BUNDABERG nurse Rinnah Fry has just returned from a two-month stint as a volunteer serving on the world's biggest charity hospital ship moored in the western African nation of Togo.
Global charity Mercy Ships operates the 16,000-tonne Africa Mercy, which provides about 7000 free life-saving surgeries each year in some of the poorest and most undeveloped nations in the world.
Miss Fry, 32, responded to an urgent call for nurses for the Togo assignment.
"When that call came, I thought I would see if it was possible to get time off work. It all fell into place," she said.
It was not an entirely new experience for the Bundaberg Hospital nurse, who has 10 years experience behind her, having served with Mercy Ships in Liberia in 2006.
The fully-contained ship can moor off any country and operate like any modern hospital, with six operating rooms. The vessel is staffed by volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses and other healthcare professionals as well as 15 ex-British Army Gurkhas providing security.
"Volunteers come from all over the world including Canada, the United States, Germany, and New Zealand. There were about 26 Australians," Miss Fry said.
Volunteers must cover the cost of getting to the ship and pay $180 a week for food and accommodation.
Miss Fry said she would recommend the experience to others.
"Not only will it change someone's life, but you will be pleasantly surprised at how it will change you," she said.
"As I worked among patients, removing a dressing, giving medication, I always heard them singing.
"It was a common African song of praise: 'My God you are wonderful, my God you are excellent'."
Miss Fry said she cared for patients recovering from a range of different operations.
"I had to learn to work with translators and to cope with patients' care givers who slept under the hospital beds," she said.
"We are so privileged in Australia, and really don't have any idea of the desperation of so many Africans needing help."