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THERE are always gasps of amazement when plastic surgeon Tertius Venter shows his before-and-after pictures of surgeries that he and his colleagues do as they travel with their Mercy Ship around the world.
Addressing a joint meeting of Claremont Inner Wheelers and Rotarians, Dr Venter showed something of the work the Mercy Ships medical staff do: reconstructing cleft palates, dental and facial deformities, burn injuries – a huge problem in Africa – and other soul-destroying defects; bringing sight to the near-blind, mobility to cripples, repairing childbirth injuries and offering all the hope and marvels of a first-world hospital.
They also maintain land-based facilities such as an eye clinic in the Transkei, besides training and equipping shore teams to continue the work after the ship has sailed.
Much of their work is done in West Africa, where in some desperately poor countries like Sierra Leone, screening 3 000 to 7 000 patients is all in a day’s work.
After biopsies and assessments, cases that cannot be treated ashore are brought on board where there are five operating theatres, an 82-bed ward, X-rays, CT-scans and qualified nurses. Staff therapists do follow-up work, often over months.
Mercy Ships have done 32 000 surgical operations in the 37 years since the work was founded by Don Stephens, of Y-Wam, Youth with a Mission. The Christian ethos is at the heart of the work – “caring for the whole person, spiritually as well”, says Dr Venter.
The present ship, the 16,500 ton MS Africa Mercy, a former Danish ferry, is at work in Madagascar.
It has a staff and crew totalling 450 – “all volunteers from all over the world and all paying their own way.”
They include 25 families and 50 children, who go to school – up to matric – on board.
The national director, John Rae, thanked Claremont Rotary for its financial support over the past two years.

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George Muller
George Muller
George first  joined Rotary in 1972 in Durban. In 1995 he retired after 42 years of fulltime journalism in southern Africa and UK, most of it spent on the Daily News, Durban, where he was assistant to the editor and daily columnist. He was also a freelance cartoonist, best known for his syndicated pocket cartoon, By George,  which ran for 27 years. He is married to Moonyeen, a pre-primary teacher, and has two daughters and five grandchildren in Cape Town and Durban, where he and Moonyeen  spend up to six months, respectively. He joined Claremont club in 2005.

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