Like anyone who goes on a cruise, I packed very carefully, but my cruise was different to most. I was headed to Solomon Islands where I’d booked a berth on Medisonship 3, which was set to embark on its regular two-week medical tour of remote islands in the Western Province. One of a fleet of five boats, the operations of Medisonship 3 are coordinated by Sonship, a Christian healthcare charity founded by an Australian/Solomons partnership 12 years ago. With experience in business, administration and communication, some in other parts of the South Pacific, I’d recently accepted the responsibility of managing the Medisonship program; now I would see what I was getting myself in for.
Medical supplies were picked up in the dusty, sticky capital, Honiara, and then it was a small 12-seater plane for the bumpy flight to the airstrip that services the regional capital, Gizo. It was a relief to see a small break in the clouds and, while the plane was buffeted by strong winds, the skilful pilot was able to drop down and land us on the runway.
There was a cyclone brewing further out in the Pacific and the sky was heavily overcast on the day of our departure. The 9.9-metre motor-catamaran is equipped with four bunks and two double beds and was taking two nurses to remote villages to offer free medical treatment. On board was the captain, the engineer, the two nurses, another Australian lady and myself. Despite the tropical low the swells weren’t too bad as we left Sonship headquarters at Meresu Cove on the mountainous, jungle-wreathed island of Kolombangara. After refuelling and picking up supplies at Gizo, Medisonship 3 continued on its way to pick up the chaplain at his village.
While we were waiting for the chaplain to board, a young man paddled over and asked if the nurses could visit a sick boy in a nearby village. Of course, they were happy to make a house call and prepared a bag of supplies to take ashore. When they entered the home, they were sobered by the sight of a 15-year-old boy and his hugely swollen knee. He had been sent home from hospital after being diagnosed with bone cancer—there was nothing more they could do for him. The mother asked if a haemoglobin count could be done, but, unfortunately, we were not equipped with that technology. Instead the nurses offered pain relief and the chaplain prayed with the family. It was a very quiet group who returned to Medisonship 3 to continue the journey.
We arrived at the first village officially on our itinerary too late in the evening to hold a clinic. Everyone prepared their own meal and our “on board entertainment” was worship songs in four-part harmony. After that we decided for an early night.
The weather was worsening. While it had only been sprinkling in the afternoon, it began to rain harder and harder. It poured all night and the beds and bedding got wet. It was still pelting down in the morning. In fact, it was raining so hard it was difficult to see the shoreline. At about 11 am the rain subsided and the nurses were able to go ashore to prepare for the clinic. People began arriving soon afterwards and the nurses were busy diagnosing and providing medications.
The clinic was held in the nearly completed Seventh-day Adventist church building. The villagers are so appreciative of the Medisonship clinics held each month that their attitude has become positive towards the Adventist faith of its team—30 to 40 people now attend worship each week.
While the nurses were busy treating patients a box of secondhand spectacles was brought out. There was no optometrist or consultation. Instead, those with eye problems began fishing through the box, trying the glasses on. One man who was there said he hadn’t been able to read for years. His pile of tried and discarded glasses was getting bigger and bigger. Then, after going through approximately 40 different glasses, he picked up a thick pair and tried them on. He looked at the book he’d been given and a huge smile broke out across his face, “I can see the words, I can read again, they make everything clear!” The delight on his face made my day.
Several children’s Bible story books and Bibles were given out. Those fortunate enough to receive a book clearly treasured it. One mum wanted a book for her little boy and waited for more than an hour and a half while someone went back to the boat to get it. I think she was more pleased to receive it than her little boy!
Later that afternoon, as the village children played in the light rain, we waded through ankle deep puddles left over by the downpour to take clothes to people in need. Our meal that evening was prepared on the boat and afterwards we returned to the village to show a Christian kids’ video and hear a Bible story told in Pijin English of David and his battle with the giant Goliath. The day finished with singing and worship and then we crawled into our still-damp beds (those of us fortunate enough to have a bed—the men slept on the floor).
My first “cruise” was amazing. I saw lush tropical islands. I met friendly, beautiful people. I saw dedicated nurses making lives better for people living in remote villages. I saw the difference a pair of glasses makes for someone who hasn’t been able to read. I saw people’s joy in owning a book. I saw a boy struggling with serious illness without adequate medication. I saw compassion and caring from the nurses and staff. I saw medical work opening doors and providing opportunities to spread God’s love.
Glenda McClintock is the new manager of Sonship. To find out more about Sonship’s work in Solomon Islands, visit <sonship.org.au>.