IMAGINE a ship almost the same age as the Titanic that sails around the world with about 300 volunteers of different nationalities on board. It is also the world’s largest and oldest floating bookshop with the aim to promote books as a means of education.

For those who have visited and bought books from MV Doulos, the ship appears to be a mere floating bookshop that sells good books at reasonable prices. But more than that, MV Doulos is the temporary home to those selfless volunteers who dedicate their lives to serve— perhaps being true to the ship’s name which in Greek means “servant.”

MV Doulos was originally built in 1914 as the steam ship Medina. It was later rebuilt and became the migrant carrier Roma in 1948 and then became the cruise liner Franca C in 1952. In 1977, a German charity group, the Gute Bücher für Alle (Good Books for All) purchased the vessel and renamed it to MV Doulos, a Christian missionary ship and floating bookshop.

At the latest count, the ship had already visited 449 ports in 88 different countries including the Philippines. Its last and fourth visit to Manila was last Sept. 14, where it docked at the Manila South Harbor before going to Batangas.

With the motto “Serving the Nations of the World,” MV Doulos raises funds by selling donated books, using the proceeds for charity work. The volunteers also believe that by selling books, they can impart knowledge that can help develop an individual, a community, and a country.

The Doulos bookshop has more than 6,000 titles covering the fields of Medicine, Computer, Business, Arts, and Literature. These books are donated by international book banks and publishing houses or are bought on consignment.

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According to Simon Chen, the ship’s project coordinator, only 20% of the sales of the bookshop goes to the daily expenses of the ship. They depend much on contributions from organizations, churches, and individuals.

The volunteers receive no salary, and are in fact asked to look for sponsors to cover their expenses on board. They however get more than what they expect.

Also, relating to people of different nationalities gives them a wholistic and well-rounded character which adds up to the fulfillment they gain from their rewarding work.

For Bayarmaa Erdenebileg, a volunteer from Mongolia, living in MV Doulos is a “dream” life. Her interaction and work with people of different racial and cultural background enrich her life.

To become a Doulos volunteer, one should be a Christian—one who believes in the bible and follows what it says. Chen said that it is their faith, the one common factor, which pushes them and leads them to one direction despite their differences.

“Here, the work is very hard, the pressure is very high…and if all of us were to act as we were, it would be a very chaotic place,” he said.

He also added that it is through their faith that they keep the team from breaking apart.

The volunteers work eight-hours a week. Throughout their two-year stay in the ship, they are assigned to different departments such as the deck department, engine room, hotel services, and galley. They are given a day-off each week and another day for community work.

Here in Manila, they have worked with the Habitat for Humanity and the orphanage Alay Pag-Asa. They also have sent teams to Payatas, Quezon City.

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Aside from these, they also have “Operation Kid to Kid,” where they ask children from countries like the United States to put together little packs of toothbrushes, toothpastes or towels. The ship then gives these packs to the disadvantaged children of other countries.

Truly, Doulos emphasizes the spiritual development of people. However, it does not aim to convert people to Christianity, but just to help them grow.

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