A Norfolk dentist has just returned from volunteering onboard the world’s largest charity hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, in Guinea.

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Run by the international charity Mercy Ships, the Africa Mercy offers free medical care and humanitarian aid to some of the world’s poorest people and is on a 10-month outreach in Guinea.

Although Guinea’s mineral wealth makes it potentially one of Africa’s richest countries, its people are among the poorest in West Africa.

Nick Stolls, who is lead dentist at the Harleston Dental Practice on Redenhall Road, volunteered for two weeks for the first time as part of the dentistry team onboard.

He said: “I was prompted to volunteer by a friend of mine – a plastic surgeon from the Norfolk and Norwich hospital who told me about Mercy Ships and started me on my ‘journey’.

“You get to a point in your life when you realise the skills you have been given are special and should be shared with those less fortunate. Dentistry has given me and my family a wonderful quality of life and it felt right to give something back.

“On the ship, it was incredibly moving to watch some extraordinary maxillofacial surgery on a young girl whose nose had been partially destroyed by TB and was being reconstructed by two inspirational surgeons on the ship late one evening. Also seeing patients coming in to our dental clinic with tumours they have put up with for years but coping with them with dignity and stoicism.

“Mercy Ships make a difference to people’s lives at an individual level – those who are healed; at a family level – where treated family members who had deformations or diseases now don’t have to be sent off into the jungle for fear of the shame they might bring to their family; wider society – the legacy of people from the country where Mercy Ships have worked being trained to continue the work long after the ship has gone; and those who serve – giving us a reality check on the affluent West where we live and those things we take for granted day after day.

“This is definitely not the last time I will volunteer for this wonderful charity. It was an inspirational place to be and has probably been one of the most influential experiences in my life.”

Judy Polkinhorn, executive director of Mercy Ships UK, said: “Volunteers are the lifeline of the charity and without them we simply would not exist. We are extremely grateful to people around the UK, like Nick, who continue to support us.”

The Africa Mercy is staffed by up to 400 volunteers from 40 nations. Volunteers range from surgeons and nurses, to cooks and engineers. It was converted from a Danish rail ferry into a hospital ship with six operating theatres, X-ray facilities and CT scanner, a pharmacy and a laboratory. There is capacity for 78 in-patients with four wards and a small intensive care unit, as well as accommodation for the volunteers.

Founded in 1978, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries, helping in excess of two million people.

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