From the Canary Islands to Cape Town, from Madagascar to Benin, classes on his roving school take on a different flavour with each port stop, as the Africa Mercy traverses Africa’s coastline.

Established to educate the children of crew members, the academy is part of the Mercy Ships organisation, a body that takes to the sea to deliver free surgeries, community development and mental health projects, agriculture projects and palliative care for people in the developing world, where medical care is almost non-existent.

Fully equipped with state-of-the-art surgery facilities, clean water,  electricity and care centres, the Africa Mercy is the only vessel of the international charity in active operation at present.

“One of the big differences about being educated at the Mercy Ships Academy is that the students can walk downstairs and meet face to face the people whose lives are being changed…” Forrest says.

Fuelled entirely by donations and volunteers, since 1978 Mercy Ships have performed more than 82,000 often life-saving surgeries, dropped anchor at 589 ports, and formed partnerships with local governments to improve healthcare infrastructure.

Speaking from their current dock in Benin, Forrest says the academy boasts 13 full-time teachers, while the student cohort ranges from 35 to 70 nursery to Year 12 students at any given  time.

“Presently we have 13 different nationalities in the academy- Russians, Brazilians, Swiss, Ghanaians, South Africans and more,” the educator of 30 years shares.

Indeed the perks that come with their unusual situation have not been lost in the school’s internationally accredited curriculum.

With each pit stop students learn the history, culture and economic situation of their new home.

Forrest, who is joined by his wife and two youngest daughters, says meeting the physical, emotional, spiritual and learning needs of his students has been an exhausting but richly rewarding experience.

“This is a special bunch of people,” he reflects.

“People who care about people make for a great community.”

With a background in teaching health and physical education, film production and technology, Forrest says his three years at sea have been filled with world-class tourist highlights, but it is the African people who have stolen his and his family’s hearts.

“Just seeing the change in the eyes of patients before and after surgery.

“The change from hopeless to hopeful is tangible.”

“We see lives changed. People come in lifeless and leave dancing.”

With Mercy Ships now taking applications for his principal position, Forrest urges school leaders to apply.

“This journey has highs and lows but it is the whole package,” he says.

“You will be part of something unique and special; it will change your life.

“To be able to work your trade as a teacher and support the amazing work of the hospital is an honour.

“For me personally, being part of an organisation that has at its core mission to follow the 2000-year-old model of Jesus to bring hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor is very special.

“If that is something that you can relate to, I recommend it.”

Anyone interested in donating money or volunteering with Mercy Ships should go to their website for more information.

“You will be part of something unique and special; it will change your life.

“To be able to work your trade as a teacher and support the amazing work of the hospital is an honour.”