17 May 2018
Private Camryn Raper, from Invercargill, joined the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) last year to make a difference and do aid work.
She got her wish earlier this month in Vanuatu, helping deliver dental relief to villagers who had never been to a dentist.
Private Raper took part in Exercise Tropic Major, in which the fictitious scenario involved a breakdown of law and order on Epi Island, prompting the Vanuatu Government to request help to re-establish the rule of law and stability for its citizens. A New Zealand Joint Task Force of about 500, embarked on HMNZS Canterbury and HMNZS Wellington, went to the island to help restore order.
During the exercise, a team of 10 from the Royal New Zealand Dental Corps based itself at Vaemali Medical Centre, above the exercise venue in Lamen Bay village. In five days the team helped more than 300 people and performed 650 dental procedures.
Three dentists worked from 7.30am to 5pm each day in a clinic with generators for power, using headlamps for consistent light. Some villagers walked for hours to see them.
One of Private Raper’s duties as a dental assistant was to set up a sterilisation clinic for the almost non-stop processing and cleaning of dental equipment. The instruments are cleaned, then put in an ultra-sonic bath for five minutes, then rinsed, dried, and placed in a steriliser.
Before Exercise Tropic Major the NZDF dental team held free clinics near Whakatane, to test their abilities.
“I thought Vanuatu would be drastically different from New Zealand, but when we did the east coast, it was quite similar,” Private Raper said.
“With adults’ teeth, over a certain age they are okay, but with kids we see the decay, the holes.”
Working with Private Raper was Dental Hygienist Warrant Officer Denise Mariu, who said the big issues were sugar and decay.
“I’ve been on a lot of these deployments and I see children with cheap drinks and sweets, sucking on them all day,” Warrant Officer Mariu said.
Private Raper joined the New Zealand Army last year, originally intending to become a medic. Next year she plans to start university study and work towards becoming a dental hygienist.
“This is what I wanted to do, from a very young age, once I found out I liked sciences and math. This is a way to get my foot in the door.”
The main reason she joined the NZDF was to do relief work.
“At the farewell ceremony on the island, people stopped and thanked us for the dental work,” she said.
“It’s seeing the relief, the happiness on their faces, to know we have virtually changed someone’s life. Something that you think is so small is so large for someone else. I’m pretty stoked to be able to do that.”