LONDON – Mercy Ships founders Don and Deyon Stephens have received an award for the life-saving work of their medical ministry.
The husband and wife team were presented with the Variety Club International Humanitarian Award by Prince and Princess Michael of Kent at a glittering ceremony in London Tuesday night. Previous winners of the award include Sir Winston Churchill and Audrey Hepburn.
Judy Polkinhorn, executive director of Mercy Ships UK, lauded the founders saying, "30 years ago, Don and Deyon had a dream to help the poorest people in the world – and they went out and did it. They have helped literally thousands of people and Mercy Ships UK is rightly proud to be part of their international vision."
In the 30 years since its founding, Mercy Ships has sailed to 70 countries and provided medical care to more than two million poor people.
Thousands of free onboard surgeries have transformed the lives of people suffering from conditions that are easily treatable in wealthy countries, including large benign tumors, cleft lips and palates, flesh-eating noma, cataracts and obstetric fistula.
In addition to offering surgery and dental treatment, Mercy Ships crew members have also completed more than 1,000 community development projects in the areas of water and sanitation, education, infrastructure development and agriculture.
Commenting on the award, Don Stephens said, "In challenging economic times which affect us all, the world's poorest suffer even more. Twenty percent of newborn babies will not live to the fifth birthday, largely due to preventable disease. The average lifespan of women where our ships serve is 46 years. Medical care, both primary and surgical, are scarce commodities and when they do exist are often far beyond the financial reach of the poor."
"Mercy Ships offers hope and healing to the world's poorest. On behalf of the world's poor and our dedicated professional volunteers, it is an honour to be considered for this award," he added.
Deyon Stephens commented, "Living on board the first mercy ship with our four children for 10 years was an experience rich in significance, adventure, adversity and satisfaction.
"Mercy Ships has now seen 30 years come and go. Millions of the world's most needy have now felt the compassionate and healing hands of those serving onboard."
Mercy Ships' current ship, the Africa Mercy, spent seven years in Newcastle being converted from a rail ferry into the world's largest charity hospital ship and is now serving the people of Benin.