by Anne Buckland
Come On Board – Introducing a hospital ship to the world
The coming weeks are a very special season for the Mercy Ships community. Not only is the Africa Mercy back in Senegal, with the first patient walking up the gangway just days ago, but the new ship, the Global Mercy is imminently arriving in Rotterdam, to open her doors to the world, for two weeks only.
A large majority of the world’s population does not have the benefit of a nearby hospital or lack the financial means to seek treatment. According to a recent study, 5 billion people do not have sufficient access to essential surgery.Mercy Ships collaborates with governments and the World Health Organization to help respond to this challenge.
The arrival of the Global Mercy in Rotterdam on Saturday (26th Feb) will be a catalyst for a series of physical, hybrid and digital events throughout the coming two weeks that serve to open the doors and stories of Mercy Ships to the world.
The world’s largest civilian-built hospital ship
The Global Mercy is the world’s largest civilian purpose-built hospital ship, and she will soon facilitate hope and healing to those who need it most through the provision of world leading surgery and healthcare. Not only will the Global Mercy facilitate the delivery of surgery, but she will enable a sophisticated programme of training, for the host countries in Africa.
For years, Mercy Ships has valued medical capacity building as an intrinsic part of the work, and the Global Mercy, further enables this work – leaving a lasting legacy of impact and health infrastructure in the host nations.
Comprehensive programme of physical, hybrid & digital events
As if launching a ship was not complicated enough, there have been the ever-changing parameters of the pandemic to consider. This has meant that we did not always know exactly what the regulations would look like, when the day of the launch arrived.
We’ve had to be both meticulously planned, and agile for the coming season. Plus ensure we had a comprehensive exploration of the digital possibilities and tools that could help the event to continue, no matter what.
The build of the ship itself has been over 10 years in the making, and Mercy Ships made the decision a long time ago to launch the ship in Rotterdam in 2022. About 6 months ago, we decided that the event would go ahead, in whatever form was needed – be that physical or digital, or better still, a mix of both, with a healthy dose of hybrid thrown in.
What has transpired, through the challenges of uncertainly, is a huge opportunity to present the ship to the world – not only ensuring that she can welcome physical visitors in Rotterdam, but that anyone, anywhere, can join in this special occasion. Through all the scenario planning, what has come to the fore has been an opportunity to embrace digital platforms, content and tools to bring a tour experience to the world, rather than waiting for the world to come to the ship.
So, over the months before Christmas, as lockdown got worse, our planning for digital tools and experiences increased.
It’s very rare that we get an opportunity to throw open the doors for anyone to experience what life is like in Mercy Ships, as generally the ships are focussed on serving nations in Africa. The remit of this season is strong – we want to ensure that we can use the event to share the vision and impact of Mercy Ships, and ensure that people have an invitation to join the journey.
What has now resulted is an engaging series of hybrid and digital events, that will ensure that anyone can take part, and from anywhere.
The physical tour
In the physical, we have developed the Global Mercy Experience. An immersive tour through key areas of the Global Mercy, showcasing not just the hospital ship itself, but the lives changed and impacted through the work of Mercy Ships. After being transported from Rotterdam to Africa through the first room, the audience will then hear of the amazing story of Bernard and his twin sister Fabiola.
The guests continue through their route, into the Operating Room (one of 6 on board) where they are greeted with a very special experience of the lives changed, through the words of volunteer surgeon Dr Mark Shrime, and the stories of the patients served. They then go on through meeting the crew, into an area that explores some of the fabulous medics that have been trained in host countries, and finally ends with some inspirational words from the founders.
The journey itself is powerful, and as it developed, we were keen to ensure that this season did not end by only impacting the people who could physically make it to the Global Mercy.
Through the development of the project there have been various turns where it looked like numbers would be incredibly limited to the ship, but also, as Mercy Ships has a global audience who would be interested in this work- how could we ensure that as many people could take part as possible? And how could we ensure that the reach of this event far outlasts the two weeks of the physical?
Hybrid tour and events
The development of the physical tour has taken very careful planning for the content and experience created, and we needed to ensure as many people as possible could take part.
Mercy Ships would be nothing without the people who support it, and so it’s been important in this, to ensure that people feel part of something bigger.
We decided that it wasn’t enough to just make a video of the experience, and put it online, we needed to develop something that people can be part of.
This has meant that the team worked extensively to find the right digital tools to host a hybrid experience, and we have created a specific version of the tour that is guided through by a well known Dutch presenter, but that will also be hosted by live tour guides.
These tour guides will greet the guests at the beginning of the tour, and introduce the Global Mercy and the work of Mercy Ships. They will then be available in the chat bar throughout the film, to speak to the guests, and answer people’s questions – ensuring that whoever visits will feel part of a worldwide community, rather than just having an option of a video they can watch at any time.
We will also be using the same software to host hybrid experiences from some of the live sessions on the ship – again ensuring that anyone in the world can take part, and, through the inclusion of live stream community managers, feel part of an overall experience.
The above hybrid tour and events are fantastic, but we also wanted to ensure that people had a way that they could really feel that they were exploring the experience and ship, rather than just watching.
For this we did something ambitious, and I hope that it will last for years to come. We have commissioned a digital 3D built environment where guests can not only walk for themselves the tour route from the comfort of their own home, but they can experience the stories and testimonies shared of lives changed. This digital experience will be available to all who book onto the virtual tour in the two weeks of the event.
It’s an exciting time at Mercy Ships, and we’re looking forward to sharing the powerful stories of lives changed with a wider audience.
Please do be part of the story.
Bookings for the virtual tour can be made through: https://landing.globalmercy.org/en/global-mercy-experience-virtual