Nobody has a lucrative job aboard the Anastasis. Each member of the crew pays a monthly fee for the privilege of serving.
Veterans of the ship's most ambitious venture to date - a voyage to Mexico to deliver aid in the aftermath of the 1985 earthquake - agree the intangible rewards of helping others far outweigh monetary considerations.The Anastasis and a smaller companion vessel, the Good Samaritan, recently docked here to raise funds, take on supplies and recruit crew members. Operated by Mercy Ships, an interdenominational Christian organization based in San Pedro, Calif., the two ships provide medical and relief services as well as a message of hope to areas suffering natural disasters or chronic need.
Chief medical officer Dr. Christine Aroney, a general practitioner who left her practice in New Zealand to supervise the operating room and other medical facilities on the ship, says, "I've never felt so fulfilled and satisfied with what I'm doing. A good part of it is being able to transform the lives of people who never thought they had a chance of getting medical treatment."
Dr. Robert L. Dyer, an eye specialist and surgeon, vividly remembers the results of an operation he performed to correct the acutely angled eye of a teenage girl. "When I removed the bandages a few days later, the parents broke out into huge smiles and hugged each other," he says. "It was a powerful moment."
"We're not designed to go speeding to a disaster," explains Heather Choate, director of communications for the Anastasis. "We find it's most effective to go in a few months later, after a place has faded from the news, when people are trying to pick up the pieces and they need housing, medical attention and moral support."
Last year 12 doctors, five dentists, and 30 nurses from the Anastasis treated thousands of earthquake victims at the port city of Lazaro Cardenas on Mexico's Pacific coast. In three months they screened almost 3,000 patients for surgery and operated on about 400, says Aroney.
The ships's doctors specialize in eye surgery, cleft-lip and palate repairs, and reconstructing deformed limbs. Burn experts often fly in for a few weeks to aid in mercy missions. The ship has only one operating room so a great deal of the surgery is performed at local hospitals.
The staff often finds time to share its skills. Nurse Sharon Hughes held a seminar on new intensive-care techniques for 250 Mexican nurses.
The crews of the two ships, representing more than 35 nations, provide a lot more than medical care. The 552-foot-long Anastasis has carried everything from water-purification systems to building materials. "The biggest single items was a fire engine, donated by a group of Los Angeles firemen for the people of Lazaro Cardenas," says Sarah Pannell, coordinator for relief and a native of Zimbabwe.
The Good Samaritan, with a crew of 60, concentrates on smaller ports, mostly in the Caribbean. This summer it will head for Haiti and the Dominican Republic with school supplies and clothing.
The Anastasis will visit Jamaica. "We wanted to go to Nicaragua, too," Mercy Ships Director Don Stephens told National Geographic News Service. "Unfortunately, things didn't work out, but we'll keep trying."
The Anastasis usually carries a crew of 350 to 400 on its missions, and the ship is transformed into a floating town. Children attend school. Adults who aren't doing shipboard chores meet and chat at the ships's bank, beauty salon, post office or small store. A deck in the stern serves as a playground for the 50 to 60 children who are usually on board.