© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2017

African poverty 'eye opening' for Canterbury nurse

Aaron Dahmen
Mercy Ships
Christine Lloyd Mercy Ships

Christine Lloyd was due for retirement after a marriage break down, but an opportunity to volunteer on a hospital charity ship took her to the little-known, west-African nation of Benin.

The former school dental nurse travelled to Benin in February  and found that few among the 10.9 million population had access to dental care.  

Lloyd joined 420 international volunteers travelling along the Benin coast for three months, giving free treatment to thousands of children and adults. 

"Each day was dramatic," Lloyd said.

"Procedures you would never need to do in New Zealand were commonplace."

Mercy Ships
Christine Lloyd Mercy Ships

The former school dental nurse said her mornings would begin with patients arriving by the busload, as those ready for surgery stayed the previous night at a medical home nearby. 

On one occasion, the team packed up the mobile dental units and travelled to a remote area to provide oral care to people living in extreme poverty.

"For three and a half days the team worked in very challenging conditions," Lloyd said.

"There was no electricity and no running water. It was very basic but we treated over 80 children of all ages from the orphanages, and 240 people from the village."

She described the experience as "eye-opening and remarkable."

"It was wonderful to see the children in bed, parents sleeping underneath - both just amazed to be there and get treatment."

'It was truly amazing'


Although the work was rewarding , Lloyd found it tough emotionally.  While there, she diagnosed three people with mouth cancer. 

"There was nothing we could do to help.

"When this happens, knowing that someone cares and loves them is most important," Lloyd said.  

Lloyd met an  Australian nurse who spent three months in Benin every year, and said she hoped to return too.

 "The people in Africa need us to support their health. The babies and children would live with these dental issues all their lives."

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Lloyd said she felt privileged to take part in the "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" and said it has changed her perspective of how she sees the world today.

She said all effect behind the initiative is a team effort. 

"I am just a tiny tiny ripple in a big, big pond - it is the work we do together which has the greatest impact."

Mercy Ships team
Christine Lloyd (second from right) served as a volunteer nurse in Benin from February to April this year. Mercy Ships