Just because Solidarity Bridge was founded to fill a serious need doesn’t mean its members don’t know how to make a party out of mundane tasks. On the morning of May 7, I joined 22 staff, missioners, interns and community volunteers for fellowship, coffee, donuts, and the loading of 386 boxes full of medical supplies and equipment into a truck. The supplies are bound for hospitals in Bolivia, and will be used by Bolivian doctors to help their fellow citizens who cannot afford the life-changing surgeries they need. Various hospitals and numerous nurses and doctors across the country took the time to recover gently-used medical equipment and unused surplus supplies. Other donors filled in gaps of highly needed new supplies. Through their effort, Solidarity Bridge received boxes and boxes of surgical gowns, gloves, instruments and much, much more that will go to underserved hospitals in Bolivia. They’ll be used for patients who receive surgeries through Solidarity Bridge’s year-round programs in Neurosurgery, Gynecologic Surgery, General Surgery and Heart Surgery. The surgeries benefit not just the individuals receiving them, but also their families, and through them, their communities.
Wednesday’s gathering was the last of a long chain of gatherings to prepare the boxes for shipment. To pass through customs in a timely way, each box had to be carefully packed, cataloged and weighed. Kira Foken of Solidarity Bridge managed the effort, including the unfathomable challenge of tracking donor-to-truck details and truck-to-shipping container logistics. For this reason, and because each shipment costs between $12,000 and $15,000, projects like this have only taken place every three years.
For the 2014 shipment, we volunteers, led by Fr. Bob Oldershaw, prayed over the boxes. Images of those I have met on my several education missions to Cochabamba kept superimposing themselves on the sides of the boxes. Bolivia is no longer just a place on Earth to me, but faces, too, and I have Solidarity Bridge to thank for that. Saul, Vikki, Rosario, Maria Ester, Charo…Hello! Hello!
When the truck, brightly painted with the logo of the Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach arrived, our volunteer crew began loading. As I and my fellow seniors considered carefully before lifting 20 lb boxes, we noted with awe that the smooth-browed chicas and chicos casually slung 50 lb bundles of lead aprons from floor to outdoor pallet with insouciance. Oh, for our salad days, at least today!
The Sisters, whose organization owns the truck, have a warehouse in Springfield where they will move our donations into a shipping container and augment with more supplies that have been donated for global distribution via organizations like Solidarity Bridge. The shipping container will then be sent to Miami where it will make a sea journey through the Panama Canal, and then south to Arica, Chile. In Chile, the container will move by train to Bolivia, where Solidarity Bridge’s partner, Puente Sol, will manage the distribution of goods to partner hospitals. The whole process, even if all goes well with Customs, will take a few months.
For now the Soliarity Bridge office has been emptied of the 386 boxes that have been ornamenting it--and it’s time to start collecting again. Many thanks to the donors, staff, volunteers, missioners, and those who hold us and the Bolivian people in prayer.
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