A Manitoba nurse has returned home after helping give sight to the blind in Africa.
Laura Klassen spent seven months volunteering aboard Africa Mercy, the world's largest civilian hospital ship. Klassen served as a nurse in the eye surgery ward.
Operated by non-profit, Mercy Ships, the hospital ship is run by 1,400 volunteers from over 40 countries providing free surgery, medical care and training in the world's poorest nations.
Klassen says the tour in Guinea was life-changing thanks to stories like Aminata's, a young girl who was both deaf and blind.
"I never knew that babies could get cataracts, they're virtually blind if they don't receive surgery."
However, thanks to Mercy Ships' volunteer doctors and nurses the child is recovering her sight.
"She would feel my hands and face when I was giving her pre-surgery eye drops to get to know me," Klassen says. "Now Aminata is discovering a whole new world."
During her stay, Klassen saw more than 1,000 cataract surgeries. "It's just incredible to see the gratefulness of the patients. I get so many hugs and kisses and 'God bless you's.' It's just so worthwhile."
She explains many in the region are simply unable to afford routine surgeries like tumours that grow unchecked, corrective surgeries for bowed legs or club feet. "It just gives them a new lease on life."
Klassen finished her nurse's training at 48 years old and has now spent four tours on the ship.
Coming home she says the biggest shock is how wealthy people are in North America. "It takes a bit of adjustment. They're quite happy with very little... I look around and we're so rich."