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Tigard-based nonprofit sends medical aid shipment for Syrian refugees, displaced persons

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The way Medical Teams' supply chain works varies from country to country and operation to operation, but it generally follows a basic pattern. With donations from local hospitals, contributions from the community and the help of a dedicated core of volunteers, Medical Teams loads up a shipping container with medical supplies. That container is then placed on a ship, usually out of the Port of Seattle. Once it arrives at its port, it may be loaded up again for transport to its final destination, where it either arrives at a warehouse or is unloaded on the spot.


COURTESY OF MEDICAL TEAMS INTERNATIONAL - Workers at Medical Teams Internationals' warehouse in Tigard load up a shipment of medical supplies for Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons."The siege of Aleppo has … unfolded right before our eyes, of unprecedented atrocity and visibility — so we're witnesses to a meltdown of humanity," Joe DiCarlo said. "And at Medical Teams, we said, 'We can't just sit by with the status quo. We can't do nothing. We have to do more.'"

DiCarlo is the global ambassador for Medical Teams International, a Tigard-based nonprofit organization.

Since its inception in the late 1970s, Medical Teams has been providing aid — in the form of medical supplies, volunteers and training — to communities and countries around the world that have been stricken by famine, natural disasters and violence. This past week, it sent its first aid shipment in what DiCarlo said will be a series to be distributed in northern Syria and parts of neighboring Turkey to which refugees from the Syrian city of Aleppo have fled.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Joe DiCarlo, global ambassador for Medical Teams International, talks about the recent shipment for refugees and displaced residents from the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Working to ensure proper delivery, distribution

Aleppo was Syria's largest city at the start of the civil uprising in 2011 against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, part of a wave of social and political upheaval across the Middle East often called the "Arab Spring." But the city, like many in Syria, has been steadily depopulated and left in ruins over the course of what has become a bloody and complex conflict, in which government forces supported by the Russian military, rebel factions ranging from secular and Western-backed groups to radical Islamist militias affiliated with al Qaeda, military and paramilitary forces from other Middle Eastern countries, and the Islamic State terror group have all vied for control.

This month, after a protracted siege, the Syrian government claimed control of Aleppo. Thousands of people were evacuated from east Aleppo, parts of which remained in rebel hands until the last stages of the siege. Much of the historic city has been destroyed by years of fighting.

DiCarlo said Medical Teams is working with a partner group based in Turkey to ensure that medical supplies shipped from the Pacific Northwest to aid survivors of the Aleppo siege make their way into the right hands.

"We work very hard in the vetting of the partner that we're involved in," he said.

While he is unable to identify the group with which Medical Teams is working on this operation for reasons of security, DiCarlo said, "Our partner is a Turkish organization that has been distributing supplies in Turkey to the clinics that are serving Syrian refugees, as well as into northern Syria. … They have a long history of, well, six years, nearly six years of serving Syrians in this way. So we feel very confident."

Medical Teams has been involved in the Syrian crisis since 2012, DiCarlo noted. He and other Medical Teams staff members and volunteers — including Medical Teams' president and chief executive officer, Jeff Pinneo — have traveled to neighboring Lebanon, where many refugees from the conflict have fled.

"I've sat in a tent with Syrian refugees in Lebanon. I've seen the fear in their eyes, and I can only imagine the horror those eyes have experienced. And when they leave a country, it's out of fear, but it's also their desire to take control of their lives again," DiCarlo said. "These are people who are well-educated, who love their children and love their families and want to have a better life. And I am proud to be part of an organization and part of a community in the Northwest who is willing to help them achieve that. They're not helpless victims, they're very courageous people. I don't know if I'd have the courage with what they're doing."

No Medical Teams volunteers are in Syria or Turkey right now due to security concerns, he added.

About 90,000 refugees from Syria have been reached through Medical Teams' efforts thus far, DiCarlo estimated.COURTESY OF MEDICAL TEAMS INTERNATIONAL - A Syrian refugee in Lebanon gets a checkup from Medical Teams International.

Supplies loaded in Tigard, sent by sea from Seattle

The way Medical Teams' supply chain works varies from country to country and operation to operation, but it generally follows a basic pattern, logistics manager Gail Mannex explained.

With donations from local hospitals, contributions from the community and the help of a dedicated core of volunteers, Medical Teams loads up a shipping container with medical supplies. That container is then placed on a ship, usually out of the Port of Seattle. Once it arrives at its port, it may be loaded up again for transport to its final destination, where it either arrives at a warehouse or is unloaded on the spot. Supplies are then distributed, typically through a local partner organization, to hospitals, from which they may be sent to clinics and other medical facilities. The contents of the shipment itself are agreed upon between Medical Teams and its partner group, based on the needs of the population Medical Teams is serving and what supplies Medical Teams has on hand.

"Typically, it's a big event when the truck arrives," Mannex said. "It's kind of cool."

The first Aleppo shipment was Medical Teams' 12th of the month, according to Mannex. She said Medical Teams usually makes about 80 to 90 medical supply shipments per year, while also sending groups of volunteers and staff members to areas where it operates internationally.

About 250 to 300 volunteers come in every week to work in the warehouse, Mannex said. Flags hang in a row from the ceiling there, representing countries like Belize, Iraq, Libya, Nepal and Uganda, which Medical Teams serves. Volunteers pack up supplies and stacking them on wooden pallets. Twenty-seven pallets, laden with boxes of medical equipment and supplies, were loaded up and sent out for shipment to Turkey earlier this week.

Mannex volunteered for three years with the organization, working in its warehouse on shipments, before joining the staff.

"They are a pretty dedicated bunch," she said of her volunteers. "To see their commitment is pretty sweet."

DiCarlo said each shipment usually has supplies for about 10,000 people. It will take more than a month to arrive by sea, he added, so Medical Teams is planning to send more.

"Medical Teams is compelled by compassion," he said. "We are called to action, and we're committed to communities, and we're committed to the Syrian communities, whether they're refugees or displaced people. … We can make a difference, and I think it's important that we do it together."

Medical Teams' work is funded by charitable contributions. DiCarlo encourages people to donate online to support its mission.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Gail Mannex, manager of logistics for Medical Teams International, looks at pallets full of medical supplies in the warehouse of the Tigard-based nonprofit.

Find out more

Medical Teams' work is funded by charitable contributions. To donate or provide services to Northwest Medical Teams: medicalteams.org.