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Recent Shipments Grew Out of Last Year’s National Council of Churches’ Visit to Cuba

Photo: Dr. Leroy Perry (left) and assistants load Cuba-bound medical supplies

Dr. Perry loading medical supplies for CubaJune 11 2001, NEW YORK CITY – Recent shipments of medical equipment and supplies are the latest in Church World Service’s ongoing program of support for the Cuban Council of Churches’ Medical Commission, whose stated mission is to make "the Shalom of God – peace, love, justice and health -- a reality to our people."

Since 1992, Church World Service has sent more than 50 humanitarian aid shipments to Cuba valued at $3.27 million under a license from the U.S. Department of Commerce. This aid has included food, medicine, medical equipment and supplies, school supplies, sewing kits, soap, layettes, blankets and other goods.

A Church World Service shipment later this summer will provide the Cuban Council of Churches with an additional 70,000 pounds of canned meat, donated by the Church of the Brethren, for distribution to the elderly.

The Medical Commission was established in 1993 out of a conviction that the church must work at the community level if it is to have any credibility within society.

It has worked with a small staff and some 200 volunteers to provide health assistance to vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly and women, working through clinics, hospitals, nursing homes and orphanages. Besides material aid, the Medical Commission offers seminars and outreach programs on alcoholism, reproductive health, women’s health, health concerns of the elderly and HIV/AIDS.

A cornerstone for Church World Service in aiding the Commission’s health programs is in providing health kits and food assistance, including canned milk, meat and powdered milk. At the moment CWS is seeking to raise $100,000 for the program in celebration this year of the Cuban Council of Churches’ 60th anniversary.


Two recent shipments grew directly out of a National Council of Churches delegation visit to Cuba in September 2000. Church World Service is the NCC’s global service and witness ministry.

Delegation members included Dr. Leroy Perry, a Los Angeles chiropractor and specialist in sports medicine, and Mr. Jay Rodriguez, president of the Hafif (pronounced "Half") Family Foundation in Claremont, Calif., and a former NBC-TV network executive.

In September, Dr. Perry and Mr. Rodriguez met with leaders of the Cuban Council of Churches and the ecumenical Matanzas Seminary, worshipped in Havana churches, participated in the presentation of 1,500 school kits to schools in Elian Gonzalez’s hometown of Cardenas, Cuba, and visited the Antonio Guiteras Holmes Polyclinic in Old Havana, beneficiary of a substantial amount of Church World Service assistance.

Dr. Perry was impressed with CWS’s "great humanitarian interest in bringing millions of dollars worth of medical aid, supplies and equipment into Cuba." Upon his return to the United States, he initiated "Operation to Cuba with Love" and enlisted medical colleagues in collecting $1.5 million to date in medical equipment and supplies, going in a series of shipments.

Dr. Perry accompanied the first shipment, valued at $200,000, to Havana on April 12. The shipment included a portable defibrillator and EKG reader for use by the Antonio Guiteras Holmes Polyclinic in Old Havana. When the NCC delegation visited the polyclinic last September, staff there said that for lack of portable equipment, lives were being lost in the extra minutes it takes to get a trauma victim back to the polyclinic.

Other items in the shipment included splints, gowns, needles, sponges, swabs, gloves, surgical booties – in short, a substantial array of medical and surgical equipment and supplies.

Future shipments will include a $100,000 portable x-ray machine and a $100,000 total blood chemistry lab, Dr. Perry said. He also is accumulating special exercise and rehabilitation equipment for Frank Pais Hospital, headed by his long-time friend, Dr. Rodrigo Alvarez Cambras, to help orthopedic patients.

"These are things we need to save lives," confirmed Dr. Noemi Gorrin of the Medical Commission and Dr. Cambras, reported Dr. Perry on return to the United States. Dr. Perry continued, "They were so humbly appreciative of having anyone spend this kind of money and time to save, help and change lives."

Much of the equipment and supplies was donated by Mr. Fred Richardson, president of Broadline Medical Company in Oakland, Calif. Other contributors included Jim Chitty and his Project Lifeline Foundation in Hawthorne, Calif., and Steve Catlin, a friend and patient of Dr. Perry’s who is a Los Angeles radiology technician. The Rev. Dr. Huw Anwyl, Chair of the CWS Resource Development Committee, enlisted his congregation, Shepherd of the Hills United Church of Christ in Laguna Niguel, Calif., to advance funds to help truck the supplies to a warehouse in Pasadena.

Dr. Perry made the warehouse available; Joe Perez, CEO and President of CTS Charters, covered the costs of the shipment, and met Dr. Perry in Cuba.

Mr. Rodriguez and Herbert Hafif, chairman and sole funder of the Hafif Family Foundation, donated 10 more defibrillators.

They sent eight of them in May to the Medical Commission for deployment in emergency wards of various hospitals and clinics, and plan to travel to Cuba later this year with the last two defibrillators, Mr. Rodriguez said.

Mr. Hafif is a lawyer and business entrepreneur who donates half (between $500,000 and $1 million) of his annual earnings to charity through his foundation. "His philosophy," Mr. Rodriguez said, "is to help people improve their lives, and help the poorest of the poor. This (Cuba) project does both."


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