MADANG, Papua New Guinea — University of the Nations students served as the all-purpose crew and received a crash-course in marine missions this year. The students — who completed three months of classroom instruction at Port YWAM Ships Kona — were in this island nation for a 10-week field assignment to finish their required coursework. They served aboard the m/v PACIFIC LINK, a medical-aid vessel, as it sailed to some of the most isolated parts of northern Papua New Guinea. Iain Kerr, who was captain of the ship for three weeks, said the students were a valuable part of his team.
“I’ve used them to the full and they’ve enjoyed it — especially things like steering the ship” said Kerr, 73, of Australia. “They’ve worked hard. They’re good young people.”
While aboard the PACIFIC LINK, the students carried out key tasks such as keeping anchor watch, keeping gangway watch in port, helping with housekeeping, serving meals and washing dishes in addition to steering the ship. Kerr said having the students as helping hands gave other crew liberty to carry out other significant duties.
“Because the students were helping, we could check equipment, we could do maintenance, we could do other things,” Kerr said. “If they’d not been here, the crew would have stayed up all night. Then they would not have been able to do so much during the day. Everything the students did really helped run the ship.”
The students also participated heavily in the medical-aid work that took place on and off the ship. Brandon Taylor, of Canada, said his personal highlight was assisting with a dental clinic on board. His fondest memory was alleviating the pain of one Papua New Guinean by pulling a bad tooth.
“The best part for me is we were at sail at the time. It’s kind of nice to say I got to pull a tooth on the ship at sea,” Taylor, 21, said. “It was really awesome. I felt really honored to be able to do that.”
Taylor — who estimates he spent about 16 hours assisting with the dental clinics in January — said he had hoped opportunities would arise for direct involvement with health care during the field assignment.
“It was something I was really looking forward to because this is a medical ship and I wanted to learn more about how I could help in the area of health care. I love learning new things, new tactics,” he said.
Katie Wheaton, of the U.S., worked alongside primary healthcare volunteers in February as the PACIFIC LINK reached Karkar and Bagabag islands. The 20-year-old Idaho resident said the experience deepened her understanding of health care in a developing-world context — especially one instance of a patient with a broken wrist.
“It turn out we had a cast that we were able to give him, but if we needed to we would have wrapped some sticks around his wrist and splinted it that way,” said Wheaton, who is trained as an emergency medical technician. “It’s more of working with what you have because the resources aren’t as abundant as they are in Western countries.”
Hannah Burmester, of England, helped with eye and dental clinics, took patients’ blood pressure and filled out paper work. She said the experience of providing health care for people who normally would lack access gave her a new level of gratitude for the luxuries she enjoys back home.
“They’ve never had anything like this. Seeing how grateful they were for just having someone look in their mouth or check their eyes for reading classes — something we take for granted — made me appreciate what I’ve got and what we can give,” Burmester, 19, said.
Capt. Kerr, who teaches at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said the students who served on the PACIFIC LINK are on par with the best he’s seen in terms of character.
“They’re the sort of people you’d be proud of. Their parents can certainly be proud of them. They’re nice young people.”