Most of us either know or have heard of someone who has packed a “hell of a lot” of adventure into their lifetime. This story is about one person, who with his wife, is just like that, but the ‘adventure’ in this case is mostly built on serving others.
National Life is proud to bring you this story by David Dixon about an energetic Australian Country dentist who’s done far more than most to help relieve people’s suffering and at the same time, make our world a better place. We’re sure you’ll marvel at what he and his wife have done over the years, but more than that, we hope you’re inspired to think about what you may be able to do to make the lives of others better.
Making a difference in the real world
Ever wanted to make a REAL difference to the world around you? No, not just the symbolism of posting a sharp, pithy meme; signing an online petition; or buying a woke t-shirt; but saving lives in the poorest countries in the world.
Nepal has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this climbing season with dozens of hikers perishing on Mt Everest; but retired Orange dentist and Christian missionary Graham McLennan is there now (June 2019) for all the right reasons.
Graham is currently in Kathmandu; volunteering in the impoverished mountain nation at a clinic attached to a leper colony. The disease still carries huge negative stigma in many Third World countries.
He is also helping establish a Christian radio station in the elongated Hindu-majority nation that straddles the Himalayas; the world’s tallest mountain range between India and China.
Officially retired after many years of working and teaching in Orange NSW, this however, is not Graham’s first time at the rodeo.
In fact, he and his wife Pam have worked on numerous overseas projects starting with his marriage in Fiji just as he was about to commence training as a conscript with the Australian Army during the Vietnam War. While he has given much of his own blood, sweat and tears helping the world’s poor; it was actually money that first drew Graham to dentistry.
“I grew up in the central west just out of Dubbo (NSW); that’s why I went to Hurlstone (Agricultural High School, Glenfield), I was going to go on the farm,” he said of the family’s 3000-acre property at Eumungerie.
“But I saw all these rich dentists and I thought to myself; ‘that’s a better life’,” Graham explained. But the call of love, the church, and the storm-clouds of war swept him up unexpectedly when he was conscripted via the infamous lottery-ball draft of birthdates during the Vietnam conflict.
“I became a Christian at Sydney Uni in the mid-sixties; I was then conscripted and deferred until I graduated; I did officer training but, instead of being posted overseas, spent the rest of my time at Holsworthy (Army Base, near Liverpool).
“I got married (to wife Pam) in Fiji, I was doing a (Christian) Outreach there, we were married by the Solicitor-General in 1969 — Pam and Graham have just celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. “I graduated, flew back, and had my ‘honeymoon with 400 blokes at Puckapunyal (Army training base in central Victoria).
Graham and Pam then settled down in Orange in 1971 running a thriving practice and raising a family but his altruistic interests brought another unexpected change with an opportunity to again serve with Christian communities overseas.
“My son Michael married a Melanesian girl, Rita, who helped organise the building of a cyclone-proof school in Vanuatu. Michael is a teacher at the school; he’s still there, been there 18 years,” Graham said proudly.
With communication a major problem in the dispersed island chain that makes-up Vanuatu; Graham was inspired to repeat his success as chairman of Rhema Christian Radio in Orange and establish Christian Radio in Vanuatu.
Regularly returning to work with the local population and to oversee the hugely popular radio station; Graham was shocked to discover on one of his trips to the isolated island of Mota Lava in the Banks group of Islands that no painkillers were available for any patients.
“They’ve got a man called ‘the dresser’ who looks after the sick; he has a pair of pliers and he was trying to pull teeth out with no anaesthetic; that was a shock,” Graham said,
“We’ve been there more than 30 times; helping with dental work and introducing Christian radio. My son and daughter in law are still there; I’ve even got three grandkids, two boys and a girl.”
With a yen for travel with a purpose, for three years Graham also escorted groups of trainee dentists from Charles Sturt University, Orange to Cambodia.
“One student took-out 96 teeth in eight working days there. For the students; it was a wonderful experience helping out, they loved it!”
Graham’s latest tour involves working from the Leprosy Medical and Dental Hospital in Nepal. Leprosy is a chronic bacterial infection that eventually leads to loss of sensation in the hands and feet. Due to the disfigurement it eventually causes long-term sufferers; it is traditionally feared in many societies with sufferers banished to isolated “leper colonies”.
“Even though there is now a cure for the disease; there is still a great stigma,” Graham explained. “For instance, a woman with the infection was turned-out from a Tibetan village (in China) and walked over the Himalayas to come to the hospital.”
Graham will also again be helping with Radio Nepal’s ‘Message of Hope’ program that is hugely popular with the local populace.
Witnessing first-hand the long-term devastation of the 2015 earthquake on this impoverished nation, he believes that climbers to Mt Everest — overwhelming wealthy Westerners — should be asked to provide more for the climbing expertise of the local Sherpa’s. This increased guiding figure, now set at about $6000 US per climber, could then be used to help rebuild the country.
“In a way this money is just insurance; because when the climbers get into trouble, as they often do, it is the local Nepalese who have to go out and rescue them,” Graham explained.
Graham says that working in some of the poorest countries in the world certainly offers a perspective on our good fortune to live in Australia. “People complain about their lives here, but they don’t really know how lucky they’ve got it,” he concluded.
Want to help Pam and Graham’s work? Here’s how…
As well as their overseas work helping the world’s poor; Pam and Graham McLennan also run the National Christian Heritage website at www.chr.org.au
The website provides resource materials for schools, churches, and other institutions on Australian history from a Christian perspective.
If you’d like to help Graham and Pam’s work in any way, contact them at: email@example.com