An Aberdeen grandmother has signed up for her eighth mission transforming lives aboard a hospital ship in Africa.
Moira Munro, 69, made her first voyage in November 2004 and was “petrified” about what she’d let herself in for.
But the retired Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital nurse soon found the rewards of the role, and returned again and again.
She’s now packing her bags in preparation for yet another trip on one of Mercy Ships’ charity vessels.
‘What on earth am I doing?’
Moira first heard of the charity’s work while listening to a radio programme on the drive home from a late shift in 2004.
That November, just a few months later, she found herself in Benin, west of Nigeria, volunteering at the Anastasis hospital ship.
“I thought: ‘What on earth am I doing?’,” she said.
“When I looked out of the window, there were no streetlights. I knew no-one. I was petrified.”
‘It changed their lives completely’
However, Moira soon befriended a German girl sharing her cabin, and took on a wide range of roles on the ship.
“All the days I was a nurse, what people had to suffer in Africa was beyond my understanding,” she said.
“I remember early on seeing these two teenage boys, who had come in with cleft lips.
“They were looking at the mirror in our hands and their reaction was like nothing I had seen before.
“Such a simple operation can change their lives utterly – something we at home take for granted.”
‘It’s incredible to see the transformation’
Since that trip Moira has volunteered for Mercy Ships in Madagascar, Cameroon and Senegal.
And after retiring as a nurse, she has taken on other roles, such as dental care assistant and housekeeper.
“People come in with huge tumours and cataracts – they literally come in blind and then they leave and they can see,” she added.
“It’s incredible to witness, to see their expressions and feel the transformation.
“Their lives actually begin again. It never gets old.”
But some of the patients Moira has seen have become so ill, they have to be sent straight to hospital.
She said: “There are literally hundreds queueing and have never seen a dentist.”
“There would be four or five dentists and they could manage about 60 patients a day and have to turn the rest away, which is so hard.”
Volunteering at home
Last month, Moira returned from the Global Mercy, the charity’s newest hospital ship, helping prepare it for a trip to Senegal in 2022.
And she won’t be home in Aberdeen for long, as she departs again for her eighth trip with the organisation in January.
While most people might relish the downtime as a chance to relax, that’s not in Moira’s nature.
For the last 19 years, she has been volunteering with north-east charity Somebody Cares.
She’s also helped out with litter picking, fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support and lending a hand at Westhill Community Church.
“I have to be doing something all the time,” she said.
“I want to help. I think it’s part of who I am, so I do.”