All 4 Containers – With 96,000 Pounds – Are On Their Way to Bolivia

The 4 containers have 96,000+ pounds of supplies and equipment that are now en route to Bolivia and will be distributed to Mano a Mano projects and to many other organizations and Bolivians that request supplies. Thanks everyone that helped with the loading over the weekend!

Second-to-last container leaving Mano a Mano on this rainy morning!

Second-to-last container leaving Mano a Mano on this rainy morning!

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).

Sorting Supplies in MN...

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, our most recent shipment was loaded in St. Paul in November 2014 and was cleared by Customs and released to our office in Cochabamba, Bolivia in June 2015 – more than half a year to get one shipment through.

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 154+ 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 in Culpina in July, 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.

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).

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.


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!

Loading 4 containers with 96,000+ pounds of surplus supplies last Friday. Of course Ray and Karen are there!

Loading 4 containers with 96,000+ pounds of surplus supplies last Friday. Of course Ray and Karen are there!