BY CLAIRE CUDAHY
One Red Lake resident proved that vacation can be about more than just rest and relaxation when she used her recent trip to Cuba as an opportunity to transport much-needed medical supplies.
Tina Robinson, a diabetes educator with the Red Lake Family Health Team, was searching for a way to give back during her time in Cuba when she came across the Manitoba branch of Not Just Tourists, a non-profit humanitarian organization that collects and delivers medical supplies to countries in-need.
Upon discovering the organization, Robinson immediately got in touch with Winnipeg-based coordinator Tim Blazanovic.
“Tim has contacts at some of the hospitals and different organizations that will donate supplies to him and people in the community who will donate empty suitcases and hockey bags. He fills them up with some volunteers that he has and then from there tourists will actually bring them to different resorts, hospitals, and so forth,” explained Robinson.
Prior to her trip, Robinson wrote a message on the Red Lake District Community Bulletin Facebook page requesting empty suitcases and hockey bags.
“The response was amazing. I had people calling me that were willing to donate so those suitcases and hockey bags were brought to Winnipeg, and I gave them to Tim,” said Robinson.
In Winnipeg, the bags were filled with surgical masks, syringes, hospital examination drapes, as well as baseball gloves and soccer jerseys that Robinson planned to give away. Robinson was able to use her connection as a Diabetes educator to collect insulin syringes and needles to bring with her.
“When you get the suitcase, you physically open that up so that you can say to customs that you have physically checked the suitcase,” said Robinson, who brought two suitcases full of supplies with her to Cuba. “You’re given a letter and with that it explains that this is humanitarian supplies and where you’re delivering it. We didn’t have any problems through customs at all.”
Robinson said the doctor at the medical clinic in Cayo Santa Maria where she dropped of the supplies was extremely grateful.
“He was totally amazed. His eyes lit up when he saw the supplies. In Canada, we use things as one-time use and they are disposed of. In Cuba, a lot of times they will try to clean things and reuse them so they get creative with their sterilization techniques, but a lot of times they make do without. They just do not have supplies due to the embargo.”
The medical clinic often runs out of basic necessities like IV needles and certain medications, the doctor told Robinson.
“Metformin, a common Diabetes medicine in Canada, they have a very difficult time getting it,” said Robinson. “I personally talked to one person on the resort and they were using one insulin needle a month because that is all they could afford.”
Robinson said the experience was a positive one, and she would absolutely volunteer her services again.
“To me I think as a citizen we have a responsibility to give back to other communities and certainly when you look at the impact of what these resources can have, it’s amazing how it can fan out.”
Not Just Tourists delivers supplies to other countries such as Mexico, Ethiopia, Syria, and Haiti. To find out more, visit www.njt-pqt.org. Contact Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org to donate suitcases or hockey bags in the Red Lake area to the organization.