WIRRAL biological sciences graduate Lizzie Clegg has recently returned from volunteer work in Guinea aboard the world's largest hospital ship, the Africa Mercy.

Twenty-one-year-old Lizzie, from Birkenhead, was aboard the vessel for more than three months, working in the ship's galley and cooking for around 400 people every day, as well as assisting the eye team in her spare time.

Run by international charity Mercy Ships, the Africa Mercy offers free medical care and humanitarian aid to some of the world’s poorest people and is currently on a 10 month outreach in Guinea.

Although Guinea's mineral wealth makes it potentially one of Africa's richest countries, its people are among the poorest in West Africa.

Lizzie said: "I want to be a doctor and as the applications are so competitive it is really important to have some experience working with patients.

"I wanted to do something where I could actually help people. Mercy Ships provided a perfect opportunity to do that. I worked in the galley feeding the other volunteers and then, on my days off, helped with the patients."

She went on: "I had so many amazing experiences on board. I really enjoyed going to the Hope Centre and playing with the children."

The Hope Centre is a Mercy Ships funded project where they support local hospitals.

This year part of the programme was to upgrade a wing of the Ignace Deen Hospital in Conakry providing  the hospital with upgraded facilities when the ship leaves in the summer.

Lizzie said: "The kids are so beautiful - when we drive up they come running up to play, which is extraordinary as most of them have both legs in casts from their feet to their thighs!

"I also really loved working with the eye team.  It's so rewarding to see people's lives literally transformed in front of your eyes.

"People who have been unable to see for years have their sight restored.  They are so happy it makes everything worthwhile!"

Judy Polkinhorn, Executive Director of Mercy Ships UK, said: "Volunteers are the lifeline of the charity and without them we simply would not exist.

"We are extremely grateful to people around the UK, like Lizzie, who continue to support us."

The Africa Mercy is staffed by up to 400 volunteers from 40 nations that give up their time to help others.  Volunteers range from surgeons and nurses, to cooks and engineers.

The ship was converted from a Danish rail ferry into a state-of-the-art hospital ship, with six operating theatres, X-ray facilities and CT scanner, a pharmacy and a laboratory.

There is capacity for 78 in-patients with four wards and a small intensive care unit, as well as accommodation for 450 volunteers.

Founded in 1978, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than £630million, helping in excess of two million people.