual as well as emotional. We pray that the impact of our community combining and interacting with their community will have a lasting impact.

They have touched our lives and we will never be the same for it, we leave Liberia with even more love in our hearts. A little tired for the journey, but very thankful we were able to be part of the healing and reconciliation of a nation. The journey to wholeness is a long one, but we see many, many of the people of Liberia on the path. May God continue to be their focus and as they seek Him, He will heal their land.

May God bless you as you seek and trust in Him! Thank you for being a significant part of our lives and for your prayers, support and encouragement! Happy Thanksgiving!

God’s Blessings to you,

Rob and Denise

Mercy Ships, M/V Africa Mercy

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Challenges Come...God is Faithful!

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Challenges Come...God is Faithful!

Good Morning Friends,

We just wanted to try and catch you up a little with some of the events in our lives. We’ve heard that there are seasons of your life…lately it seems as we are in more than one at the same time. The Lord continues his process of drawing us closer and deeper still in our relationship with Him. We’ve found this to be both challenging and rewarding.

Rob in front of the Port Gate

This picture is of Rob standing just outside of the Port the distance you can see the exhaust stacks (Dark blue) of the M/V Africa Mercy in the center of the picture. It's about 1/2 a mile to the port gates that are guarded by UN soldiers. We walk regularly to the gates and back several times for exercise.

We, as you also can, testify to a strong work ethic which seems to always keeps us busy and feeling like we’ve not done all that we should do… our To-do list is too long and the days to short. We feel concerned for not spending enough time nurturing our relationships. You’d believe that as we’ve grown older we are supposed to gain experience and wisdom in these areas; somehow lately it doesn’t feel that way.

Mamadee and Denise

This picture is of Denise and Mamadee during his Graduation from the Administrative Mentoring Program (a partnership between the Ministry of Health and Mercy Ships). Denise is a Mentor (Trainer) for the program and works one on one with an employee of the Ministry of Health, in addition to her job on the ship in Staff Development. Two days a week the trainee comes to the ship for training and then on Friday, Denise goes to their office at the Ministry of Health. Mamadee was an exceptional trainee, he works so diligently to learn about Microsoft Office programs, Typing, Customer Service, various administrative skills and Leadership Principles. It was a privilege to serve Liberia in this capacity.

Taking a look at our website, you’ll see our last update was in July…hmmm. We will soon be spending some time to update it!


Our last newsletter seemed to be in this same timeframe with a little blurb to remind you of the upcoming movie FireProof. We hope you’ve had an opportunity to see this movie or will shortly while it is at the theaters or as we will see the DVD when it comes out. Rob has read the book “FireProof” and he said it helped him to understand more about communication in our relationship! We’ve read that the movie is very well done and filmed in Albany, Georgia – we lived there for 3 years during Rob’s time in the Marine Corps!

We have been, since February 23, 2008, dealing with the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer for Rob’s younger brother Ken. This has been a harder time on us than we first imagined. Rob has gone through several different stages as we’ve interceded in prayer for Ken… expressing our most heartfelt concern and desires for Ken’s complete healing.

Land Rover on wooden bridge

In the picture, you can see one of the road challenges that Rob encounters as he goes to the villages on Wednesdays to help our Water and Sanitation Team complete the water wells.

Our routine became praying and working, and then praying some more. Waking in the middle of the night and praying some more, we were just pouring our heart out to God. Praying for Ken’s wife, Kaye, and his daughters, Renee and Crystal, confident in God’s ability to miraculously heal Ken and restore his life.

Somewhere along the way in the midst of our prayers…the Holy Spirit captured our attention and convicted us that there was a second prayer that needed to be prayed…one which wasn’t as easy to pray…one which at first we didn’t really want to pray. This was more of a confession and submission type prayer…we needed to pray for the strength to accept God’s will concerning Ken’s healing and health, if God’s will wasn’t the same as ours.

During this time, we were able to speak with Ken, weekly and Kaye was so faithful and vulnerable to share this most private time with all of us, as family and friends, by her sometimes daily emails. She allowed us to be there in their joy and in their suffering.


The Africa Mercy can be seen at the top left center of this picture (big white ship) taken from the Ducor Hotel in Monrovia.

Our physical location being so far away from family in Liberia, West Africa played into our decision to send Rob back to Texas for Ken’s 53rd birthday. We definitely wanted to celebrate with Ken and family, but more so our heart was heavy with the burden to pray for Ken. We wanted to talk with him about faith issues and just look into those beautiful blue eyes and see how his soul was doing. We very much felt the need to go and pray with Ken; anoint him with oil. Only once before had Rob felt so strongly the need to pray in this manner this was when Denise’ mom was also sick with cancer. This time also he struggled with his feelings and strong desire to pray for loved ones.

We are blessed to have a Christian family, so we are not the only members of our family praying. Still Rob couldn’t get away from this burden…so he went to Texas and visited with Ken and Kaye. They read the bible together, anointed Ken and prayed, and prayed. Tears seem to come easier the older Rob and I get, so yes there were many tears shed.

My brother Ken and I shared many early morning talks in the days that followed during the week of my visit. Our time together was a mixture of laughter, tears, and just moments of silence together. We parted in June at peace with God and realizing this was probably the last time we’d see each other this side of heaven. It’s OK…my buddy has gone home. He is with Jesus, he is without pain, and we will see each other again. As my brother told me last… “not any time soon though” .

So on 29 August 2008 at home in his bed holding the hand of his loving wife Kaye…Ken went home to Jesus.

I’m not an experienced man in many ways…Denise asked me if I was a little depressed as we communicated by email. She had previously scheduled a visit home to Maryland, USA to be part of a surprise eightieth birthday party for her father. So, I’d gone to Ken’s memorial service in Texas while she remained in Liberia. We met up in Baltimore as Denise flew in from Liberia for the party.

Inn at the Canal Bed & Breakfast

We were blessed by Dawn and Michael (Denise’s sister and her husband) with a surprise night at a lovely Bed and Breakfast in Chesapeake City. We spent a few days with their family, Donna (Denise’s sister – who flew in from Tennessee) and our eldest son, Jason (he flew in from Florida) before the surprise birthday party for their Dad. Then, a couple days after the party I left to come back to Liberia and Denise flew to Florida with Jason.

Family at Sean's Restaurant

This is part of our family at our nephew, Sean’s restaurant, Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware. Sean is an Assistant Manager there and we had an incredible meal! From left front around is: Sean, Michael, Dawn, Jason, Matthew, Bethany, Donna, Denise and Rob. Sean, Matthew and Bethany are Michael and Dawn’s children. We had a GREAT time!

As Denise asked the question about depression, I wasn’t sure. Now a little ways past that, I must confess that yes, I was a little. I didn’t have any motivation to do more than was actually required of me for several days and maybe a couple weeks. I didn’t want to put forth the energy to maintain relationships now that I was back on the ship.

My wife is very observant of me and my needs… this is a blessing from God. She encouraged me to go out to dinner and engage with the lovely people which form our crew. As a desire to be agreeable and do as she asked… I did. I actually had a good time and found this to be the balm to reenergize me again and to get back to living the life God has given us.

At Dad's 80th Birthday Pary

Our family, except for our youngest son, Jeff (he couldn't be at the party due to work duties). From left to right: Denise, Jason, Dad and Rob.

Do I miss my brother…most certainly…do I long to hear his voice…you’d better believe it…would I ask the Lord to send him back…nope, no way.

So as you’ve honored us by reading these long rambling words, thank you for your friendship, prayers and words of encouragement during our trying time. Thank you for keeping our shortcomings covered in love and forgiveness and allowing us to maintain the blessing the Lord has provided in your friendship.

Dad and his Corvette

Dad about to give me a ride in his 2003 Corvette. It still looks and smells new! As he would say...he is still a cool cat at 80!

We love each and every one of you and consider ourselves to be some of the richest people around as we count our blessings more valuable than any silver or gold.

Rob and Paul rescuing SHIPS team 2

One last photo of Rob, Paul and Boakai (Water and Sanitation Team) during the rescue of the Strategic Health Initiatives Program Team (SHIPS). During the rainy season (June-Sept), it rains an average of 7 feet! Needless to say….it is a challenge to navigate the muddy roads during this time and many times…vehicles get stuck in the mud and need a bit of help!

May God bless you abundantly as you trust in Him through all the joys and challenges in your life!

God’s blessings,

Denise and Rob

Currently serving in Monrovia, Liberia with the M/V Africa Mercy

Please see....FIREPROOF .... the movie!

Denise in Fort Worth with Big Jake!

Originally uploaded by MercyWatch.
During my visit with our friends, Pink and Angie.... Pink took me to the stockyards in Fort Worth! I've always been intriqued with the long horn cattle, but I've never been this close to one! This longhorn's name is Big Jake and he is very gentle and loves to pose! We had a great time!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hello from Rob and Denise

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Hello from Rob and Denise
Hello Friends,

We've been following the news about a new movie coming out. The name of the movie is FIREPROOF.

On Friday, September 26,2008 FIREPROOF will open in more than 800 theaters. The new movie from the creators of Facing the Giants is an action-packed love story about a firefighter, his wife ... and a marriage worth rescuing!

While this faith-based film is flying under the Hollywood radar screen,real people in real communities are rallying behind it.

In fact, it will open in 95 more cities than originally planned thanks to local people buying 1,000 tickets to bring it there!

I don't know when I've been more excited about the opening of a movie. I hope you will see FIREPROOF on its opening weekend.

If you want more information, go to

God's Blessings,
Rob and Denise

Saturday, August 16, 2008

An Article on our Good Friend, Sharon Walls!

Hospital Ship's Window on Poor


WORKING on hospital ships for 25 years and visiting the world's poorest countries has changed a Kiwi woman's perception of poverty.

Returning to her homeland after serving on the ship Africa Mercy, Sharon Walls said the most frustrating thing was hearing people talk about poverty in New Zealand.

"We have the 14th highest standard of living in the world. Coming back from places like Liberia, which is right off the bottom of the chart, it is a shock hearing people talk about poverty.

"They may mean they only have one TV when their neighbour has two. I realise people do have personal struggles here, but rather than compare ourselves to Australia, we should compare ourselves with the rest of the world. If you have spare change in your pocket you are in the top 5 per cent of the world in terms of financial security."

One of her many heart-warming tasks on Africa Mercy was helping Peace, a young woman from Ghana.

Peace had a tumour growing from her mouth which was slowly suffocating her and starving her to death. Hospital staff removed the tumour and carried out a bone graft and plastic surgery for her facial reconstruction.

"My experiences on board enabled me to look beyond the exterior into the true person, the heart of someone," said Mrs Walls, originally from Kapiti.

The Africa Mercy, a rail ferry converted to a state-of-the-art floating hospital, is the biggest non-government hospital ship. It provides free surgery and health services to people with little or no access to healthcare.

As high as an eight-storey building, it has crew capacity of up to 484 -- surgeons, nurses, water engineers, agriculturalists, mariners and others who volunteer their time to serve the poor.
Crew working for Mercy Ships, a Christian charity, have treated at least 1.9 million people in more than 70 ports.

Mrs Walls (nee Jason-Smith) and her husband Graeme met, married and raised their three children aboard Mercy Ships vessels.

They now live in Auckland, where they head a new Mercy Ships support office in Penrose.
(c) 2008 Dominion Post. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved. The link to the article on line may be reached by clicking on the title of this post.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Just a day on the Africa Mercy and lives changed as we serve!

Thanks to Moody Radio for this short story from Prime Time America. Just click on this link to listen to the short story that they recorded while on the ship. A look at a day on the Africa Mercy. Three patients and three lives changed incredibly. Because God loves us first...we serve and love these special people!

A few months ago, some folks came from Moody Radio to the M/V Africa Mercy. They came to see what we do and how we do it here in Monrovia, Liberia. We enjoyed their visit and hope their experiences here were good. Today our interim CEO, Sam Smith, shared a radio broadcast with us that they made while they were here visiting the ship. They tried to capture in sound the experience of being here, what you see, what you hear, and what you feel. This is very difficult to do using sound or even video.

There is no experience like actually being here and interacting with the various patients, crew and people that you meet every single day here on the ship and in Liberia. We appreciate that they took the time, effort and expense to come and see for themselves what God is doing with this incredible tool, the M/V Africa Mercy and it's crew. We also commend them for trying to capture it through sound in this radio program, Prime Time America. Click on this to hear: Prime Time America aired June 25, 2008. Then click on Listen Now.

We are very privileged to be here and serving on the M/V Africa Mercy and hope that by listening to the radio show, you too will experience a little of life here in Liberia. Thank you to all who support us with prayers, encouragement, by email and snail mail and by generous financial donations. You are a blessing to us!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Good News in Liberia!

Today as we were catching up on emails and news.... the following three articles were written and published yesterday. Three articles showing how things are changing here in Liberia for the better! We are so encouraged as we are here and able to witness changes that are making an improvement for life here in Liberia! So...we wanted to share them with you...

Tour of U.S. Judicial System Leads Liberian Chief Justice to New York

July 18, 2008 4:37 PM
Posted by Jonathan Thrope

"One thing I recognized over the past few years is that there are great opportunities for international pro bono. We don't think of that when we first think of pro bono," said Judge George Daniels of the Federal District Court in Manhattan last night at the New York Bar Association. "The problems are so serious; you recognize it doesn't take a lot to make a difference."

Example number one for Daniels would likely be Liberia, which was the topic of discussion last night at a New York Bar reception, as the national "study tour" of Johnnie Lewis, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, neared its finale.
Photo to right: Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, His Honor Johnnie N. Lewis

Lewis spent the previous two weeks traversing the country's judicial system, soaking in whatever lessons he can bring back home. Among other places, he, and four others from Liberia, visited the Supreme Court, the World Bank, and the Federal Judicial Center in Washington D.C..
They sat in on oral arguments in the 7th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in Chicago; observed proceedings in New York’s Criminal Court, and today they visited New York's Supreme Court.
Lewis faces a daunting task back home. "I took over a judiciary in my country which, as a result of Civil War, was not what you would call a judiciary," the soft-spoken judge said. "The entire system was broken down."

The top priority for Lewis--appointed Liberia's top judge in 2006 following 14 years of civil war--has been to rebuild whatever judicial infrastructure remains in his country. At times, Lewis sounded like a part-time contractor, as he described the many renovations planned for or completed on courthouses throughout the country. The biggest lesson he will take back home from this trip is case management, he said. For example, the United States docket system, and how it's organized by number, which doesn't exist back in Liberia.

Lack of legal training is another major problem in Liberia, and it is the reason why a contingent of judges, lawyers and professors, sponsored by Shearman & Sterling and White & Case, and under the auspices of Lawyers Without Borders, visited Liberia last July. They ran a trial advocacy training program for close to 40 Liberian prosecutors, public defenders, and magistrate judges, and soon formed a relationship with Lewis. The relationship in turn led to Lewis' U.S. visit.

The event was as much a call for international pro bono work as it was chance to meet and greet with the Liberian contingent. Even before Lewis had arrived, Daniels had captivated a group of Davis Polk summer associates, extolling the virtues and importance of doing pro bono work outside of the U.S. In addition to teaching judges in Liberia on that July Lawyers without Borders trip, Daniels has also participated in a trial advocacy program in Rwanda.

It was apparent that Lewis, who will return home Saturday, serves as a model for Daniels and others who contribute their legal services abroad. "I think the most important thing that impressed me [about Lewis], and continues to impress me, is the fact that he did not waiver...He became chief justice recognizing realistically what problems there were and how serious the task was," said Daniels in his introduction, "but also approaching that task with a degree of optimism and a degree of confidence."

Embracing the Challenge of Good Data Collection in Post-Conflict Liberia

—Reported from New York by Shannon Egan
18 July 2008

LOFA, Liberia — Dr. Geetor Saydee’s legs were tired, his brow drenched in sweat. He’d been walking for several hours through the dusty streets of Lofa, a county in Liberia’s northern region, to assess the status of the public healthcare system in the wake of the country’s 14-year civil war. But he trudged on, knowing how much was at stake.
Picture above: Survey team member Priya Marwah mapping out logistics with Dr. Geetor Saydee and Dr. Basia Tomczyk Photo: UNFPA

Lofa was a focal point during the war, a place where ritual murder, systematic rape and torture were commonplace. Though the war ended in 2003, clean water and sanitation are still scarce and nearly all basic services, including health facilities, were destroyed and remain in shambles.

The country’s Human Development Report recently concluded that as a result of the conflict, only 5 per cent of the country’s health facilities are still standing. In 2003, fewer than 20 government doctors (out of 400 who were trained before the war) remained in the country.

“It was important to evaluate the reproductive health situations of the women here. What we found was that they have a very low social and economic status, which makes them vulnerable to a variety of things,” said Dr. Saydee, a national consultant for UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Early pregnancy, sexual violence and HIV transmission are among the issues he cited.

In fact, the data he and others collected suggested that “the single most important intervention needed is improved access to and availability of reproductive health services.”

A community effort
The survey was initiated in early 2007, when UNFPA collaborated with the government of Liberia, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), John Snow, Inc. and USAID to assess post-war reproductive health and recommend improvements. One result was the Women’s Reproductive Health in Liberia; the Lofa County Reproductive Health Survey.

Local NGOs know the culture, which helps them address sensitive reproductive health issues. --Meriwether Beatty

At the beginning of the survey process, the 14-member survey team travelled across rutted roads and thick forests to reach the Lofa districts of Voinjama, Foya, Zorzor and Salayea to explain to village leaders the purpose and procedures of the survey, and to obtain their permission to conduct it. Making sure the communities knew what was going on and trusted the process was critical to the survey’s success.

“The local population was very helpful and cooperative throughout the entire process. They provided accommodation for the survey team and directions to the next selected towns and villages. The local population also assisted in the education and sensitization of the survey,” said Basia Tomczyk, a CDC epidemiologist.

Difficult conditions
However, even with the support from the communities, the team faced many obstacles while attempting to collect the data during January and February. Specific communities were identified to make sure that the data were statistically sound, but many of the vicinities proved too difficult to reach; the CDC had to recalculate sample frames in order to ensure data reliability.

“The biggest challenges were bad roads and inaccessible areas. We spent a lot of time walking. If the villages were too far to reach by foot, we’d have to turn around and find another option. After this survey was conducted, I realized that in order to gather good and genuine data, one has to surpass many challenges,” Priya Marwah of UNFPA’s Humanitarian Response Unit recalls.

Photo to the right: Driving on rugged roads into Lofa County. Photo: UNFPA

It had been nearly ten years since a population-based survey had been produced in Liberia. The lack of information meant that calculating sample frames was difficult since some of the villages and roads listed no longer existed. These obstacles are not uncommon when collecting important data in countries transitioning from the emergency phase of a conflict.

The participants of the survey included some 907 women of reproductive age living in 36 locales, which included both urban and rural areas. They were interviewed by women, many of them locally recruited, who had been trained by the CDC on the survey methodologies and who also spoke the local dialect. Survey team members filled out a questionnaire form for each participant, since many of them did not know how to write. Participants were asked about maternal health practices, knowledge and use of contraception, experiences with sexual violence during and after the recent conflict, and knowledge, attitudes and behaviours related to HIV.

Shocking results
The results of the survey were shocking: 96 per cent had lost shelter due to the war, 90.8 per cent had lost their livelihoods, and 72.8 per cent had lost a family member. More than half of all women in Lofa County were victims of at least one incident of sexual violence during the 1999-2003 conflict.

While 90 per cent of these women were physically abused at least once, almost half of the women reported more than four instances in which they were required to have sex for favours. The data also revealed that 61.5 per cent of women experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner at some point in their lives.

The women fared slightly better in terms of getting obstetric care, mainly because some were able to obtain services from health facilities and doctors in neighbouring countries. But the survey showed huge gaps in care: more than 75 per cent women of women who had recently given birth had experienced complications during pregnancy, and approximately one fifth of them did not seek medical help. Almost half of all recent births (47.5 per cent) occurred at home, without the assistance of a skilled medical attendant. Other reproductive health indicators showed lack of contraceptive use and lack of skilled medical professionals to assist during delivery.

Forgotten and vulnerable
Ironically, access to reproductive health care often declines after a ceasefire because, once peace is forged, humanitarian agencies often stop providing emergency assistance. Yet in post-conflict settings, broken-down infrastructures and a lack of resources often mean that displaced populations are left to try to reconstruct their communities without the necessary supplies and equipment.

“The survey goal,” according the report, “is to highlight the critical need to continue funding and building programmes during a time when traditional humanitarian aid has ceased and development has not yet begun, leaving the population without essential public health services.”

Photo to the right: Members of the survey team from Liberia being trained on how to interview survey participants. Photo: UNFPA

Because this was the first population-based survey conducted in Liberia since 1999, its findings are critical to moving forward. “The data collected will provide adequate information that can be used in planning and implementing the unmet reproductive health needs, and in assisting the vulnerable population toward viability and sustainability,” Ms. Marwah explained.

This is very important in Lofa, where only 14.5 per cent of respondents showed comprehensive knowledge of prevention and transmission of HIV/AIDS. Safe patterns of sexual behaviour are even less common, according to the survey.

Sharing data to support NGOs
In many crisis-affected regions, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) provide the only reproductive health services in a community. It is NGOs which are likely to remain long after international relief organizations have left. Therefore, building the capacity of local partners is a crucial step in ensuring sustainable and quality reproductive health services to vulnerable populations.

“Local NGOs are well-suited to provide reproductive health services because they are intimately aware of the needs and priorities of the communities. They also know the culture, which helps them address sensitive reproductive health issues in a way that more effectively engages community members.
Local organizations are often at a disadvantage in their ability to solicit funding. Yet it is these organizations which have the most promise of enduring sustainability,” said Meriwether Beatty of John Snow, Inc., a public health research and consulting firm.

The Lofa County initiative linked population-based data directly to JSI’s Reproductive Health Response in Conflict Capacity Building Programme, which supports and encourages national and local NGOs offering reproductive health services to — or planning to offer reproductive health interventions for — populations affected by conflict.

“For JSI's Capacity Building Program, this was a unique opportunity for our Liberian NGO partners to interact with the research team and to enhance the use of quality data to inform and guide their programmes. The research and implementation teams exchanged perspectives and shared information throughout each stage of the research,” said Molly Fitzgerald, JSI’s Capacity Building Advisor.

For example, even at the data collection stage, JSI met with interviewers to discuss reproductive health from a programmatic standpoint. The research team met later with NGO implementers to “translate” survey findings. Gaps identified through the survey were addressed by ensuring that small grants were available for implementation activities.

Good data can save lives
Three of the four NGOs to receive grants, MERCI, PARACOM and ChildrenSmile, are currently working to address the unmet family planning needs identified in the survey. About a third of married women expressed a need for services, although the contraceptive prevalence rate was reported as 6.8 per cent. The fourth NGO, PMU, is working with the community on obstetric care, so that fewer women die from childbirth-related causes.

“In addition to filling gaps in eproductive health services in a particular area, these NGOs often fill gaps in geographic coverage. For example, ChildrenSmile operates in a remote region of Liberia. It is one of the only reproductive health service providers in the area, and it works closely with county health officials, women's associations, teachers and hospital administrators. They have taken a leadership role in this community, and they have shared the information and resources we gave them,” Mr. Beatty explained.

Although these NGOs are providing desperately needed reproductive health services to communities in Liberia, there are still large populations of women throughout the world dealing with post-conflict issues and the consequences that result from unmet reproductive health needs. Good data is necessary in order to assess what is needed for planning, funding and implementing community-based programmes for humanitarian response and post-crisis settings.

Road building in Liberia: One UN, many new jobs

by Ch. Narendra Publication Date 18/7/2008 9:16:32 PM(IST)

On the new road from Mt. Barclay into Monrovia, Momo and others are digging a path to more jobs, better lives and hopefully, decent work. And along the way, the involvement of other UN agencies in the ILO-led project is showing how “working as one” can help marshal the efforts of a host of participants to speed the process of peaceful recovery.

“My job is to cut the bush on the road”, says Momo Diggs, one of the workers on the project. “With the money I am earning from my job on the road project, I want to support my children and put them in school. When the road opens, people will come from other villages to sell goods on the market. And the small market will become a bigger market.”

The expansion of the markets isn’t the only benefit of the new road. Since the ILO re-launched technical support activities in Liberia in 2006, it has developed numerous partnerships with other UN agencies, including joint studies with FAO, UNDP and UNHCR that focus on agriculture and on youth employment; joint projects with UNDP for the reintegration of ex-combatants and ILO support of the UNDP project for County Support Team to enhance the process of decentralization in Liberia; with UNV to provide volunteer services to support local economic development in Liberia; with UNIFEM to develop a common programme for “gender and employment generation”, contributing to lasting peace.

The new road, and the new approach of the U.N. agencies here, couldn’t come at a more crucial time for the country’s recovery. With almost no electricity, scant running water, an unemployment rate of more than 80 per cent and a life expectancy of 42 years, Liberia faces major challenges to recover.

But things are changing. Since President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson addressed the ILO’s International Labour Conference in June 2006 to call for decent jobs for all Liberians, an overall employment strategy for decent work in Liberia has been formulated by the Government with the assistance of the ILO and was launched in July 2006.

The road construction project is just one of the visible results of the new strategy. Not only does it provide work for local people, but it will serve as a lifeline to improvement of lives both during its construction and thereafter.

“For every job that is created on the road, five jobs are created off the road”, explains Peter Hall Armstrong, ILO project coordinator. What’s more, the labour-intensive road construction project does not only help to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, but also its values system.
“That’s what has been missing over the years because of the war. Just those values, and when people begin to feel good about the work they are doing and actually start taking a sense of pride in it”, says Natty Davis, a representative of the Liberian Government.

Towards a “One United Nations” approach

A full array of multilateral agencies has joined the ILO on the scene, helping in a variety of ways to meet this colossal development challenge. In addition to bringing the farm-to-market and employment objectives, the project has also attracted the skills and perspectives of other multilateral agencies, as well, like UNICEF.

“What’s important about the program that the ILO has encouraged us all to participate in is that it is going to be broad enough and all encompassing enough to allow even young people without basic skills and without basic literacy … to acquire the kind of life skills that will make them ready and able to get a job and to be able to stay in a job or to stay in a decent work opportunity”, says Rozanna Choritan from UNICEF.

In August 2007, the ILO, together with UNDP, assisted the National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration for ex-combatants to design the final stage of their demobilization and reintegration programme, which is linked to parallel programmes on employment creation.

Thus the road and the other projects bring global issues and perspectives into focus. They integrate policy coherence and program convergence in a very practical and coherent way into country-level agendas.

“It’s about bringing out the best in the multilateral system for those who depend on us for a better future and a better life. It’s about weaving together the many strands of our knowledge and expertise, we can deliver as “One United Nations”, concludes Alfredo Lazarte Hoyle, chief of the ILO Programme on Crisis Response and Reconstruction.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hello from Liberia!

Mercy Watch

July 2008

Hello Family and Friends,

There are several appropriate greetings you may hear onboard, depending on the crewmember you are speaking with. One would be from our crewmembers who hail from Sierra Leone which would be “How da body?” to which the reply would be “Da body fine”. Another greeting from some of our Liberian crewmembers or friends could be “Are you well?” to which the reply would be “Yes, thank God” or just “Thank God.”

I find myself often asking new crew “Are you well?” and receiving puzzled looks. I suppose I should be asking “How are you?” and expect the reply of “Fine.” One lady actually was a little offended by my request, saying that so many people ask the question, but don’t really want to receive an answer. She wished people would only ask if they had the time and desire to receive the answer. I became more aware of how and when I asked this question and came to realize that at times it was actually used more as a rhetorical question or casual greeting by me.

Today I would really like to ask “How da body?” and pray that you can actually answer “Da body fine…thank God” and if you’d like to dialogue in greater detail, Denise and I are only a phone call or email away.

We had a picnic on the dock for the 4th of July with our American crewmates…there were just over 100 crew onboard that were American out of about 350 crew members, including the kids. So we took a group picture!

The American Crew on the 4th of July 2008

We have been busy transferring and redesigning, uploading our website and this effort has taken up a great deal of our free time. Please visit or to see our progress. Consequently we’ve not sent out our newsletters as we would have liked. So please let us take this opportunity to catch up a little.

In our April Newsletter we told you of the screening at SKD stadium. The screening was very successful and there have been many lives touched as a result of the surgeries performed aboard. We are sometimes asked to write about our experiences and this one was selected to be published…after it is edited. The non-edited story we’d like to share with you is of Philip…

We are able to become most involved in the patients onboard through the Adopt-A-Patient program on the ship. Usually this will involve, selecting a patient for adoption during their stay onboard, from a list provided by Hanneke, a mom onboard, who coordinates this effort for the crew. This particular time, we became involved through the local church we attend.

On Sunday, April 14th, Denise wasn’t feeling well and elected to stay home that morning. This happens infrequently, so I was going to stay home as well. We provide transportation for any crew members who’d like to attend, so I went to check the sign-up sheet. Sure enough one crew member had signed-up to go, so staying home wasn‘t an option. Upon arrival at the church, Sunday school hadn’t finished yet (the adults are taught in the sanctuary) so I was waiting outside. A visiting Pastor arrived and we began a short introduction, she noticed from my name badge I was with Mercy Ships. She wasn‘t from Monrovia and had experienced some difficulty contacting Mercy Ships in regards to her son.

Phillip (April 2008)Background: Pastor Nelly Wright, a United Methodist Pastor, had adopted a young boy named Phillip who had a cleft lip and palette and his nose had been eaten away by a bacteria. Phillip had been abandoned by his father, after his mother died as he didn’t have time to raise a cursed child. Cyrus, another older child Pastor Nelly had adopted previously, found Phillip wandering around the streets of Monrovia. Cyrus brought him home asking if Pastor Nelly would adopt him as well and she did. In 2005-2006., Phillip had surgery aboard the Mercy Ship Anastasis to rebuild his nose and correct his cleft lip and palette.

Leading to Current Surgery: When Pastor Nelly arrived to preach at New Georgia and met Rob prior to the service, she saw this as a divine moment. She had been trying to contact Mercy Ships, but wasn’t sure how. They had lost the follow-up appointment card for Phillip. During the several years since Phillip’s surgery onboard the Anastasis, Phillip’s nose had begun to droop a little and looked a little like a pug nose. Pastor Nelly wanted to have a follow-up done on Phillip. We exchanged contact information and I agreed if she would call me at the ship on Monday I would try and be a liaison for her regarding Phillip. The photo to the left is Phillip's picture showing his drooping nose and scars from the previous surgery.

Today was a wonderful day for Phillip and his brother Cyrus and will soon be a wonderful day for their Mother. Cyrus and Phillip came to the ship today as directed by their mother. I met them at the gangway and was a little confused, as I was not expecting them. I was expecting a call, so we could work out further arrangements. I did not want to embarrass or inconvenience or be impolite to Cyrus and Phillip, but was a little lost for what to do at first.

I signed them in as my guest, and took them to Denise’s office and asked if she would sit with them in the Café area while I went to the patient coordinator’s office to try and coordinate this effort. She gladly agreed and I went to find the patient coordinator.

Initially, the patient coordinator was not available, but the crewmember I spoke with went to locate her. In short order, she was located and I explained to her the situation and apologized for the short notice. She understood and was glad and willing to assist. I went back to Cyrus, Phillip and Denise in the café and took them to the waiting area on deck three as instructed. The patient coordinator came and asked Cyrus and Phillip some questions concerning Phillip’s complete name, so she could locate the records of his previous cleft lip and palate surgery.

Phillip (April 2008)

She was unable to locate the records, but asked Dr. Gary if he could come and speak with Cyrus and Phillip. He agreed, came out and saw Phillip and remembered him from surgery, he thought in 2005 – 2006 timeframe. He briefly examined Phillip and then went with the patient coordinator and checked the surgery schedule and Phillip is scheduled for surgery next week on Tuesday, April 22nd. He will have to come to the ship with Cyrus on Monday for admission and preparations for the surgery on Tuesday. The hospital stay should be five days.

So all in all, God be praised as all of the necessary people were seen, all of the schedules were in order. Obviously Cyrus, Phillip and Pastor Nelly were following the leading of the Lord and were at just the right place at just the right time and everything worked out. The photo to the right show's Phillip two days after this surgery. He is a very happy boy! As a follow up to this story…Phillip had his surgery and he is doing very well, he was able to leave the ship only 2 days after surgery! He is now back in school and doing well.

We are glad to have been used by the Lord, in this instance and see it as an answer to prayer. My younger brother is suffering with terminal cancer. Without the Lord performing a miracle and healing him, my brother will go home soon. We’ve struggled with the decisions as to, are we to go home, or stay. God has shown us very powerfully that He is using us right here, right now. So we are blessed to be used to bring a blessing.

We also like to update you on Rob’s brother, Ken, and his diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer. Many of you have continued to keep Ken and Kaye constantly covered in prayer since you first heard of his diagnosis. Your prayers are effective and have greatly helped Ken and his wife, Kaye and our entire family during this time. Thank you so much!

Rob, Connie and Ken

Rob was able to fly to Texas June 7th to spend a week with Ken and Kaye. They prayed together, cried together and laughed together. A heavy burden was lifted from Rob’s heart as he and Ken were able to spend many hours together early in the morning, talking and praying together. Rob came away with a new understanding of the love and dedication Kaye has for her husband and to a small degree the effort it takes each day to live with this illness. Ken and Kaye place their trust firmly in the Lord and are confident He is in control. Ken is doing remarkably well considering his diagnosis. We thank God for His hand working in many ways during this time! We continue to pray for complete healing for Ken. In the photo above is Rob, Connie and Ken (the three siblings) celebrating Ken's 53rd birthday!

Twin Cotton Trees

The photo above is of twin Cotton Trees we passed on the way to Buchanan, Liberia! These trees were HUGE as you can see by focusing on the people and cars at the base of the trees! Incredible!

Thank you for your prayers and support, receiving your letters is a real blessing. One of the most recent ones from Stewart Hall, Jarrow, England was most uplifting for us. We met and became friends with Stewart while attending Park Methodist Church in Jarrow. We hope to possibly stop over to Jarrow and visit in January 2009 on our return from Christmas vacation in the USA. The plans are still being made so no promises yet, but just a little something we’d love to do. We were most fortunate to worship at Park Methodist Church during our 18 months in England and they made us feel a part of their family.

We thank each of you for touching our lives by sharing yours with us. May you be blessed today and share these blessings with someone else.

God bless you,

Rob and Denise

Monday, July 07, 2008

Denise, Malcolm and Rob

Denise, Malcolm and Rob
Originally uploaded by MercyWatch.
Malcolm Kelly (#12) is a rookie Wide Receiver for the Washington Redskins! He is visiting the M/V Africa Mercy for a few days before his NFL Training Camp begins.

Malcolm decided before he was drafted in the NFL that he wanted to give back and to a he picked Mercy Ships! He is a great guy and we were able to spend a bit of time with him and his Dad today. His Dad, Moses, came with Malcolm.

Malcolm also brought his trainer, Chip Smith, with him. They will continue to do Malcolm's workouts as he is here. And they will work out with the Liberian Olympic Team athletes. Chip wil also hold some training sessions for the Team's trainers! This is an incredible blessing to them as the trainers really desire to be trained to better prepare the athletes!

It is a joy to have these guys onboard. Thanks... Malcolm Kelly, Chip Smith and Moses Kelly! Watch for Malcolm making some BIG plays for the Redskins! Go SKINS!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Family in June 2008

Family in June 2008
Originally uploaded by MercyWatch
Here's some pics of the family - June 2008 Everyone was having fun as usual and I had asked Rob to take pictures of everyone...since I couldn't go. They did not fully cooperate.. Ha Ha! So here they are! We love them!

(Ryan, Chloie and Averi from Dec 2007) Rob was able to see all of them, but didn't get any pics in June.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rob, Connie and Ken

Rob, Connie and Ken
Originally uploaded by MercyWatch.
The siblings....Rob, Connie and Ken as they celebrate Ken's 53rd birthday in Abilene, Texas! Rob has just returned this week from visiting with his brother, Ken, in Texas and seeing the family in Florida! He really enjoyed his time with Ken and Kaye and was so happy that he was able to go visit for a short time. Thank you so much for all your prayers for Ken and please continue them as he is receiving chemo on the clinical trials and must be fed through a feeding tube. He has good and bad days. Most days Ken's pain is controlled, however, it is really difficult for Kaye on those days that the pain is not controlled so well. She wants to do something to help, but just can't. She must call the hospice nurse for help.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Angie and Pink

Angie and Pink
Originally uploaded by MercyWatch.
Our good friends, Angie and Pink at their home just north of Dallas. Rob was able to have a short visit with them while back in the US. We appreciate them so much and miss them even more!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

2009 - Benin Bound!

Mercy Ships CEO, Sam Smith recently announced that our next field service will be to the Republic of Benin for 10 months beginning in February 2009.

Benin Map

Both Sierra Leone and Benin had been expecting a Field Service, but we can only visit one location and still comply with the programmatic needs of our Team for a 10 month field service. After a thorough analysis, it was determined that Benin offers the best opportunity for maximum success for our Africa Mercy 2009 Field Service. Thankfully, Sierra Leone will continue to receive hope and healing through New Steps and the Mercy Ships West Africa Fistulae Centre in Aberdeen.

Guinea has been selected for our 2010 Africa Mercy field service and we are analyzing other nations for 2011. We are well on our way toward our goal of a three-year deployment plan.

We will continue here in Liberia until December 2008 as we complete our 10 month field service.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Our website is up! Please visit

Mercy Watch
Hello Friends,

As promised, Denise has been working hard on getting the website up and running again. Our initial progress can be seen on the Home Page and on the News Letter Page. The other Menu Links are still under construction. One of the features added to the Home Page is an RSS Feed to our blog. You can click on this link and subscribe by selecting the reader you would like to use. You will automatically receive any updates to our blog. We are blessed to have access to the internet and realize that although it seems slow at times it works and is faster than snail mail.

Thank you for your patience with us as we rebuild.

God's blessings,
Rob and Denise