A 40-year adventure ends for Graeme3 min readReading Time: 2 minutes
Forty years ago, Graeme Walls stood on the Queen’s Wharf and took a giant leap of faith onto a massive 11,000-tonne selfcontained hospital ship.
That giant leap onto the former cruise ship in 1983, has spanned an incredible 40-year career of helping others in 70 different countries all over the world.
Graeme lives in Onehunga, and has just retired as the New Zealand director of Mercy Ships, an international faith-based organisation that operates massive hospital ships to sail around the world and deliver free, world-class healthcare to poorer countries, with little or no access to safe surgical care.
Graeme sailed on board the Mercy Ships for 25 years, and continued working for them at their offices in Penrose, when he reached dry land in 2008. Here, he helped fundraise for thousands of expensive surgeries, recruit volunteers, and raise awareness of their work. He completed his full-time service on 1st July, and will have his retirement function at the end of July.
It’s quite fitting that his function will be held on the 22nd floor of a building overlooking the Queen’s Wharf – the same spot where he left New Zealand shores for the first time 40 years and three weeks ago.
Recalling the first time he set foot on the ship, he says, “I was touched by the concept that an organisation was offering free medical care in developing countries, and after getting a word from God, I immediately signed up. When I walked on board the flagship Anastasis, I knew I was home.”
Graeme initially taught children of the crew on board, then worked in executive leadership roles. He describes the Mercy Ships as ‘small villages’, with the main industry being the hospital.
They have homes for the volunteer crew (captain, surgeons, nurses, teachers, tradies and cleaners) and their families, several operating rooms, hospital wards, dental clinic, radiology, laboratory and pharmacy.
Graeme has so many stories to tell of his adventures, but one puts a huge smile on his face. A chance encounter with a middle-aged man with a severe cleft lip and club foot, in Mexico in 1987, cemented Graeme on board the ship. “The man was shining shoes, and his deformity was so severe that he refused to look anyone in the eye.”
Graeme’s heart went out to the man, known as Rafael, and he took a great deal of interest in the man’s case. ”I saw him after the surgery and he was beaming from ear-to-ear. His smile was so big that it could engulf you. He looked me straight in the eye, and I knew that these kind of surgeries can help transform people’s lives.”
Mercy Ships is also where he met his wife Sharon, who worked in the hospitality side. The couple are so committed to Mercy Ships that they spent four years on board the 16,000-tonne Africa Mercy with their three children for a’ do-good ride of a lifetime’.
Sharon continues to work for Mercy Ships as the communications manager. For more information about Mercy Ships, visit mercyships.org.nz