Healing Waters

by Carol Crenna

Chelsea Kanstrup (BCom ’12) is in for the long haul. Three years ago, Kanstrup started with the privately -funded charity Mercy Ships as a cooperative student. After graduating, her dedication and passion were recognised and she was hired as director of Donor Relations.  

In fact, working in non-profit management was one of her goals when choosing UVic’s BCom program. Business Class caught up with Kanstrup to find out about Mercy Ships and why she decided to embark on the voyage.

What Does This Organization Do?

Mercy Ships is a privately-funded charity that sends hospital ships with medical teams to impoverished countries to provide free medical care, physician training, and community support. It has 16 global offices including Mercy Ships Canada, based in Victoria. Its Africa Mercy is the world’s largest charity hospital ship, staffed by 1,600 volunteers from around the world.  

How Has It Made a Difference?

In existence for 35 years, Mercy Ships has treated 572,000 patients in 54 countries, conducted 67,000 surgeries, delivered services to over 2.42 million, valued at over $1 billion. It serves people free-of-charge without regard for race or religion.

Why Was It Launched?

Mercy Ships was started by an American Christian group to serve the estimated one billion people who lack basic healthcare, particularly in Africa, where 50 percent of the population has no access to a doctor. The organization deemed that a ship is the most efficient platform to deliver a state-of-the-art hospital because 75 per cent of the world’s population lives within 150 kilometres of a port city.

What Results Have You Seen?

When in Congo, I saw a blind mother being led by her young daughter to the ship to have cataract surgery. After surgery, she regained her sight, which resulted in her daughter attending school, no longer having to care for her mother, and her mother getting a job to support the family and become a better community member.

I witnessed one-on-one training. In Congo, a doctor from Togo came for cataract surgery training. Before the instruction, it took him 20 minutes to do each surgery; he performed 400 surgeries per year (in 2010). After training, he could complete the procedure in 10 minutes, and this year he performed 2,000 cataract surgeries. He now voluntarily teaches other surgeons.

What Are You Working On?

My third-party fundraising work includes bake sales, discount coupon books, and collaborating with restaurants that donate money from a menu item purchased — small outlets that have added up to substantial funding over time. We also organize campus networks at 11 universities across Canada with hundreds of student volunteers.

Africa Mercy is heading to Cotonou, Benin, where volunteers plan to do over 2,300 surgeries, treat 18,000 at dental and eye clinics, and train 160 Beninois healthcare professionals.

Why Is Philanthropy Important?

It was instilled in me not to take for granted that I was born a woman within a supportive family within a supportive community within a supportive country. It’s not just right to be philanthropic and help others; it makes you feel good.

What appeals to you about working for Mercy Ships?

I love Mercy Ship’s mission; helping so many individuals in need through surgeries is amazing, yet educating individuals increases the capacity of our efforts, and works to stop the need itself. 

This story, reprinted with permission, originally appeared in Business Class Magazine, a publication of the Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria.