Suncream, swimsuit, paperbacks … the packing list for a holiday usually follows a formula. However, one non-profit organisation hopes travellers will take the opportunity to fill their suitcases with something more altruistic, helping deliver vital medical supplies to developing countries.
Launched in Canada in 1990, Not Just Tourists facilitates the collection and delivery of surplus medical supplies to some of the poorest and most remote clinics in the world. This week, the organisation launched a new branch in Bristol, meaning UK travellers can join a volunteer-run movement that has so far delivered more than 10,000 suitcases of supplies to 82 countries.
The Bristol branch has been set up by Claudia Hon, a GP who volunteered with the organisation while living in Toronto.
“I fell in love with the whole idea”, she said. “The recycling side of things, as well as the health care side. We take it for granted, having these basic supplies but for a small clinic that doesn’t have a lot of resources it makes a huge difference.
“You hear a lot of stories from people dropping supplies off at clinics where they need to wash syringes, wash bandages just to reuse them.”
Supplies are sourced from hospitals, medical suppliers and patients who have died. The supplies are then packed into suitcases and paired with people travelling to destinations where they are most needed.
Not Just Tourists helps with the documentation required to transport the supplies, which include bandages, syringes, blood-taking kits, catheters, speculums, clean gloves, masks, gowns, as well as equipment including glucose or blood pressure meters and stethoscopes.
Hon said: “The documentation is a couple of generic letters in various languages listing the basic stuff, what it’s for, the aim of the organisation and that it’s not for sale; that it’s a humanitarian gift/donation for people in need and that it’s not a religious or politically motivated thing.”
“A lot of airlines are quite kind and have a humanitarian policy; they’ll allow an extra suitcase, or extend baggage allowance for no extra cost. We list some on the website that have a clear policy.”
Avi D’Souza, who founded the Toronto branch in a garage four years ago and has since sent more than 1,000 suitcases (packed with more than 400,000 pounds of medical supplies and equipment to 63 countries) says the project is about “connecting people”.
“Anyone can spend a week at a resort and forget the world around them,” he said. “It takes a special person to step outside of their comfort zone and connect with the local community. Every suitcase is a personal journey – a reason for the traveller to develop meaningful connections and friendships that will last a lifetime.”
He added: “Our mission is not only to get medical supplies to remote clinics around the world but also to create extraordinary journeys for travellers.”
The countries that received the biggest amount of supplies between June 2016 and June 2017 were Cameroon, Rwanda, Swaziland, Chad and El Salvador, but equipment was also delivered to Cuba, Ghana, Ecuador, India and Peru, among others.
The Bristol branch is hoping to hear from people who might want to donate supplies as well as deliver them.
“Anyone with any passing interest, who might want to help or can spread the word to travellers, I’d love to hear from,” said Hon.