Speech at Synod, April 2018

Below is a speech given by Jessica Mulhall at Synod in April 2018. This speech recognises the volunteers for their hard work and how the Mission To Seafarers would be lost without them.

Piracy, shipwreck, abandonment and separation from loved ones are just a few of the problems merchant seafarers face. Around the world, the Mission to Seafarers provides help and support to the 1.6 million men and women who face danger every day to keep our global economy afloat.

A few weeks back a real estate agent, a business man, a lawyer and a volunteer went to Dinner at one of Gladstone’s local establishments. As the evening wore on the conversation turned to mining and infrastructure in Gladstone and every investor’s favorite topic of will this town boom again, will Arrow ever go ahead with the final stage of the GLNG project and will out real estate prices ever recover back to the state median. As the conversation continued the lawyers turned to MTS volunteer and said what do you make?

The volunteer smiled knowingly and said, I make a difference.

Wherever he leads I will follow and my road has lead me to MTS. My name is Jess, I am the new manager at Mission to Seafarers Gladstone and this is my first time attending a synod which was never enough and then I found out that I needed to make a presentation about who we are and what we have achieved in the last 12 months. I won’t lie to you, I did consider a 10 minute video and 5 minutes of question and answer time in order to get myself off the hook a bit.

I started racking my brains for answers. I’ve only been in this position for 8 weeks and I really didn’t know what we had achieved in the 10 months prior to my arrival. The road has been bumpy with many a twist and turn to get me to this point, but things have started to settle now, the road is slightly smoother ahead of me.

When thinking about our achievements and what it was that got me through such a huge transition I began to look back at the path behind me and I did not notice 2 sets of footprints like I was expecting, but, in fact 64 sets of footprints. It was then I realized that what had gotten me through the last 2 months, and on further reflection, what had gotten through the last 30 years was the people. It was the volunteers that carry us forward.

Now I know I work hard, I was a single foster career, raising 5 children before I even started on my MTS journey. Now I pull a 60-hour week with all the other managers, I can convince corporate donors that would be crazy NOT to give us all their spare money, I can sell ice to an eskimo and interpret legislation till the cows come home. But for this, I get paid. I get my recognition, I get a title and a weekly paycheck, I get my holidays off with loading and I get my worth recognized. But my volunteers are priceless. I tell them every day I’m going to give them a pay rise but at end of each week double nothing is still nothing.

My Volunteers drive the busses, 4 different busses. From 830 am until 10 pm, 7 days a week. The busses run backward and forwards to 18 different berths spanning some 50km from the center. All 18 berths require their own induction. Every trip must be documented and recorded for reporting purposes.  The busses must be cleaned daily, and the coal dust washed away. Every Seafarer, every ship, every country must be recorded and recognized every single day. But the hours my volunteers put in go unrecognized. The do not need recognition because they have heart.

My volunteers run the shop, they order stock, they merchandise visually, they create displays out of nothing, they sell products, they recharge mobile phone credit and activate sim cards. The processes in excess of $80,000 each and every month in 10 different currencies with less than 1% discrepancy. They make, they bake, they grow and they sew. They do the maintenance on the building, they visit the ships, the deliver meals and offer support. They pray, they are compassionate, they answer my calls and text messages in the middle of the night. They work on excess of 200 hours every single week and they build me up and make me believe that I can achieve anything!

And they listen, they are always listening to the seafarers.

They listen to stories about how the seafarers go about their normal duties, they stand their watches and do their chores. It is kind of like the Rime of the Ancient Mariner where there’s water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. They are stranded on an island—their vessel—with no place to go. When landfall is delayed, sailors pass the time with movies, books, food and, at sometimes sluggish speeds, the Internet. They try to reach their families, thousands of miles away. And they wonder if they’ll be compensated for the long wait before they can see them again. Through all of this my volunteers listen.

These people build me up and inspire me to do more. I cannot wait for this time next year when I am standing here telling you all that I have implemented a volunteer recognition program that allows me and MTS to give back to the volunteers for all their tireless work.

I cannot wait to show you all how over the next 12 months we are going to open our shop to the general public, that we are branding ourselves as Gladstone’s first Souvenir Cooperative shop. That we are supporting local small business’ by selling their stock on commission and that the money bought into the mission by these sails will allow us to offer faster internet, more regular bus timetables and even better facilities than ever before.

Next time I will show you photos of our center with its new coat of pain. New window coverings, solar power, upgraded point of sale and computer systems. I’ll be able to give you statistics of a 40% increase in the ships that my team have managed to visit.  That of he 60,000 seafarers who entre Gladstone harbor every year, over 40,000 have them have had exposure to what MTS can offer them and we managed to stay open 365 days straight.

I’ll be able to tell you about how on Christmas day, not only did we share a meal and fellowship with each other but that we were able to invite seafarers to share in the plentitudes of our table.  The meal will have been prepared using the vegetables and herbs grown in our own garden by the volunteers to be given to the seafarers. Evidence of their labor of love.

I’ll explain to you that I have found the organization that is going to help me knit 2000 wooly beanies to give to the seafarers this winter. That one of the parishes is going to have an absolute whiz bang website person who has volunteered to help us update ours. That my Rockhampton Diocese has come on board with a 5-million-dollar sponsorship deal and then, this time for real I can double the pay of all my volunteers!

The opportunities that are presenting themselves to us at this point in our journey are unimaginable. Plans are currently in place to tap into the domestic market to utilize our teams and facilities for private use in order to raise fund to keep our ship afloat. In preparation for today I engaged several of the seafarers that came though our door this week with varied responses. By far the most popular service we offer according to the seafarers is the free transportation. I’m sure you can imagine yourselves how daunting is it, or it can be arriving in a new country with no idea where to go or how to get there, a very limited grasp on the native language and no money in the correct currency to pay for your transport.

Not surprisingly, the shop and the free clothes, food and WIFI were the next to be acknowledged. What wasn’t mentioned like I expected it to be was the currency exchange. Although it’s been a major income source to us for the past 30 years, unfortunately current trends are indicating that 5 years from now all income generated by the exchange will likely be lost with the further development of online banking and technology to the vessels the needs by the captain to pay his crew in Cash in the form of US currency is quickly diminishing. That’s 30% of our annual income fading fast and inevitably gone, in just 5 short years.

Now every time I think about the mission, I think about the people. My amazing team of volunteers that are looking to me for direction. The smile of the faces of the seafarers as the walk through the front door singing out “Good morning Mam” The initial shock that seems to pass so quickly across the captains faces when they are introduced to the new manager it’s a woman. It is the people that keep me coming back again. Every time I open a new file and reveal yet another task that needs my attention, the little voice in the back of my mind is getting more and more distant each time it says to me “what you gotten yourself into?” because the people come to mind, and in the end isn’t that the reason any of us do what we do.

With a little faith and hard work my team of volunteers can do anything. To volunteers will touch a life forever it’s what we can learn and share today that will make someone’s tomorrow better. My volunteers are worth a whole lot more than they get paid because they, make a difference.

~ Jessica Mulhall (General Manager)
Mission To Seafarers Gladstone

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