Posted by Ellen Krafve - email
Released by Pauline Rick with Mercy Ships:
GARDEN VALLEY, TX - The founders of the world's largest hospital ship charity were honored with a humanitarian award at a glittering ceremony in London last night.
The annual Variety Club International Humanitarian Award, whose previous winners include Sir Winston Churchill and Audrey Hepburn, was given to Don and Deyon Stephens who founded Mercy Ships in 1978.
It was in that year the couple had a dream to find a ship, equip it as a hospital, fill it with volunteer crew and sail round the world providing life saving medical care to the poorest of the poor.
30 years later, Mercy Ships has completed over 560 port visits in 53 developing nations and 17 developed nations providing medical care and humanitarian services valued at more than $748 million, impacting 2.16 million people.
The international charity has treated more than 230,000 people in village medical clinics, performed more than 41,000 operations such as cleft lip and palate, cataract removal, straightening of crossed eyes, orthopaedic and facial reconstruction. They have treated over 79,000 dental patients with more than 206,000 dental procedures performed and completed over 1,058 community development projects focusing on water and sanitation, education, infrastructure development and agriculture.
Speaking about receiving the Humanitarian Award, Don Stephens said, "In challenging economic times which affect us all, the worlds poorest suffer even more. 20% of newborn babies will not live to the fifth birthday, largely due to preventable disease. The average life span of women where our ships serve is 46 years. 3,000,000 women in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from obstetric fistula in nations whose GDP translates to families living on less than a dollar per day. 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 honor to be considered for this award."
Previous winners of the Humanitarian Award include Sir Edmund Hillary, Sir Alexander Fleming and Dr Albert Schweitzer, with last night's award present to the Stephens by TRH Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
Deyon Stephens added, "Living on board the first mercy ship with our four children for ten 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.
Staffed entirely by volunteer crew, the ship provides a wide range of free surgeries including maxillo-facial (usually the removal of large benign tumors), cleft lip and palate, flesh-eating noma, release of burn contractures, cataracts, obstetric fistula, and orthopaedic issues.
Mercy Ships CEO Sam Smith said, "Don and Deyon Stephens have an incredible vision to serve the forgotten poor of the world and have tirelessly worked for over 30 years to make this vision a reality. The impact of their work has been felt the world over and people are alive today thanks to the great work provided by Mercy Ships volunteers. Currently, our flagship,