September 2017,

MSM Vanuatu Mission 4

Since its inception MSM has encouraged Ni-Van workers to be involved in mission, and is delighted this year to be working alongside Vanuatu MOH dental colleagues on the National Oral Health Survey 2017. MSM Mission 4 to the Banks Islands had five Ni-Vanuatu staff in the medical team, including two newcomers, 34 year-old Oral Health Therapist, Barkon Japheth, and 27 year-old dentist, Dr Wellin Jerethy, both currently employed at Vila Central Hospital dental clinic.

(Front l-r, Oral Therapist Barkon Japeth & dentist Dr Wellin Jerethy with Bob and Richard behind)
Japheth, who prefers to be called by his family name, was born on Aore, a small island off Santo, the largest island in the archipelago. His father was a farmer and a teacher, consequently Japheth and his four brothers and one sister attended several schools on Ambrym, Malekula, Efate, and Aore. Japheth remembers growing up adhering to traditional village ways with island food, singing, and dancing. Some of his favourite boyhood games seem remarkably familiar… shooting down a stack of empty cans, hopscotch, skipping, swimming, and snorkelling.

Later as a teenager he enjoyed hunting wild birds, goats and cattle. As an adult he currently plays rugby with a team in Port Vila.

(Japeth attends to an emergency case on Chimere’s foredeck while Matt Latimer looks on)
Japheth undertook Science studies in Port Vila with aspirations to pursue a career in Medicine. After three unsuccessful attempts to gain entry into Medicine, however, his mother, Linda, prayerfully encouraged him to pursue a course of study in oral health therapy in Fiji. Following acceptance into the three-year course Japheth graduated in 2013 and joined the VCH dental clinic in 2014.

Having always enjoyed doings things with his hands, including drawing, Japheth has thrived in his work and particularly loves to help people and make them happy. He enjoys educating patients and gets great satisfaction out of seeing the fruits of his work. His occupation has also introduced him to many new friends.
Japheth attended the survey training course at VCH and had heard a lot about MSM before his boss, Dr Maine Rezel, encouraged him to join Mission 4. He has learnt a lot from the mission and is pleased to have made more new friends. The only downside was a dislike for the motion sickness during some of the rougher sailing legs, but fortunately this was controlled with medication and was not such a big problem as time went by.

Japheth regularly attends the SDA church and the highlight each year is Christmas spent with all the family at his parent’s home on Ambrym.
Japheth does not intend to continue working as a dental therapist. He has been awarded a scholarship to return to study to become a dentist, so that he can offer a greater range of skills to serve the people in Vanuatu.

(Wellin conducts an Oral Health Survey on a child, but on other days was extracting teeth and relieving pain as quick as the injections took effect)
Dr Wellin Jerethy has an interesting story, which motivated him to become a dentist. Born in Tenmaru village in the Big Nambas area in the NW of Malekula, he has two brothers and three sisters. Growing up he remembers handline and spear fishing, climbing trees, swimming and soccer. In the evenings he and other boys would hang out on the beach to listen to the men tell stories over a shell or two of kava. He attended primary and secondary school up to year 8 at Lakatoro, the provincial centre of Malekula. He then moved on to years 9 and 10 at Epauto Secondary School in Port Vila and Malapoa College for years 11 and 12. After completing the Pacific Adventist University Science Foundation he successfully completed the 5-year BDS degree at the University of Papua New Guinea, and was the first dental graduate from Malampa Province in Vanuatu. Wellin was brought up in the SDA church and learned to appreciate the sacrifices his parents made to educate him and his siblings. Both parents were unemployed and had to work very hard doing odd job such as making copra and working in their gardens to pay for the school fees. Wellin said that his parent shaped the lives of all his family and he owes everything to them.

Returning to the reason he wanted to become a dentist, Wellin recalls as a child listening to his mother crying in pain from toothache during the night, and vowed that he would help her. As a second year student he came home already armed with the knowledge to extract his mum’s rotten teeth that had caused her so much pain. He has since made her partial dentures to replace the missing teeth and plans to provide a more fixed solution for her missing teeth. Following his graduation from UPNG Wellin completed his two-year residency at Port Moresby General Hospital before returning home in 2017 to join VCH where he currently works. Even as a student he returned home every year to help people in his home villages and intends to continue this service to his people.

(l-r, Wellin and Japeth relax in the village at the end of a long clinic – pulling teeth and conducting the National Oral Health Survey)
Wellin loves his job and has three major ambitions… to continue serving his people, to undertake a program at Otago University in NZ leading to a Master degree in Clinical Dentistry, and to set up a private dental clinic named after his mother, Alphine, to offer free dental treatment to people on weekends and public holidays. He feels passionate about improving oral health in Vanuatu and is willing to do anything and go anywhere to help make it happen.

Wellin also came to the VCH training and volunteered to join MSM Mission 4 because he wanted to visit islands where there are no regular dental services and to help people in need. He loves his job and feels happy whenever he has the opportunity to help others. He enjoyed the mission, made new friendships and felt part of the family on Chimere.
Thank you Japheth and Wellin for your expertise and contribution to the National Oral Health Survey, Vanuatu 2017, and all the best for the future.

Dr Barry Stewart