Junk turns golden in Latin America 

Locals asked to donate old physiotherapy equipment

Ever wondered what to do with an old knee brace or wooden crutches circa 1979 that have been stuffed into the depths of a dark basement?

"This town must have thousands of old braces, crutches and stationary bikes and tread mills just moulding away in crawl spaces, never to be used again," said local physiotherapist Susie Mortensen.

But now she is breathing new life into old equipment.

Mortensen is urging people into their basements and crawl spaces to dig out their used physiotherapy gear and bring it into one of her three clinics in town over the next few weeks.

"Our junk is somebody else’s gold," she said.

Those old Whistler crutches and braces will make their way to primitive hospitals and clinics in Latin America where they are worth their weight in gold.

Another bonus, she adds, is keeping the old equipment out of the Whistler landfill, making us more sustainable.

Founder of the Latin American Development Society, Bayron Figueroa has seen first hand the rippling effects of Canadian aid.

This summer he returned to Guatemala after 20 years in exile.

There, the fruits of his labour in Canada, which involved years of raising money and finding goods, were dotted throughout the countryside.

It was evident in a northern community where a little boy was sporting a worn and faded T-shirt with Victoria, Canada splashed across the front.

At a northern medical post there were dressings for wounds that had come via a Canadian container about four years ago.

And at a tuberculosis hospital in Quetzaltenango, the second largest city in the country where there were 22 patients in one room, he saw three "new" beds from a B.C. hospital. Those beds were obsolete in Canada, forgotten and stuffed away in a basement until Figueroa heard about them.

"(The aid) doesn’t just go into oblivion," he said on his return home.

As a founder of LADS Figueroa has been putting shipment containers together for the past 14 years.

He collects enough stuff to fill three containers each year with goods totalling over half a million dollars in every container. Each container costs about $15,000 to send.

He accepts everything "from a needle to a submarine" with a focus on hospital and clinical supplies.

"For every 38,000 of the population there is one hospital bed (in Guatemala)," he said.

His return after 20 years was bittersweet.

As the plane flew over Guatemala City the memories came flooding back – memories of poverty, of corruption at the highest levels, of terror on the streets.


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