Ship to shore: Mercy Ships, healing and faith along the southern West African coast

Lange, Isabelle; (2016) Ship to shore: Mercy Ships, healing and faith along the southern West African coast. PhD thesis, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. DOI:

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In Benin in mid 2004, radio stations began announcing the forthcoming arrival of a Christian hospital ship. It was going to dock in the country’s main port in Cotonou and provide free surgeries for hundreds of people over a period of four months. Presenting the first ethnographic account of Mercy Ships, this dissertation provides a lens for reflecting on the ever-growing number of faith-based organisations in West Africa. This dissertation addresses the following questions: does sought-out contact with the services and environment of this hospital ship change people – both patients and crewmembers – and the way they live, think about and understand their lives? In those circumstances when changes occur, how do they come about? By addressing these questions, this dissertation contributes to a body of work in the anthropology of faith, healing, medical humanitarianism and international development. It not only explores the personal value and meaning for people volunteering with and treated by this faith-based organisation, but it also explores how the hospital ship is enacted and experienced, and how, perhaps surprisingly, it is both the lives of the crewmembers as well as the patients that are changed, as they project their faith and visions of lives well lived onto their ship experience. The promise of the ship as a catalyst for change in the imaginations of crew and patients; the blend of medical and social care on board; the perseverance through physical and emotional challenges; and the separation of the ship from land all blend to create powerful encounters that shape their experiences. These encounters demonstrate how the act of faith can become a form of healing, and likewise, how healing can create and strengthen faith. Throughout their journeys, patients and volunteers grapple with their faith which is intimately intertwined with their physical, social and spiritual well-being.

Item Type: Thesis
Thesis Type: Doctoral
Thesis Name: PhD
Contributors: Chandler, Clare (Thesis advisor);
Faculty and Department: Faculty of Public Health and Policy > Dept of Global Health and Development


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