Dedicating her life to giving others sight

After two years aboard Mercy Ships, Chilliwack resident Kathryn Stock has committed to another three years.

Chilliwack resident Kathryn Stock has spent the last two years aboard Mercy Ships

Two years has turned into three more years.

The moment Kathryn Stock became an empty nester in 2012, she cashed in her savings and boarded Africa Mercy.

It was an opportunity, she said, to give back, to be something bigger than herself.

She took a leave of absence from her engineering occupation; it was only supposed to be two years.

Then, she boarded the ship.

“It was the most incredible experience of my life,” she said. “I seriously cannot imagine doing anything else.”

After a short stint in Chilliwack last month, to reenergize and replenish her funds, Stock departed last week for another three years aboard Mercy Ships.

“I think it will be a lot longer,” she told The Progress two days prior to her departure. “If, in the future, it’s not Mercy Ships, I pretty much feel that I would then become a missionary somewhere else in one of these countries.”

It’s the people that’s drawn her in.

Mercy Ships is the largest charity hospital ship delivering free, world-class health care services to impoverished communities throughout the world.

For two years, Stock was aboard Africa Mercy, stationed in Guinea, Togo and the Republic of Congo.

She went from being an engineer in Chilliwack to supervising the on-board ophthalmology clinic. She saw thousands of people with varying eye conditions, people who travelled days in search of the ship, who stood in line for several hours, some they could help, and others they, sadly, had to turn away.

“They could have stood in line for six to eight hours, and they’re still so thankful that we took the time to just look at them,” she said. “There is a level of profound gratitude from the people in Africa; it is simply amazing.”

She’s seen inoperable eye tumours, corneal scars, cataracts, eyes so far gone, the people behind them are near blind, and others simply needing a good pair of reading glasses.

When the bandages come off, her mission is justified.

Every time.

“There’s something about being apart of helping people,” she said. “There’s so much reward inside of me… a richness there that I don’t feel here.”

Like the story of Marcel.

Marcel was once a tailor in Congo, who designed extravagant clothing for French ex patriots as well as the upper echelon of Congo. But when cataracts stole his eyesight, his career was over. For 15 years, the breadwinner was unable to provide for his family.

Aboard Africa Mercy, Marcel underwent cataracts surgery on both eyes.

“We were able to give back near perfect vision of his eyes,” said Stock.

With his sight returned, Marcel determined to open a small tailor shop where he’d reacquire his skills, and start providing for his family once again.

“It will change his whole family’s life,” Stock said. “That, to me, is incredible because it gives something back that was so valuable before.”

It hasn’t always been easy. Turning away hopefuls, telling them there is nowhere in Africa they can go for help is gut wrenching. As is, the yearning to see her son back home in Chilliwack.

But, it’s her calling.

“I feel like I’m supposed to be there,” she said. “I want to be true to that. I want to see the people who come before me and I want them to know that someone cares, that even if I can’t help them, I want them to know that I care.

“I believe, if I could do my life all over again, I would want to be doing this.”

kbartel@theprogress.com

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