Saanich’s Alice Powell

Saanich’s Alice Powell

Saanich woman on a mission of mercy

Alice Powell volunteers her dental skills in West Africa on two-year tour

The girl, no more than five years old, was placed in the dentist’s chair, screaming. The dentist in charge told Alice Powell to hold the girl’s head – now! – so she could deliver a needle of antibiotics.

Whatever the 28-year-old Saanich woman expected for her first day of work in West Africa, it wasn’t holding down terrified children. It contradicted everything she’d leaned at Camosun College to be a dental assistant, but in this case, it helped save the young girl’s life.

“Normally, you try to make dentistry a nice experience and you try not to traumatize people,” Powell said.

“The dentist said ‘think of it this way: This child may never have access to dentistry again, and she’s got a bad tooth infection. If we don’t treat it and the tooth rots, the infection could get to a point where it’s life threatening.’”

It was an intense introduction to Mercy Ships, but one she appreciated. Powell spent seven months last year working in Guinea for the Christian charity organization that uses the hospital ship Africa Mercy as a platform for delivering free medical care. This week, she’s returning to the ship – after a five-week detour in Texas for training – for a two-year tour, starting in the Republic of Congo.

“The practice I work at (in Sidney) is really good and I enjoy it, but I’m excited to go back to the boat,” she said. “It’s a different focus than working a regular day job. We’re all there working for humanity, to serve others.”

People volunteering their skills for Mercy Ships have to pay for room and board on the ship, flights and spending money. Powell estimates she needs $21,000 for the two years.

Powell entered the dental program with the idea that it could lead to volunteering overseas.

“The idea percolated for a long time. I always thought I’d like to help people and not necessarily live a comfortable North American life,” she said.

Africa Mercy, slightly smaller than a Coastal class B.C. Ferry, has five surgical operating theatres and a full laboratory, but the dental practice was run out of a compound in the city of Conkary.

Hundreds of people lined up twice per week for dental care, and the service worked on a triage system – children and those with life-threatening infections went first, followed by those with physical disabilities.

“We tend not to see this here, but some molar infections can cause swelling and can block the airway. We did have a couple people in a critical stage … and we had to get them to go to the hospital. It was life and death.”

Last June she returned to her parent’s house in Saanich, but with the idea of returning to the Africa Mercy as soon as possible.

“I said ‘Welcome back!’ She said, ‘Not for long,’” said her mom, Penny Powell. “She just loved it. She felt like she was doing something to help people. She was determined to go back.

“I thought it would be dangerous. But her dad and I are really proud she’s doing this. She is a very compassionate person and it takes a certain amount of strength.”

Powell described life onboard the Africa Mercy as “cushy.” “You go from the outside where it is hot, sweaty, humid and loud to inside the ship, where it’s like a little American bubble.”

For more on Mercy Ships, see














Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sipili Molia, regional kettle manager, shows off the Salvation Army’s new contactless donation system for the 2020 Christmas Kettle Campaign. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria raises record-breaking $350,000 for Salvation Army

The charity says it’s seen an increase in need since COVID-19 hit

Staff at Artemis Place Secondary were shocked to find that one of the student-built greenhouses on the campus was stolen overnight on Jan. 11. (Artemis Place Society/Facebook)
Saanich school hopes to catch greenhouse thief red-handed

Student-built greenhouses stolen from Artemis Place Secondary on Jan. 11

Forty-two residential properties in Oak Bay were assessed the speculation and vacancy tax in 2019 for a total of $693,000. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
74 Oak Bay property owners paid $693,000 in spec tax

42 properties were assessed with the SVT in 2019

Rendering shows murals decorating the proposed tiny home community in the Caledonia/Vancouver street parking lot next to Royal Athletic Park. (Courtesy Aryze Developments)
Tiny homes project on Victoria parking lot gets boost from council

Shipping container neighbourhood stems from Aryze Development idea

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. find its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Jan. 12

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

50 km/hr speed limit sign.
POLL: What do you think the speed limit should be on residential streets without a centre line?

Traffic on side streets around Greater Victoria could soon be travelling at… Continue reading

Jackie Hildering, whale researcher with the Marine Environment Research Society, and Nanaimo Area Land Trust will present the Return of Giants, a webinar about the humpback whales’ return from the brink of extinction and how boaters can help protect them. (Jackie Hildering/MERS photo taken under Marine Mammal License MML-42)
‘Return of the Giants:’ B.C. getting 2nd chance to coexist with humpback whales

‘Marine Detective’ partners with Nanaimo stewardship group on webinar

Luke Marston works on the seawolf mask for Canucks goalie Braden Holtby. (Mike Wavrecan photo)
B.C. Coast Salish artist designs new mask for Canucks goalie

Braden Holtby’s new mask features artwork by Luke Marston inspired by the legend of the seawolf

This weekend Amy Pye is holding a virtual book launch for her latest children’s book, <em>Bruce the Silly Goose</em>. (Photo courtesy Amy Pye)
Victoria writer and illustrator pens children’s book about COVID-19 safety

Amy Pye to hold online book launch for ‘Bruce the Silly Goose’

Alan Davidson was sentenced to almost six years for abusing seven boys in the late 1970s and early 1990s. (Canadian Press file)
Full parole granted to former Mountie, sports coach convicted of sex abuse of boys

Alan Davidson convicted of abusing boys in B.C. and Saskatchewan in late ’70s, early ’90s

The first COVID-19 vaccine arrives in B.C. in temperature-controlled containers, Dec. 13, 2020. (B.C. government)
More vaccine arrives as B.C. struggles with remote COVID-19 cases

Long-term care homes remain focus for public health

Most Read