Tradies the “unsung heroes” in medical outcomes

John Clynes onboard in the hospital ship’s engineering stores. Photos: Mercy Ships.

Click the image above to watch the video

The winner of New Zealand’s most deserving tradie will be announced by Resident Builder Peter Wolfkamp on National Tradies Day tomorrow.

International Charity Mercy Ships created the New Zealand-based competition to recognise hard working Kiwi tradies at home, as well as the volunteer tradies who are currently supporting life-saving surgeries on board the hospital ship Africa Mercy berthed in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa.

John Clynes says tradies are the unsung heroes that assist great medical outcomes.

His volunteer work onboard the world’s largest civilian hospital ship Africa Mercy has convinced the Bay of Plenty man that behind the scenes, tradies get the job done to keep a hospital ship running.

For more than two and a half years, John donated his time as the engineering stores manager for the world’s largest civilian hospital ship – Africa Mercy – serving developing nations in West Africa. Clynes’ role saw him interfacing with the fitters and turners, plumbers, electricians and other tradies also volunteering their skills to the cause.

His wife Sue worked below decks with the Mercy Ships operating theatres team providing free reconstructive surgery that was otherwise unavailable in the developing nations Mercy Ships serves.

The couple is of the firm belief that keeping a hospital ship afloat requires a team of skilled technicians from all trades. Only then can life-saving surgeries to take place.

John explains some of the unique challenges facing a tradie on board the Mercy Ship; ‘Just imagine planning all the maintenance parts required for a major site you will need to undertake and carry the stock for a year.

"On top of that, to plan for all the safety gear and consumables required to finish a job for all aspects of every trade.

"On board we need to have in stock electrical, plumbing, electronics, air conditioning, engineering, power generation, refrigeration, appliances products or any other spare part or component."

John says being in a remote location combined with a lack of storage space creates a complex situation.

"I needed to be the eyes and ears of all the tradies on board to understand their needs, and to ensure the planning of scheduled maintenance."

Mercy Ships NZ communications manager Sharon Walls says the high number of tradies who have entered the online competition to date has exceeded expectations, and the organisation is looking forward to rewarding one who most deserves a weekend away.

“We could not provide the free surgeries that transforms the lives of African people without the onboard skills and technical support from our Kiwi tradie volunteers such as mechanics, engineers, plumbers, electricians, and fitter-turners.”

New Zealand first observed National Tradie Day in 2013, but the event which is held on the third Friday in September was founded by Irwin Tools USA to recognise and thank tradespeople who are often society’s unsung heroes.

Mercy Ships was founded more than 40 years ago and has assisted more than 2.7 million people, carried out more than 100,000 surgical procedures, and trained more than 42,000 healthcare workers.

Mercy Ships NZ is one of 17 branches across the globe which recruits volunteers and raises funds to support the Africa Mercy in its field work. It takes volunteer tradies, medical teams, general and technical volunteers on board to carry out life-saving surgery, operating on people living in remote parts of West Africa who do not have access to medical care.


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