26-year-old Wellingtonian, Molly Dalton, is taking her Plunket Nurse qualification to the Cook Islands to support young families.

With a passion for child health and development, it is no surprise Molly Dalton was a successful candidate for the Well-Child Trainer assignment in the Cook Islands.

Like many experiencing the rippling effects of the global pandemic, Molly says the lockdown gave her time to assess her current priorities which then lead to exploring options that would fulfil her desire to connect with communities.

“I realised, at this point in my life, the most valuable resource I could offer was my time. I started volunteering for a variety of non-profit organisations in Wellington. I enjoyed meeting diverse groups, and it feels good contributing your time towards a good cause.”

The first time Molly became familiar with Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) was in early 2022 when a VSA billboard caught her eye.

“I was already interested in volunteering and traveling so I Googled VSA as soon as I got home.  Amazingly, the first role I saw on the website was for an Early Childhood Nurse - which description basically matched the job I had in New Zealand!”

Keen to apply her existing skillset in new surroundings, Molly took on the opportunity as quickly as she could, “It felt too serendipitous to ignore, so I immediately applied.”

Soon after, in May 2022, Molly arrived in-country to officially begin her assignment supporting partner organisation; Cook Islands Child Welfare Association (CICWA), one of the oldest non-profit voluntary organisations in the Cook Islands. They were formed in 1933 by a small group of women who dedicated their time to helping clinical nurses throughout the wider community clinics and are currently the only NGO provider that solely focuses on children under 5 years old. The organisation also runs development programmes and workshops to improve the health and well-being of children and families.

“Having a qualified nurse instigating changes has made a big difference.” Says CICWA Executive Officer, Susan Sadaraka, who confirms there have already been huge benefits from having Molly onboard. “Molly has a respectful manner which has helped engage Child Welfare members to be receptive to any suggested improvements, this has allowed our organisation to move forward tremendously as a collective unit. The families also value Molly’s professional advice.”

Susan also commends Molly’s professionalism when facing challenges, “When the Ministry of Health pulled their public health nurses for one month and wanted to close our Paunu clinics, Molly worked in the community providing her services on CICWA’s behalf so ‘Paunu’ could still operate. This meant the babies were still being seen, and families were receiving consistent high-quality care.”

In addition to running a capacity-building workshop for CICWA members and helping coordinate the Child Welfare Biennial Conference, a big achievement for the organisation, Molly supports the Paunu clinics, which are staffed by trained volunteers, to improve and deliver clinical services focusing on health and well-being with more flexibility, knowledge, and accessibility to better meet the needs of client families.

“I feel lucky to work with CICWA as they’ve given me a huge amount of freedom in my work,” says Molly, “I feel that I am well on track to achieving the outcomes of my assignment. But there is also a lot that I can get involved in and help develop that goes beyond my assignment.”

While Molly admits adjusting to the slower pace of ‘business as usual’ can be a challenge, the reap of the reward, she assures us, is much greater.

“It’s a huge privilege to talk with parents about their little ones, how they are growing and developing, and meeting so many beautiful babies and families. What I have learned here will be invaluable to my nursing practice back in New Zealand.”

Something that has proven to be just as fulfilling as the work, is the local community Molly has connected with outside of the clinic. “I love getting involved in all the activities in Rarotonga, there is so much to do here, and lots of opportunities to be active. I have most enjoyed learning Cook Island dancing, which I do every week. The people and the friendships I’ve fostered are something I’ll cherish forever.”

With the ongoing support of in-country VSA staff, a caring local community, and the dedication from the CICWA team, it is certain Molly’s time on assignment will ensure the clinic sustains a successful future providing professional healthcare and well-being services to young families across the Cook Islands.