A young couple celebrated their love in Madagascar on Valentine’s Day in 2015 on the world’s largest civilian hospital ship. Vanessa Thomson from Devon, UK, and Seth Schaben from Kansas, USA, fell in love while volunteering with international hospital-ship charity, Mercy Ships.

Vanessa and Seth’s love has been quite an adventure. After first meeting in Texas, the couple shared their first kiss in Haiti, had their first date in Tenerife, Spain, got engaged in Cape Town, South Africa and are now set to marry in Devon, UK.

While volunteering on the ship, Vanessa, a Ward Nurse, spends much of her time caring for the many suffering patients who visit the hospital ship. Millions of people in Africa suffer at the hands of poverty, as well as a lack of access to medical care. Tumors, burns and facial disfigurements get left untreated, causing severe physical pain and discomfort and often resulting in death.

Seth volunteers at the HOPE Centre as a Facilitator. The HOPE Centre is a secure shelter for patients waiting for surgery or recovering from surgery.

Thanks to volunteers like Vanessa and Seth, Mercy Ships can give patients a second chance.

Mercy Ships operates the Africa Mercy – a 16,000-ton state of the art hospital ship with a crew of more than 450 volunteers from over 40 nations. The ship sails from port to port around Africa delivering free medical care to those in need.

Seth proposed on the ship while it was docked in Cape Town, surprising Vanessa by covering the walls with pressed wildflowers and images of horses, in addition to putting together a picnic of Vanessa’s favorite things (including Cadbury’s chocolate, Twining’s tea and goat cheese). They made the final plans for their wedding in September 2015. The couple then returned to Madagascar to continue volunteering for Mercy Ships.

Vanessa said: “Although the ship may not be the easiest place to date someone, the Africa Mercy was a magical place to fall in love. It was such a wonderful environment to meet someone who has the same passion as you; someone who has a desire to serve the world’s forgotten poor in such a unique setting.”

She continued: “It still amazes me that two people from across the world can meet and fall in love. Mercy Ships bought us together and the experience we have shared together will stay with us forever. I am so excited to marry the man of my dreams and come back to the Africa Mercy – I can’t think of a better way to begin married life together!”



Nisha Kotecha is the Founder of Good News Shared. Having worked and volunteered for charities in the UK for over 10 years, Nisha is on a mission to highlight how amazing charities are. Good News Shared (goodnewsshared.com) is a blog and news site that highlights positive charitable stories from around the world.