One Country's Medical Junk Is Another's Treasure

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Oct. 3, 2011 12:00 am  

David Lawyer, right, and John Kachelman of Life Resources International in Judsonia unload donated school items to prepare to ship to developing nations. The group collects donations from multiple schools, hospitals and other organizations.

"There are a number of dentists upgrading their equipment," said David Lawyer, a volunteer. "We once went to Mountain Home to get two dental chairs and paraphernalia. We came back with eight dental chairs and all the paraphernalia. They're all gone now."

But the process of getting aid to troubled and often politically turbulent countries is not as simple as loading up a container and sending it along.

"The U.S. government has what they call humanitarian aid transportation assist programs," Kachelman said. "They will help to pay portions of the transportation cost to get the needed commodities into targeted countries. We have to abide by their guidelines."

Those guidelines mean Life Resources carefully inventories items to exclude anything that could be construed as religious, political or military. This means no computers, for example, as Washington worries that they empower military groups. And if any items with passed expiration dates are found, the whole load could be discarded.

Moreover, Life Resources must make sure the container inventories are worth at least $100,000, otherwise the government won't spend the shipping money.

This causes problems when Life Resources needs to supply simple school items like desks and chairs. So in this case, Kachelman said, he sets aside items like burn bandages - a single pallet is worth $85,000 - to bump up the container value.

"We keep a very strict inventory as to what is loaded on there," Kachelman said. "The U.S. government wants to know what they're shipping. And they're paying for it, so they've got the right to know."

Actually, Washington doesn't always pay for the shipments. In the case of a tumultuous country like Somalia, Kachelman's group had to pay $10,000 per container.

Effective communication with the countries has helped Kachelman keep layovers brief, with one notable container packed, shipped and distributed in Haiti within 19 days.

"We usually have a contact in the country," he said. "We work with that contact. They secure for us the duty-free letter."

Kachelman sends a letter with inventory notes to Counterpart International of Washington, D.C., a logistics company that works with the U.S. government.

Soon, Kachelman receives a letter stating when the government's trucks will visit Judsonia, and his group spends a couple of hours loading the containers. Usually, the trucks go to a cargo box terminal in Memphis and are then routed by railroad to port.



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