CRUISING around Pacific Islands sounds like a dream and for former Hamilton woman Anna Sutherland, it's come true - but the past five years haven't been a holiday.
The 24-year-old is a volunteer for Youth with a Mission (YWAM) and has travelled to Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa as part of a team offering free health checks and medical care for locals.
Bringing donated eye glasses, toothbrushes and primary healthcare, the not-for-profit charitable organisation has been improving the health and wellbeing of some of the most disadvantaged Pacific regions since 1990.
Anna first became involved with the organisation after she completed high school.
Her first trip with the group was to the Northern Territory and northern Queensland to work with Aboriginal communities, and she has been hooked ever since.
"I fell in love with it on my first trip," Anna said.
"I knew I wanted to help other people and spend time in other countries.
"It wasn't what I had planned but I ended up loving it and I can't imagine doing anything else."
A full time volunteer, Miss Sutherland is part of the public relations team travelling to ports around Australia raising awareness of YWAM's work before heading to PNG in August for six weeks as part of the dental, optical and medical care program.
"It's amazing how it changes your perception of the world," she said of being a volunteer.
"You see people who are in pretty challenging conditions and makes you so much more grateful for what you have."
Joined on the trip by doctors, nurses, optometrists and midwives, Miss Sutherland said it was amazing to see how people's lives were transformed by the basic healthcare many Australians take for granted.
"I worked with the optometrists to check people's eyes and help match them up with a pair of glasses," she said.
"One lady we came across was doubtful we'd find glasses for her, so we were going to just give her the closest match we could find, but there just happened to be one pair out of the 3000 we had that matched her.
"Being able to put a pair of glasses on her was amazing, it transformed her life."
Miss Sutherland said the organisation will spend the next year focused on bringing healthcare to PNG and battling a range of medical issues,including infectious diseases, offering minor surgical procedures and dental care.
"We're coming across some horrific health problems but it's good to be able to bring help," she said.
"It's just something we take for granted but these kids aren't taught to brush their teeth and most of them don't even have a toothbrush.
"A lot of the time by the time they get to the clinic, most of their teeth have to be pulled out.
"It's really hard to see these beautiful, happy, smiling children with rotting teeth when you know it's such a simple thing to prevent."
The YWAM ship will be docked in Portland this weekend and visitors can tour the facility from 9am to 4pm today and Saturday and 1pm to 5pm on Sunday. The organisation will also hold a music concert on Friday and Saturday night at the Portland Civic Hall from 7pm.
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