I first knew I wanted to do international development work when I was 20.
Colleen is contributing to the international non-profit organization Mercy Ships, as Manager of Advancement for their Canadian operations. Mercy Ships is an international charity that was founded in 1978, entirely donor run and currently operates a hospital ship, providing free health care, community development projects, community health education, mental health programs, agriculture projects, and palliative care for terminally ill patients.
“It’s like a huge floating city. Not only do we provide surgeries to those who would never gain access, we also build capacity in local medical staff, teaching local nurses and doctors how to perform important checks and procedures that help save lives.”
Colleen’s work as Manager of Advancement of the Canadian office is crucial to its sustainability. Last year the Canadian team contributed just over $2 Million to the $20 million organization.
“For every dollar we raise in donations we can provide three dollars worth of medical care,” she explains, “because all of our medical staff are volunteers from across the world. We help bring modern approaches care into communities that are severely lacking in trained medical staff.”
The surgeries performed on the ship are “life transforming”, Colleen explains, which means that those who may have been ostracized from their communities for looking different, or who were previously unable to work, can return to their homes after surgery in dignity, with new found hopes and abilities.
She shows us an image of a man who lived for nearly 20 years with a 19 pound benign tumor growing from the side of his neck, skewing his jaw and face dramatically.
Mercy Ships also treats cataracts and other eye surgeries, clubfoot, goiters, dental and other non-life-threatening surgeries without which, folks are severely limited in their enjoyment of life, hampered by pain, immobility or loss of sight.
After talking rather seriously about the important work of Mercy Ships, we get a taste of her quirky and down to earth personality. Colleen embodies a quiet humility and compassion, yet she talks about her life path and choices with a power that is clearly mission-driven.
It was at the Swan’s Pub, a Victoria landmark brewing up tasty beers, serving tourists and locals alike, where Colleen found her lifetime friendship circle. “It’s hard to meet people here in Victoria,” she says. “I was lucky though. I’m from Prince George and there was a healthy crew of folks from my hometown here already. I’m still in touch with many of them.”
Her work at Swan’s also funded Colleen’s life-changing solo travels to Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania in 2008, following a dream that first seeded itself when she was still in university, studying International Development at the University of Calgary.
“I first knew I wanted to do international development work when I was 20,” she explains. Although her travels were cut short following a too close for comfort encounter with the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, Colleen persisted in her personal mission to be of service to those most in need.
Colleen is unassuming and soft-spoken, tall and slender, sporting bookish spectacles and an understated grey sweater. Yet when she talks about how her mind and heart were opened in her studies, her travels and her work, we start to see a quiet fire emerge from a deeper place. She has found her calling.
“If I could host a dinner party I would serve pizza to John K. Samson, a Winnipeg based singer songwriter that makes me cry. Miriam Toews the renowned Canadian author, Jonathan Goldstein of CBC’s Wire Tap fame, my husband and my best friend. They give me courage.”
After all, we hug each other farewell after pulling her colleagues outside for a photo with her. Our experience of meeting Colleen and learning about the work of Mercy Ships makes us wonder. Who else is tucked away in this city, quietly doing the good work that we don’t often hear about?
Please get in touch with Colleen to learn more about volunteer opportunities for medical professionals, donation needs or to learn more about the mission of Mercy Ships.