Tathra Forrest family’s busy, but rewarding journey on Africa Mercy

Charlotte, Justine, David and Annabelle Forrest pictured in 2014 as they prepared to head off to spend three years on board floating hospital Africa Mercy.

Charlotte, Justine, David and Annabelle Forrest pictured in 2014 as they prepared to head off to spend three years on board floating hospital Africa Mercy.

The Forrest family of Tathra has reached the halfway point in its three-year commitment on the hospital ship Africa Mercy, based in Madagascar off the west coast of Africa.

According to Dave Forrest “everything is going extremely well” for him, his partner Justine and their children, Annabelle and Charlotte.

Mr Forrest is principal of the K-12 on-board school, while Justine photographs and documents patients’ stories. The two girls are at school.

“It's been very busy, but very rewarding for all of us,” he said.

“The girls are enjoying school and achieving good results. Justine has been learning Malagasy and French and as a result she is connecting with the people she photographs in new and amazing ways.”

Mr Forrest quotes Nelson Mandela who said "if you speak in a language that somebody understands, you speak to their head, if you speak in their language you speak to their heart". 

Justine, said Mr Forrest, “is really connecting with the patients’ hearts”.

“She surprised herself recently by translating an English kids’ storybook into Malagasy and reading it to a young patient.

“The nurses where amazed as the little girl smiled and engaged with her in Malagasy.

“Her photos are capturing the process of hope and healing that takes place daily on this ship.”

Each two weeks Justine photographs the “Dress Ceremony”, when the women who have had fistula surgery go home.

This is considered a very special day as some of these women had lived with this condition for more than 10 years, with many considering suicide due to the social shame of constant leaking.

“It was a huge privilege for Justine to be part of the event and photograph it.”

Mr Forrest is kept very busy running the school.

“It is constant, but I have a great bunch of teachers form Europe and the USA who work well together.

“They love the students who are from 11 different nations and range from Nursery to Grade 12.”

The school has three graduating Grade 12 students this year; one each from Norway and the US together with Mr Forrest’s daughter Annabelle.

Charlotte Forrest, 13, is in a class of five students from five different countries.

“Presently I am interviewing for new teachers for next year,” Mr Forrest said.

“It's kind of fun interviewing people via phone from all over the globe.

“At the moment I’m interviewing teachers from the Cayman Islands, St Petersburg, Moscow and Miami.

“I would love to interview any Australian teachers interested in joining us next year. They can check the opportunities at http://apply.mercyships.org.”

The Forrest family have had great support from the Bega Valley and very thankful to them.

“As we are volunteers any support we get we are very grateful for,” Mr Forrest said.

People can follow the Forrests’ blog at  www.lightoninafrica.com to get regular updates of what they are doing and details on how to support the family.

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