100,000+ Pounds of Supplies Shipped to Bolivia in 2014 – the Most Since 2007

100,000+ Pounds of Supplies Shipped to Bolivia – the Most Since 2007

This year, Mano a Mano volunteers in Minnesota picked up, sorted, and helped ship 124,220 pounds of supplies from our St. Paul, Minnesota warehouse to Bolivia, where they are distributed to Mano a Mano’s network of schools, clinics, and other infrastructure projects; they are also distributed to other organizations in Bolivia that work with those in need, free-of-charge. This is the most we have shipped since 2007, when we were able to ship supplies for free.

Supplies being picked up at Mano a Mano's hangar at a distribution event, December 2014.

Supplies being picked up at Mano a Mano’s hangar at a distribution event, December 2014.

Distribution of Supplies in Bolivia from January Shipment

In January of this year, we loaded two 40-ft. containers with supplies in St. Paul – 38,680 pounds of wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, boxes of medical supplies, school supplies, office supplies, and other items.

Loading two containers at the Mano a Mano warehouse, January 2014.

Loading two containers at the Mano a Mano warehouse, January 2014.

This week, Mano a Mano distributed some of these supplies to other organizations in Bolivia, at an event at our hangar at the Cochabamba airport. Eleven Bolivian hospitals, the University of San Simon in Cochabamba, and many other organizations received supplies; representatives from the Bolivian Ministry of Health were present for the event as well.

Article in Los Tiempos

Los Tiempos, a Cochabamba-based newspaper, wrote an article about the event, which you can READ HERE.

Supplies being distributed at the Mano a Mano hangar, December 2014

Supplies being distributed at the Mano a Mano hangar, December 2014

Distribution event at Mano a Mano hangar, December 2014.

Distribution event at Mano a Mano hangar, December 2014.

Why Shipping Supplies is Important

Shipping supplies is NOT CHEAP – each container costs about $20,000-$25,000, including processing fees, ocean freight, purchase of the containers (we buy each container to re-use or sell in Bolivia, and to avoid demurrage fees), and many other expenses that are part of each shipment. Shipping supplies is also not easy – first, there is a lot of work by our Minnesota volunteers: to pick up donations, sort supplies, organize our warehouse, and load containers (not wasting any precious inch of space).

With the high costs of shipping, we try not to waste an inch of space in each container we send.

With the high costs of shipping, we try not to waste an inch of space in each container we send. Check out more pictures from our November 2014 shipment, with more than 75,000 pounds of supplies, HERE.

This process is repeated in reverse by volunteers and staff in Bolivia: unloading supplies, organizing supplies and categorizing them for their intended recipient, and often re-packing items based on needs in Bolivia. Second, the legal process of getting these containers cleared is a lot of work. As an obvious example, these supplies were shipped in January, arrived in Bolivia sometime in March, and were only cleared through Customs and OK’d for distribution this month – almost an entire year to get one shipment through.

Dr. Victor Hugo and Mano a Mano Internacional staff & volunteers organizing the traction equipment, August 2014.

Dr. Victor Hugo and Mano a Mano Internacional staff & volunteers organizing the traction equipment, August 2014.

But even though it is not easy or cheap to ship supplies, the surplus distribution program is hugely important to Mano a Mano and well-worth the effort. Supplies are distributed to Mano a Mano’s projects throughout Bolivia. Most of the medical supplies and equipment go to our network of 150 clinics throughout Bolivia, which is an important piece of maintaining high-quality health care, and serves as an incentive for medical professionals to continue to work in isolated rural areas. As with our distribution event this week, many supplies are sent to other organizations in Bolivia, free of charge. Some school supplies and orthopedic supplies are handed out at Mano a Mano dedication ceremonies for new projects. Office supplies and other items go to Mano a Mano’s offices in Cochabamba.

When we need to purchase replacement parts for our heavy equipment or one of our planes, it’s often cheaper to buy in the US and include in one of our container shipments (the shipment in November 2014 included a replacement engine for one of our planes, and the January 2014 shipment included a new propellor, for example).

Shipping a propellor for Mano a Mano's aviation program in the January 2014 containers.

Shipping a propellor for Mano a Mano’s aviation program in the January 2014 containers.

The value of the supplies we ship, if we were to just buy them instead, would be between 10-20x the cost of shipping; it would be prohibitively expensive to purchase these supplies. Many of the supplies, such as the aviation or heavy equipment parts, are unavailable or much more expensive to buy in Bolivia. We do end up making or buying many needed items directly in Bolivia (for example, almost all of the exam tables and hospital beds that go in to new Mano a Mano clinics are built by our counterpart organization Mano a Mano Bolivia in their machine shop), but the shipments complement those items and helps keep costs down.

Section of the machine shop at Mano a Mano Bolivia (they make all of the windows and doors for Mano a Mano clinics and schools here as well).

Section of the machine shop at Mano a Mano Bolivia (they make all of the windows and doors for Mano a Mano clinics and schools here as well).

Also, most of these supplies would end up in Minnesota landfills; the surplus distribution program allows us to reduce waste in the US and put these supplies to good use in Bolivia. Mano a Mano was started 20 years ago with the sole purpose of saving supplies in Minnesota and sending them to Bolivia; our original name was Mano a Mano Medical Resources and our original mission statement was ‘putting surplus into service for better health.’ While the main goal of these supplies is to improve lives for Bolivians that need them, the environmental impact in Minnesota is very important to us as well.

An unconvential use of the containers themselves - as a fence for the Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA)  (back left corner). In the foreground is a dirt mound at the CEA demonstrating the difference using terraces makes in managing water flow and preventing erosion.

An unconvential use of the containers themselves (back left corner) – as a fence for the Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA). In the foreground is a dirt mound at the CEA demonstrating the difference using terraces makes in managing water flow and preventing erosion.

Thanks

Just like in the construction of any of our infrastructure projects, Mano a Mano’s surplus distribution program depends on many people and organizations, both in the US and Bolivia, working together to acheive results that none of us could do on our own. Whether you’ve donated supplies, volunteered with Mano a Mano in the US or Bolivia to organize and distribute supplies, made a donation to help with shipping costs, or helped in any way – THANK YOU!

Photo Collage_2013 and 2014

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