Meet the college friends who upped sticks to live and work on a hospital ship on the African coast
Meet the college friends who upped sticks to live and work on a hospital ship on the African coast. Grace Bennett-Flint, 26, and Kayla Cassaletto, 26, graduated together in 2019 and began normal working lives on land. But two years on, teacher Grace, from Colombus, Indiana, decided she wanted to teach overseas. She signed up as a volunteer with Mercy Ships - then convinced Kayla, from Goshen, Indiana, to do the same. The organisation deploys huge hospital ships to some of the world's poorest countries to provide free healthcare and training. For the past two years they have lived on one of Mercy Ships' two vessels - and are currently on their brand-new ship, Global Mercy. Currently docked in the port of Dakar, Senegal, Grace and Kayla shared what life is like - from special sea training to teaching multilingual classes and eating at sea. Grace, who teaches second-graders, said: "When I'm in school teaching I actually forget I'm on a ship. "That's until you go to leave and have to scan your badge and walk down a gangway before you can get off!" Grace and Kayla met at a college open day and ended up going to Cedarville University, Ohio, US together. With Grace studying Early Childhood Education and Kayla studying Sports, they graduated together in 2019. They both got separate jobs in separate places - with Grace working in a children's home and Kayla coaching cross country at a college. But the friends reunited again after Grace decided to volunteer with Mercy Ships - and invited Kayla to join her. Grace said: "I had heard about Mercy Ships when I was little and then I thought about them again. "I signed up - then I told Kayla, and she said she would come too." Kayla, who teaches PE on board, added: "I always wanted a job working with kids but didn’t study education - so I said yes." In June 2021 they completed training in Texas before boarding Africa Mercy in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, in September 2021. In January 2022, they moved to join the Global Mercy ship - Mercy Ships' newest vessel, where they have been ever since. The ship is a floating hospital and training centre with capacity for 950 crew and guests. It features a 682-seat auditorium, 125 student school, a gymnasium, a pool, a café, a store and a library when the ship is docked. It is within the school that Grace and Kayla both teach - and the pair also share a two-bedroom cabin with a bathroom for when they're not working. At mealtimes, everyone eats in a huge dining hall with a buffet of different fresh food every meal - such as African foods, Mexican night, and even a pizza night. They stay aboard the ship during term times while they're teaching, and are able to go home for Christmas and over the Summer holidays. The hospital ships are primarily docked in ports and only move to travel between ports or for maintenance. They work from a ship because over 50% of the world's population live within 100 miles of the coast - making urgent healthcare more accessible. This is particularly key in in areas like sub-Saharan Africa, where nine out of 10 people can't access safe surgery when needed. Since being on board Grace and Kayla have visited Senegal, Antwerp, Tenerife and Rotterdam.