THE Forrest family of Tathra are heading off this week to spend three years aboard the hospital ship Africa Mercy, off the west coast of Africa.
David will be the principal at the on-board K-12 school, while his partner Justine will be a photographer and will document patients’ stories.
Their children Annabelle and Charlotte will begin Years 11 and 7 respectively, and the family will live in a six-berth cabin on the ship.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime - to be part of something most people don’t get the chance to be part of,” Mr Forrest said.
The Forrests said one of the hardest things will be leaving their daughter Chloe Jane behind, as she is studying nursing at university.
However, she may volunteer on the ship next year.
Mercy Ships is an aid organisation manned by volunteers, which provides free health care to the poorer nations of the world.
There are 450 volunteers on board the 150-metre long ship, representing 35 different nationalities, and around 55 children who attend the school.
The Forrests heard about Mercy Ships around eight years ago, and they were impressed with the work they did and always wondered how they could become part of it.
Mr Forrest has been a teacher at the Sapphire Coast Anglican College for 14 years, and was looking for a change when he applied.
His role is to support the medical staff, as many staff wouldn’t stay on the ship if their children weren’t receiving an education.
He said planning to leave had been an “amazing, emotional rollercoaster” and the family sold all their possessions, so by the time they leave they will only have about two pallets of mainly photo albums in storage, and the bags they take with them to the ship.
“We chose to do that,” he said.
“We have so much that we accumulate that we don’t ever use.
“It’s a good feeling to be de-cluttered.”
Annabelle said she is looking forward to meeting lots of different people from different nationalities, and being able to have connections all around the world.
She said the six-berth cabin will be a change for her, as she likes space.
An approximately 13-metre-long shipping container that has been converted into a swimming pool is on deck, which Charlotte is looking forward to spending time in.
First, the Forrests will spend 10 months docked at a port at Benin where the medical staff will treat patients coming to the docks.
The family will get the chance to explore the country, as they will have the weekends free and Mercy Ships encourages its volunteers to connect with the communities they visit.
Mr Forrest said volunteer organisations around Tathra have been an inspiration for him.
“There’s a great tradition of volunteering in Tathra,” he said.
“People have a desire to do things beyond themselves.”
The family has had lots of support, with old friends and strangers donating to support them on the ship.
They will be starting a blog of the travels at www.lightoninafrica.com where people can find links to donate to their cause.