Invitation to tour Tauranga’s medical aid ship

The YWAM KOHA is berthed next to the Tauranga Harbour Bridge. Photo: John Borren.

Tauranga’s very own medical aid ship welcomes locals on board for a free tour this weekend and next before it begins delivering desperately-needed health care to remote Pacific Island villages.

“We had planned to host three open days on the ship back in March but had to cancel the third day due to lockdown,says YWAM Ships Aotearoa Managing Director Marty Emmett.

“There was a great response from the first two open days, with close to 500 people taking the opportunity to tour the KOHA, so we’re thrilled we can welcome more people on board this month.”

The M/V YWAM KOHA is a 48-metre former cargo vessel that was given to Christian humanitarian organisation YWAM Ships Aotearoa - Youth With A Mission - in March 2019. Thanks to generous donations from Bay of Plenty churches, businesses and individuals, along with others nationwide, she is set to sail in mid-April 2021.

Marty says many volunteers have worked on the vessel since late January to help prepare it to serve as a medical aid ship. Professionals such as engineers, electricians and qualified skippers have donated more than $1 million worth of services and more than $500,000 has been raised in cash. But a further $350,000 is needed by March 2021 before the ship can deploy.

YWAM Ships is keen to hear from any medical and dental volunteers who would like to be involved in future missions.

YWAM Ships Aotearoa Managing Director Marty Emmett. Photo: John Borren.

“Pre-COVID we had several medical volunteers signed up to serve but most of them were internationals,” says Marty.

“Most still want to serve in 2021 but what’s unknown is whether they can travel into the Pacific. We are assuming that this will not be possible next year, and as such we are working on recruiting from just New Zealand and the Pacific. We have had a lot of interest from doctors, nurses and dentists to come and serve on the ship.”

Assuming finances are in place and border and travel restrictions have been eased, YWAM Ships hopes to initially send the ship to the Solomon Islands. Discussions are also underway with Vanuatu’s government to arrange a visit there.

YWAM KOHA had planned to deploy in May this year but Marty says delays caused by COVID have been a blessing in disguise.

“It has allowed us to move work on the ship that was scheduled to be undertaken over the next two to four years into this year. By the time the ship deploys in 2021, she will be set up to serve safely and at maximum capacity for the next decade.”

Two shipping containers stowed on YWAM KOHA’s deck have now been converted into mobile dental clinics while a third – donated by Tauranga’s Lifezone Church – is in the early stages of being refurbished into an ophthalmology container thanks to an offer from another local couple. “This will enable us to conduct cataract surgeries on the ship which is a huge need in the isolated regions of the Pacific,” says Marty.

“Most of the work we do is in the villages themselves. We anchor close to shore and can then provide primary health care, such as vaccinations, oral health checks, eye examinations, and follow on surgeries if required. The Pacific Islands are the most geographically challenging islands on planet Earth. The vast majority have no airstrips and no bridges connecting them so the only way to reach them is via ship.”

The plan is to spend about seven months a year serving in the Pacific and then return to New Zealand. The ship is currently berthed at Vessel Works beside Tauranga Harbour Bridge and people can visit this weekend by heading to 6 Den Place where parking is available.

The public are invited to visit the YWAM KOHA this weekend, November 7 and 8, or the following weekend, November 14 and 15, between 1pm and 4pm.

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