On Feb 8, volunteers of Solidarity Bridge loaded medical supplies, including PPE, into a truck. The supplies are expected to arrive in Cochabamba, Bolivia Feb. 25. Photo from Solidarity Bridge

In more predictable times, said Anne Rhomberg, Solidarity Bridge would have spent this year gathering medical equipment and supplies to ship to Bolivia.  Every year since 2008 Solidarity Bridge has sent a 40-foot container filled with medical supplies to its partner, Puente de Solidaridad, in Bolivia.

Jodi Grahl, Director of Gynecology, General Surgery and Pacemaker Programs, wrote in her blog, “We usually dedicate roughly a year to planning for and gathering donated and purchased supplies and equipment to fill each container. These shipments are especially useful to deliver large equipment – from operating tables to laparoscopic and anesthesia towers – as well as bulk supplies needed in high volumes. Our partners at Puente de Solidaridad store these supply stocks for use over the next 18-24 months in our ongoing programs.”

COVID-19 hit worldwide, and Ms. Rhomberg, executive director at Solidarity Bridge, said the organization understood the devastation in South America.

“The impact of COVID-19 is most profound among those who are most vulnerable,” she said.  “They don’t have the privileges of access to PPEs and vaccines we do.”

Zoom calls between Solidarity Bridge and Puente de Solidaridad in Cochabamba, Bolivia, have been more frequent during the pandemic.

Boxes nearly filled the Evanston office of Solidarity Bridge in anticipation of the arrival of a truck from Hospital Sisters Mission Outread in Springfield. Photo from Solidarity Bridge

Packing a Truck on a Cold Winter Day

Planning for the seventh large shipment had begun before the pandemic hit, so Solidarity Bridge adjusted its procurement to include large amounts of PPE and critical- care supplies to treat COVID-19 patients.

A smaller shipment a few months ago, Ms. Grahl wrote, “reached Cochabamba in record time, two months to the day after it left Illinois. But unlike with previous shipments, our partners proceeded immediately to distribute supplies throughout the country, both to longstanding partners and to a diversity of other institutions desperate for supplies to confront the pandemic, which by then was a nationwide humanitarian crisis. We sent another five smaller shipments over the following months, but in November 2020 we decided that the most efficient and effective way to help meet the needs would be to send another full-sized maritime container.”

On Feb. 8, the coldest day of the winter so far, Jaime Rojas, a deacon at St. Nicholas Church, blessed the volunteers who packed a truck sent by Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach in Springfield as well as the medical donations “from very generous donors including Solidarity Bridge missioners Dr. Gay Garrett, Dr. John Gregory, Dr. George Lederhaas, and Dr. Dan Yousif, among others. We also secured equipment donations from Miga Solutions, and purchased other key items,” Ms. Grahl wrote.

The container is scheduled to leave Springfield on Feb. 25 the travel by highway and rail to New York, by ship to the Dominican Republic and on to Chile, and then over the Andes mountains and into Bolivia by road. We are hopeful it will reach our Cochabamba warehouse by May, according to Ms. Grahl’s blog.

Before the truck departed, Jaime Rojas, a deacon at our partner parish, St. Nicholas Church of Evanston, blessed its contents and all of those assisting in this effort as well as our patients and partners in Bolivia.

Malcolm Bilimoria, a volunteer doctor with Solidarity Bridge, said in a video created in 2015, narrated by actor Sam Waterston, “There is no reason to have boundaries for health care.”