© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2024

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

Lloyd said each morning began with patients arriving by the busload, as those ready for surgery stayed the previous night at a medical home nearby. 

On one occasion, she recalled taking mobile dental units to a remote village to treat more than 300 locals living in extreme poverty. 

"For three and a half days the team worked in very challenging conditions, there was no electricity and no running water." 

Lloyd said the experience was "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 the experience was a privilege and had changed her perspective of the world today.

She said her contribution  was just one part of a large 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