How Teacher Upskilled for a Nautical Adventure

Rebekah Wilson teaching on Global Mercy.

Tuesday, 29 Aug 2023

Rotorua teacher Rebekah Wilson is on the nautical adventure of a lifetime, and credits Toi Ohomai for enabling her to upskill before she embarked on this journey.

Along with 640 other volunteer crew members, Rebekah joined the inaugural field service in Africa on the hospital ship Global Mercy®; the newest vessel operated by international, faith-based charity Mercy Ships.

As Technology and Library teacher in the hospital ship’s on-board school, Rebekah’s days are never the same. Her students are the international crew’s children, including two New Zealand families. She teaches classes from preschool to high school graduation, with 48 students in the school.

Before volunteering for a role on Global Mercy, Rebekah was working as a teacher but was also looking for a way to serve a larger purpose with her skills. 

“I also wanted a new challenge and to live in a Christian community.”

Specifically for her role on Global Mercy, Rebekah undertook additional IT studies at Toi Ohomai, adding a Certificate in Information Technology to her teaching credentials. 

“My role on board is running the library and teaching technology and computer skill from primary all the way through to secondary students and I wanted to upskill for those older students. I think the course was very appropriate and useful for that and gave me a wide understanding of the basics of the IT world.”

After joining the teaching staff on the 36,000 gross-tonne ship in the Canary Islands, Rebekah spent the first five months of the year in Senegal, West Africa. The Global Mercy was put through its paces providing free essential surgeries that are normally inaccessible in sub-Saharan Africa. These specialties include paediatric orthopaedics, burns reconstruction, cleft lip and palate surgery, and eye care. Alongside those direct medical services, the Mercy Ships crew strengthen local health care capacity through education, training and advocacy. 

All of this happens in a ‘normal day’ on location in sub-Saharan Africa as the crew children attend school on board, and their parents fulfil their ship roles.    

Rebekah is particularly passionate about making computer technology fun and ensuring that the children don’t miss out on any aspects of their education despite their remote location. 

“I created a few displays for the library starting with Jabulani Day - our dress-up day each semester. Previously the theme was Colours. That day we wore our favourite colour and arranged ourselves in Rainbow order. We also celebrated 100 days of school, something I’d never done with my students back home. In the Primary School, we read 100 books that week! Another week was a triple whammy with Book Week falling on the same week as Anzac Day, Sierra Leone and Togo Independence Day, and Character Dress Up Day!”

While a favourite with the crew children is Lego Coding, Rebekah’s other lessons have included making a B-roll style cooking show competition, using Excel spreadsheets to collate and sort information about places to visit in the students’ home countries, and coding Scratch Animation conversations with block coding.

She added life skills to her students by sharing internet safety tips with younger classes, creating photo stories to help them understand and value different crew roles on board, and designing infographics for the hospital ship community. 

Operating on a Northern Hemisphere schedule, classes have recently begun for the new school year, and the Global Mercy is underway to Sierra Leone - the location of next 10-month field service. 

This West African nation of 8 million people has just 5 general surgeons, and Sierra Leonians have one of the lowest standards of living on earth. The population’s health care needs are dire. 
Rebekah is confident in the part she plays on the hospital ship teaching the crew children. It means their parents can volunteer long-term, providing the professional skills required to deliver medical services. Just a few decks below the school patients, without any other access to the medical help they need, are having their lives transformed. 

“The kids here don’t always have the typical experiences of school back home. But I would say they get different and very rich experiences on board, what a community to grow up in.”

Mercy Ships has a wide variety of volunteer opportunities on board the Global Mercy and her sister ship, Africa Mercy®. From surgeons and nurses, schoolteachers and chefs, to IT professionals and tradies, each crew member contributes to bringing surgical care within reach in the nations they serve.