Donna Makoboka’s story with Mercy Ships began in 1993. At the time, Donna was working as a teacher in her home country of South Africa. One day, while traveling by taxi, disaster struck. One of the taxi wheels broke off. Within moments, Donna found herself in a rolling car, not knowing if she would survive. Donna called upon God in a quick prayer for safety: “I said, ‘God I have children back home! You have always cared for me, please, do not leave me now. Make it stop!’”

Immediately, the taxi stopped rolling.

Suffering Lost Confidence

The repercussions of the accident were severe. Donna suffered three back fractures and lost the skin on the right side of her face. She underwent approximately 20 surgeries to repair her back and restore the skin on her face. Beyond the enduring pain, her injuries caused Donna to lose her job – and her confidence.

“You could not look at me, I was a horrible sight,” Donna said.

Thanks to her surgeon, Dr. Tertius Venter, Donna’s face was fully restored and she slowly felt like herself again. She continually expressed deep thankfulness for Dr. Venter: “I would always tell him, ‘God bless you so much.’ He would never say anything back, but I could see in his eyes what it did to him.” Slowly but steadily, the care Dr. Venter provided helped Donna rebuild her life.

Getting Back Up

As Donna regained her health and confidence, she applied to attend university in the United States and eventually wound up working for a non-profit organization in South Africa in support of women. While looking for funding organizations that could help her business, she stumbled upon Mercy Ships. In her heart, she felt called to dive deeper into Mercy Ships and decided to apply to volunteer on board one of the organization’s hospital ships, which provide free surgical care and medical training in Africa. Her application was successful, and in 2022 Donna joined the Africa Mercy® in Senegal as a member of the staff development team.

Volunteers from the Africa Mercy wave to the Global Mercy as it sails from the Port of Dakar back to Tenerife.

Through her role on board, Donna found a new way to use her love for teaching people. “As a staff development training facilitator, I am creating an enabling and cordial environment for every crewmember. We all come from different parts of the world, with our different cultures and languages and one of the programs I teach forms the bridge between the variety of cultures on board.”

Reuniting After Decades

After living on the Africa Mercy for weeks, Donna was shocked to suddenly hear a familiar voice.

“Do you remember me?”

Donna couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw Dr. Tertius Venter, who operated on her all those years ago, standing in front of her.

“Of course, I remember you! How could I ever forget the man who gave me my life back?” she exclaimed.

Although Donna had never been on board before, it was far from Dr. Venter’s first Mercy Ships volunteer experience. He has been a long-term volunteer surgeon with Mercy Ships, performing reconstructive plastic surgery on board since 2000. After hearing long-term volunteer maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Gary Parker speak in Madagascar in 1997, Dr. Venter had decided he wanted to share his skills as well, coming on board a few years later in the Gambia. In the decades since, Dr. Venter has served every year with Mercy Ships.

The unexpected reunion was a beautiful reminder for Donna of the purpose behind her journey – and their transition from patient and surgeon to volunteers working together to use their talents to serve people in need of safe surgical care in Africa.

You never know where the journey will lead you. Through volunteers like Donna and Dr. Venter, Mercy Ships can continue bringing hope and healing. Interested in using your talents to do the same? View current volunteer openings at

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