Toastmasters Serve the Poor on Mercy Ship

Toastmasters Serve the Poor on Mercy Ship

Floating hospital benefits from its crew's
improved communication skills.

By Mike Osborne

Photo Caption: Toastmasters meet aboard the floating
hospital Anastasis, where they practice skills to help them
in their volunteer service for the poor.

The meeting room rocked gently back and forth as Toastmaster Winnie Dray stepped up to the podium. As she called the chapter to order, Dray had to speak up to be heard over the rumble of motors, generators and pumps. But no one thought the distractions all that unusual. This was the first at-sea meeting of the Mercy in Africa Toastmasters Club aboard the Mercy Ships floating hospital Anastasis.

“There’ve been Toastmasters serving onboard the Anastasis since the 1990s,” says club Vice President for Education Andre Cronje. “But there were never enough of us onboard to form a club.”

Never enough because Mercy Ships crewmembers are volunteers who come and go from all over the world. Some serve as long-term “career” volunteers, but many serve only short-term stints. With a large part of the crew turning over every few months, it proved difficult to form a club. This past fall, however, four veteran Toastmasters were serving onboard at the same time and decided to give it a try.

“We were in Ghana and there’s actually a Toastmasters club in [the capital city of] Accra,” Cronje recalls. “So we went to visit their club a few times. Then we invited their club to the ship. They came and did a demonstration meeting and we invited all the crew. People started to sign up and in the end we had enough to charter a club.”

Those crew members hail from more than 30 nations, making the Anastasis a sea-going global village. In addition to the medical staff, there are plumbers, bakers, engineers, janitors, welders, deck hands, dish washers, cooks, security officers, and even a hair-dresser.

“I think our club’s multi-cultural makeup is unique,” Cronje says. “Our Toastmasters club has people from all over: Canadian, American, South African, Jamaican, someone from Togo, the UK and Germany. We have quite a few nations represented.”

“I also don’t think there are other clubs where the members live where they meet. In most clubs people go to their homes. In our club we live together, we work together, we eat together. We do everything together and now we also do Toastmasters together,” he says.

The Anastasis Toastmasters club met on the evening of February 26 as the ship sailed along the coast of West Africa headed for her next assignment; a nine-month field service to the war-torn nation of Liberia. Crewmember Nicole Austin got things started with a topic of interest to anyone spending time at sea: modern-day pirates.

“While we were in our last port in Ghana I actually had an opportunity to go patrolling for pirates,” Austin explained. “The port has boats that go out and patrol around the ships at anchor. Pirates will come along and blackmail the ships for fuel or money. In 2005, just in the first three months, there were actually 61 incidents of piracy reported worldwide.”

Crewmember Sherry Carpenito followed up with a speech on the psychology of communication, a subject of more than passing interest to people working daily in another culture.

Carpenito observed: Communication in this environment opens the doors for understanding, for breaking down barriers; personal barriers, cultural barriers and social barriers. We step beyond these barriers to form relationships.”

Mercy Ships veteran Keith Brinkman gave the third and final presentation. He urged his fellow crewmembers to take the time to learn at least a few words in the local language wherever the ship dropped anchor.

“We come into a country as guests,” Brinkman noted. “Most anyone will tell you that they appreciate your being willing to learn at least some of their language. They appreciate that you’ve made the effort.”

Club VP Education Andre Cronje believes Toastmasters is instrumental in helping the crew of the Anastasis carry out their vital mission. “There are a number of people in the club who represent the ship at various events where they have to speak publicly. It improves their ability not only to speak in public but to put speech material together. In the end it boosts people’s confidence.”

Ultimately, however, Toastmasters’ most valuable contribution to Mercy Ships may be to help a multi-national crew – a crew living in tight quarters and facing a challenging assignment – work together in harmony.

Cronje says, “We really get to know people on a different level than we would normally. In their ice-breaker speech, [club members] have to introduce themselves, so that’s already interesting. They bring their personal interests to the club that we probably wouldn’t have known about otherwise. It’s quite a lot of fun.” 

Mike Osborne is a writer in the communications department onboard the Anastasis. Reach him at

Editor’s Note: To learn more about Mercy Ships, visit

About Mercy Ships
Founded in 1978 as a global charity, Mercy Ships alleviates human suffering by delivering world-class medical and development services directly to the poor. The Mercy Ships are crewed by volunteer professionals from around the world. Doctors, dentists, nurses, community developers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers and many others donate their time and skills to the effort. More than 2,000 career and short-term crew from 40 nations serve with the charity each year.

Mercy Ships has performed more than 1.5 million services, with a value of $600 million and has directly impacted nearly two million people. Examples include treating more than 200,000 people in village medical clinics, performing more than 26,000 surgeries and 162,000 dental treatments, and completing more than 800 construction, agriculture and water development projects.