Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of hospital and medical equipment from Australia will be shipped to Northern Iraq in the new year thanks to the efforts of a Lake Macquarie-based charity.
Since 2017 Operation Hope, founded by Coal Point resident Erica Henley, has been collecting donations of medical supplies and equipment from hospitals that, due to Australian standards, can no longer be used.
Operation Hope then sends the donated items, packed into a shipping container, to the Duhok province in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, where they are used to treat hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people (IDP).
"In all our projects we strive to bring hope to the refugees and IDPs," Mrs Henley said. "The shipping container project means medical equipment is being put into the hospitals that provide medical services to all the refugees and IDPs... in many cases saving lives.
"At the moment the hospitals in the Duhok province are stretched to their limit trying to provide medical service to the massive increase in their patient base. We are talking hundreds of thousands of people just in this province.
"If we did not collect this valuable and life saving equipment it may well end up on landfill. So by doing the shipping container projects we are putting valuable equipment into the right hands but also stopping this stuff going to landfill."
One of the most recent donations Operation Hope has received is two anaesthetic machines from Toronto Private Hospital.
It is the hospital's second donation to Operation Hope. Last year, it donated 17 hospital beds.
"Within Australia, equipment past a certain age or that no longer meets Australian standards can no longer be used," Toronto Private Hospital chief executive officer Jason Penberthy said.
"We reached out within our [Healthe] group to see if there was anyone who could use the equipment then reached out to Erica. We first met Erica last year when we donated the beds.
"If we can help individuals either here in Australia or overseas to improve their health and well-being, then we will. It's a privilege and an honour to be part of this."
Mr Penberthy said the machines, which are more than 10 years old, were "left over from our surgical theatre days".
Mrs Henley said the machines would be well received by hospitals in Kurdistan.
"It is a huge privilege for Operation Hope to be the recipient of this equipment," Mrs Henley said. "It is a huge responsibility to ensure that we are sending equipment in good working order to the hospitals most in need of it.
"I am really motivated to bring hope and healing, however small those efforts are, to those who have been persecuted at the hands of ISIS. My life has been immeasurably enriched by these beautiful people who have lost so much and so many and yet are the most hospitable people you can meet in life."
Operation Hope was born from Mrs Henley's personal experiences and work with refugees.
While living in Brisbane, Mrs Henley began running playgroups through her church and invited refugee families with children to join.
"It assisted them in assimilating to life in Australia, to build friendships and was a safe place for them all to improve their English. It was an extension of the personal friendships I was forming as a volunteer working with new refugees to Australia," she said.
From this, Mrs Henley and six friends travelled as humanitarian volunteers to Greece where there are more than 60,000 refugees living in camps. During one month in 2016, Mrs Henley worked in two refugee camps.
In 2017, Operation Hope was founded. Its projects aim to assist the hundreds of thousand of Yazidi people displaced and living in camps in Kurdistan. After fleeing ISIS in 2014, most are unable to return to their villages which have been destroyed.
Operations Hope's first project was raising $28,000 to fund a women's and a children's ward in a new emergency field hospital. The funds were also used to establish an office for mental health care in a camp outside Mosul for internally displaced people.
In the six months to May 2018, Operation Hope raised a further $17,000 to fund more than 25 medical treatments and surgeries for children and women who fled Mosul.
It was a donation of medical equipment from a hospital in Narrabri, in the north western slopes of NSW, where Mrs Henley's son had worked that kick-started Operation Hope's next project.
"The equipment was a lot larger than simply taking it in our luggage, and so the container project was born," Mrs Henley said.
In 2018, Operation Hope purchased a 40-foot shipping container and filled it with more than $500,000 worth of donated hospital and medical equipment, 600 blankets, clothes, hygiene kits for girls, sewing machines, fabric and educational resources.
The hygiene kits were donated to a non-government organisation called The Lotus Flower while the remaining items were distributed to 12 hospitals in Syria and Northern Iraq, and to seven camps in Kurdistan.
Operation Hope was also given charitable status in 2018. It is a registered Australian not-for-profit, making donations tax deductible. It is further registered as a public benevolent institution.
Operation Hope has purchased a second 40ft shipping container and is in the process of filling it. This time, it will only be filled with hospital and medical equipment such as Toronto Private Hospital's donation.
Mrs Henley said all of the donated equipment is inspected by a biomedical technician to ensure it is in working order. The power cords are also changed to fit outlets in Kurdistan.
Once filled, the container will be shipped to the Department of Health in Duhok, Kurdistan who will distribute the equipment and supplies to hospitals in the province. Mrs Henley expects to ship the container in March 2020.
Mrs Henley also travels to Kurdistan to oversee the shipping container's arrival.
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