The Real Call of the South Pacific
Fiji, Vanuatu, Tahiti, Palau, Tonga, Samoa… Just hearing the names of those islands conjures up travel brochure images of a warm tropical sun setting in the distance over blue turquoise waters, palm trees leaning towards the ocean, luxurious air conditioned hotels and honeymoon getaways nestled on secluded white sandy beaches calling to your inner most desires. As real and appealing as those images may be, there is another calling in the South Pacific that few hear or know about. One that is so far away and remote that our hearts fail to hear and feel with the same intensity and clarity. It’s an urgent call for medical help.
The South Pacific consists of over 20,000 islands spread across 11 million square miles of ocean; with over 85% of the population living on less than 5% of those islands, the remaining population inhabits the thousands of smaller remote islands located hundreds of miles away. Although we might take it for granted, in the South Pacific, there are no roads, power lines, or phone systems to connect the smaller, less populated remote islands to the same services offered on the larger more populated primary islands. Sadly, these remote islands are left without even the most basic of health care services.
Answering the call
Having sailed in the South Pacific, Richard and Stephanie Hackett, the original founders of a non-profit organization called Sea Mercy (www.seamercy.org), witnessed both the incredible beauty and hardships faced by those living on the remote islands. Seeing the need, they began reaching out to the island nations to learn more about the health care initiatives they had for their remote island citizens. The feedback they received moved them to take action. Richard Hackett said this about what they had learned;
“Although the islands nations were striving to build a modern health care infrastructure on their larger, more populated primary islands, there was no service delivery mechanism in place, or funds available to try and connect their hundreds of remote islands to even the most basic of health care services. That was when we learned the reality of the situation there.”
Working directly with the island nation’s health ministry leaders, they learned that these island nations were facing greater challenges than just a shortage of funding and inability to deliver the needed health services to these remote islands, there was a talent drain that left them with a shortage of trained health care staff. With an average yearly income of only $3,000 to $4,000 per year, most of the trained doctors, dentists and nurses are moving to Australia or New Zealand for better pay, leaving the primary hospitals and remote health centers gravely understaffed. The end result is a continual delay in the implementation of their health care infrastructure and initiatives for their remote islands, with most still 5-10 years away at the earliest.
Richard and Stephanie understood that the need was urgent and knew that with the right relationships in place, an organization could stand in the gap to meet those remote island needs.
“Edmund Burke’s famous quote, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing’ kept bouncing around in my head. I realized that if we had a plan that could succeed, health care relationships that we could pull from, and enough initial capital to get things started, to sit back and do nothing would be a triumph for evil. My wife and I decided to move forward with the idea on faith to see what would happen.”
In 2012, they launched a non-profit 501(c)3 organization called Sea Mercy, a growing fleet of “free” Floating Health Care Clinics (FHCC) staffed by US and international based health care volunteers who were willing to answer that call for help. The FHCC is a modified sailing catamaran that carries doctors, dentists, optometrist, nurses, dental assistants, and pharmacy technicians and the necessary equipment and supplies to these remote islands in order to deliver the care, medicines and services desperately needed.
“We selected the sailing catamaran as the delivery platform for the FHCC due to its fuel efficiency, its shallow draft that allows us access to almost any lagoon or shallow harbor, and the more stable and spacious platform it provided for our health care staff than traditional wind or engine powered mono-hull designs.”
The Sea Mercy program is a partnership with the health ministry of each island nation. Each volunteer rotation is joined by local health ministry staff that provide the vital link needed to the local remote island communities, acting as interpreters and cultural liaisons for the Sea Mercy staff and assisting the Sea Mercy teams in the education and training of the local populations in health care practices.
Help is on the way
We anticipated the program could take 2-4 years to gather and deliver the needed volunteer staff, vessels and services needed for the remote island program, but to the response to those needs was so great that the program was launched in 2013 in Tonga, and in 2014 the program was expanded into Fiji. Sea Mercy is currently on track to provide a FHCC program for all 11 of their targeted island nations by 2017, each in desperate need for health care assistance for their large number of remote islands. They are:
- The Kingdom of Tonga (1 primary island, 176 remote islands)
- The Republic of Fiji (2 primary islands, 332 remote islands)
- Solomon Islands (5 primary islands, 900+ remote islands)
- Federated States of Micronesia (4 primary islands, 607 remote islands)
- Palau (3 primary islands, 250 remote islands)
- Vanuatu (2 primary islands, 81 remote islands)
- The Marshall Islands (1 primary island, 34 remote islands)
- Kiribati (1 primary island, 32 remote islands)
- The Cook Islands (2 primary islands, 13 remote islands)
- The Mariana Islands (1 primary islands, 14 remote islands)
- Tuvalu (1 primary island, 8 remote islands)
Please join us in answering this call!
Heroes are answering the call, but the South Pacific can always use a few more heroes.
If you are interested in learning more about our programs, joining us on a medical mission team to the remote islands of Tonga, Fiji or other South Pacific island nations, then please visit our website ( www.seamercy.org ) or follow us on Facebook. You can also email me directly at email@example.com and we can schedule a time to discuss your thoughts and suggestions.
All the best to you and we hope to see you in the South Pacific!
Richard A Hackett Jr.
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