HOSPITAL DROP  Dr. Fernando Vasquez Perez (holding the NJT documentation) with Jane Tames (centre) and Marlene Chabot (right) outside the Cira Garcia hospital in Havana, Cuba. Photo submitted

HOSPITAL DROP Dr. Fernando Vasquez Perez (holding the NJT documentation) with Jane Tames (centre) and Marlene Chabot (right) outside the Cira Garcia hospital in Havana, Cuba. Photo submitted

By Eric Elliott

Pioneer Staff

Packing for a vacation can be a thought-consuming and time-intensive process. You carefully select what to pack, including your swimsuit, clothes and basic utilities.

For Marlene Chabot and Jane Tames, a rather unique item was added to the packing list: a suitcase filled with medical supplies.

The two friends planned a two-week vacation to Cuba where Ms. Chabots cousin Iris Cogger was staying, and Ms. Cogger mentioned to her cousin a not-for-profit organization called Not Just Tourists.

Created in the 1990s by Dr. Ken Taylor and his wife Denise, Not Just Tourists operates by collecting surplus medical supplies across Canada, packing them in suitcases and offering them to willing travellers to drop off at hospitals and medical clinics in various foreign countries.

Ms. Tames said she and Marlene were at first skeptical of the organization, but after doing some research, they couldnt believe why more people werent doing it. Departing for Cuba on March 7th, the two travelled to Calgary to pick up their suitcases from Ken Hague, the Not Just Tourists co-ordinator for the Calgary area. From there, they followed instructions to repack the suitcases that were filled with gauze pads, surgical gloves and various other medical supplies.

Upon arriving in Havana where they were staying, they went to a local hospital one of the listed drop-offs provided by Not Just Tourists and met with Dr Fernando Vasquez Perez. Ms. Chabot said he was extremely appreciative for their assistance.

He had tears in his eyes telling us how grateful he was, she said. Theres so much we can do that doesnt cost any money, that doesnt take much time, but makes a world of difference and this is a very interesting organization that has helped countries all over the world.

Not Just Tourists operates in a number of different countries including Mexico, Tanzania and Ethiopia, but primarily ships to Cuba where the organization originally started, according to Mr. Hague.

For many people, the thought of having to divert time and energy away from their vacation may push them away from participating in organizations like Not Just Tourists. However, Ms. Chabot and Ms. Tames said the process required little-to-no effort at all.

The inconvenience was minimal, but the impact was huge, Ms. Tames said.

In some respects, the Cubans have a lot of things and in other respects they have so little, Ms. Chabot added. Such a simple thing that we can do does make a big difference.

Both agreed they would definitely look into going through the process in the future regardless of whether theyre travelling to Cuba or another country in need of medical supplies.

Given the amount of people travelling, Ms. Chabot says Not Just Tourists could make massive contributions on world health once people understand how easy it is to participate in.

People travel all over the place and how easy it is to take a suitcase, she said. The airline said that was the 10th suitcase that came through that year. If more people knew about this, I think more would do it because its just such a nice thing to help out in any way we can.

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