Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

At a young age, Florence Bangura was barred from working and married off by her father.

But the adversity may be the reason the 49-year-old from Sierra Leone is today the embodiment of what International Women’s Day is all about.

She has earned the nickname ‘Iron Lady’, and her strength has been forged by a lifetime of refining challenges. Now she helps women like her to carve their professional lives.

At 29, she joined international charity Mercy Ships as a welder on board the very first Mercy Ships hospital ship, the Anastasis after only having been professionally certified for a week and she had not looked back. It was also only a week after the ship had been officially certified.

Today, Florence’s history with Mercy Ships spans 20 years, covering two countries, three ships, and four field services.

“When I am on the ship, it is like I am just 18 years of age. There is nothing too hard for me,” she said from her home in Sierra Leone, where the floating hospital is currently docked. “They call me ‘Iron Lady’.” 

But she knows her determined spirit is what has carried her through.

“I faced a lot of terrible problems in my life,” she reflected.

After being married off and barred from working – Florence sought purpose in education.

Civil War

This prospect was upended by the outbreak of the Sierra Leone Civil War in 1991. However, Florence found new hope in 2000 when she enrolled in a welding school. She was finally set to graduate in 2003 but could hardly afford to have shoes on her feet then, much less the gown required to attend the graduation ceremony. 

It was then that Florence first crossed paths with Mercy Ships, meeting a group of volunteers who encouraged and supported her journey toward graduation and even attended the ceremony to cheer Florence on.  

She later came on board the Africa Mercy® during its next service in her country in 2011, and in 2018 returned to the ship while it was docked for field service in the neighboring sub-Saharan nation of Guinea. 

Florence’s journey from oldest to newest Mercy Ship came full circle when she met the Global Mercy in 2023, the same year that the purpose-built hospital ship began welcoming its patients on board. Here, she took on a new role as a hotel engineering assistant. 

Long Way

“She came a long way from when she was a young girl,” Mercy Ships chief engineer Irik Mallie explained. The Canadian volunteer only met Florence on the Africa Mercy years later, but he had heard her origin stories. Supervising her work, Irik found, “This is not somebody that you have to urge on. She does it because she wants to.” 

Florence moved throughout the department over the years, working with volunteers from across the world. “Over 40 nations, we come together. We work in the same place. We are all one family, and you have your own talents, I have my own—we put it together.” She revealed, “I learned a lot, and if you work with Mercy Ships, you will learn a lot.” 

Sharing Skills to Help Others Grow 

Between field services with Mercy Ships, Florence took odd jobs in other fields until she found another passion: managing a farm. In a village upcountry without a hospital, school, or shops, Florence’s mission is to support the isolated community through sustainable development.

She said: “I help them because I really love to help people, even though I don’t have [much myself],” she said. “I will equip others. I will train others so that they also will do something in the future. That’s my goal.” 

Florence holds this mentality on the ship as well, where she is recognized as a leader among her colleagues.

She explained: “When somebody is coming up, trying to do something, if you have the opportunity, help that person. Maybe it will be better for the whole world tomorrow.” 

Especially important to Florence is fostering opportunities of growth for other women.

 “What men can do, women also can,” she cites from experience. “I want to bring ladies on board so that I can teach them. We work together so that they will not depend upon outsiders.” 

The model is clear to her daughter Esther, whom Florence supports in her dream to become a lawyer.

Ester said: “She is very, very hardworking. She can work under stress, under pressure,” Esther reflected. “I learned from her that you cannot give up. It’s not time to give up.” 

It is not hard to see where she learned her perseverance from.

Like Florence, do you feel called to apply your determination and talents to bring hope and healing to those who need it most? There are so many ways to harness your potential through Mercy Ships. Find your place on board (https://apo-opa.co/3P9Kwsw), your purpose, today. 

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Mercy Ships.

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