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Giving a second life to medical supplies

As one of the most violent, impoverished nations on Earth, El Salvador has struggled with providing its doctors and health-care workers with adequate resources.

As one of the most violent, impoverished nations on Earth, El Salvador has struggled with providing its doctors and health-care workers with adequate resources.

John Hall, a Watson Lake resident and retired teacher, has witnessed this first hand.

He was in the Central American country earlier this year with his wife, Naomi, on yet another volunteer mission for the Evangelical Free Church of Canada.

“Conditions are quite deplorable - they’ve got nothing to work with,” he said.

He tells the story of a young man who travelled to his father’s town and acted as the self-appointed person administering injections of insulin to diabetes sufferers.

When a Canadian man accompanying him asked how he could help, the young man asked for a new syringe and needle.

“The one I’ve got is getting way too dull,” the man said.

Hall said the story is one of the reasons why he stays involved with the MEMO (Medical Equipment Modernization Opportunity) organization.

The group, started by Dr. Jerome Harvey in Thunder Bay, Ont. has been sending used hospital equipment to communities in Cuba and El Salvador for about a decade.

To date, they’ve sent 61 containers worth of supplies that included two ambulances and more than 300 beds.

Small teams are also dispatched for a few weeks at a time to help staff on the equipment.

This month, Hall was part of an effort to truck equipment from the Watson Lake Hospital to Thunder Bay, where it will be stored in a warehouse until MEMO can ship it to a hospital in El Salvador.

Stretchers, sterilizers, monitors, X-ray equipment, patient furniture and an incubator were among the items loaded onto a truck driven by Ray Laukkanen, pastor of the Liard Evangelical Free Church.

After about 60 hours of driving, Laukkanen made it to Thunder Bay last week.

“The stretchers were a big hit because one of them is a delivery stretcher, which the hospital doesn’t have,” Hall said.

He explained how he was in for a check-up with Dr. Ken Quong at the Watson Lake Hospital one day when they started chatting about the conditions in Central American countries.

“He called me a short while later and told me to come to the hospital, where he was already tagging equipment he thought might be useful,” Hall said.

He said the hospital’s administrator, Carol Chiasson, was also instrumental in getting the Yukon Hospital Corporation’s permission to get rid of the equipment, which would have otherwise wound up in the landfill.

The equipment will likely be sent to a hospital near the Guatemalan border, Hall said, once the organization can raise enough money to cover the costs.

Only five shipping containers have been sent in the past two years, he added, proof of how expensive the operation is. In the past 10 years, the organization has spent about $500,000 in shipping costs alone.

Even the containers are being put to good use.

One of them is located in a community near the capital of San Salvador, a central area for the country’s civil war between 1979 and 1992.

The container was converted into a bicycle repair shop and sewing centre, neither of which the community had before.

Hall moved to the territory in 1993 and retired in 2001. He and his wife spend three to five months per year volunteering abroad, mostly helping schools train their teachers to be more efficient and effective.

This year, they’ve also been to Bolivia, Panama, Belize and Ecuador on volunteer trips.

As a fluent Spanish speaker, he knows how grateful people are to receive functioning equipment.

“We come back from these trips just walking on air,” he said.

“To know you’ve done something for people in need is so fulfilling. They tell us that even if people can’t give anything, at least they’re going there in person to help.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at