Taking Care

Travelling with medicines – what you should know









Many Stuff Your Rucksack projects are crying out for medicines and medical supplies. Guest blogger Karina Jorgensen looks at the issues and considerations around donating medicines, including official advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In the richer western world, untouched drugs within their expiry date go to waste daily and are destroyed. It is estimated £100m worth of prescriptions are returned to pharmacy every year in UK alone. Medicine is so readily available to us, so it can be easy to forget that in some countries it is a luxury many cannot afford. It would be great to have large scale recycling system for countries to send surplus medicine to countries in need but until that day, travellers can help by taking some medication to needy projects across the world. Many of the projects listed on SYR ask for basic over the counter medicines that most of us are familiar with (see Julie’s Success Story).

It is very important to only respond to requests to avoid unrequired or surplus donations. It is a common but mistaken belief that in low-income countries, anything is useful, but remember that you are also passing on the cost and logistics of destroying expired drugs to the needy project! Always check with the organisation first to be sure of their needs. And while some projects seek more specific, complex medical equipment, it is best not to donate anything you are unsure about – leave those items to people in the medical practice.

The WHO has produced a document of guidelines for corporations on medical donations, and the full guidelines can be found on the WHO website. For SYR travellers, the following basic principles apply to anyone who is planning to take a sack full of helpful medicine:

–       Medicine/medical supplies should be completely unspoiled, and from a trusted source. If the quality is unacceptable to you, then it is unacceptable as a donation.

–       Medicine should be labeled in a language easily understood by recipient (and customs), including ingredients, expiry date, taking instructions and allergy advice.

–       Be aware of the remaining shelf life of the medication. If unknown, do not donate.

–       Always remember to bring copies of your communications regarding your donation when traveling and crossing borders with medicine.

If you do have any doubts about traveling with medicine of medical supplies including sharp object such as scalpels or syringes etc, it is best to contact the Foreign Office or Department of State.  In general, if you are unsure ask, ask and ask again. The team at Stuff Your Rucksack are always happy to point you in the right direction ahead of your trip.

Happy (and healthy) travels!


A double helping of generosity for African Impact…

Sonja Hughes is managing a volunteer project in Mozambique through African Impact and The Happy Africa Foundation. She got in touch with news of their first Stuff Your Rucksack visitors. Two travellers, Maria and Maria from Spain, went to the organisation in October.

She tells us: “African Impact are running a pre-school for 70 Mozambican children so we always need lots of teaching resources, especially art and craft items which are difficult to get out here. We also provide adult English classes in the town. Many, many adults and teenagers in Vilanculos are desperate to learn English and recognise it is as a path to finding a good job.

Children outside the pre-school

Adult English class

“Maria Lerena found us on the website and contacted me to say she would be visiting Vilanculos. I sent her a donation wish list, plus some recommendations for places to stay and activities around the area.

Maria and her friend, Maria, arrived at our volunteer house. They had brought so many great things for us – face paints, crayons, stickers, plus new text books for the English classes, which we desperately needed. Thanks to their donations, we have been able to start a new upper intermediate class.

A pupil puts the face paints to good use!

“We would love to see more visitors from Stuff your Rucksack, and of course they will be welcome to visit our projects whilst in Vilanculos. Thank you again to Maria and Maria, and to Stuff your Rucksack!”

You can visit the African Impact Facebook page to find out more.

Little Acorns

Some time ago we received this story about a charity that actually began with someone stuffing her rucksack for the children of The Gambia. Marjorie Warwick took a bagful of pens when she travelled to the area for a holiday, back in the early 1990s.

She was so enchanted by the children, who had so little but loved to learn, that she looked into local planning permission that would allow her to build a school for local children.

It took two years but she managed to raise the money. Sadly, she died before it was ever completed, but her daughter-in-law, Judith Hughes, elected to take it over and the first school was finished in 1998.

The charity, HASTE, has now been running for almost two decades, and has built ten new schools in that time.

It just goes to show what a simple action can lead to.

Not just a flying visit…

Choosing to visit and donate to a project doesn’t have to be just a one off good deed – for many it can be the start of a long-term relationship. Julie Dimond, one of our latest success stories, volunteers with SEREP, and even helped another traveller to donate via Stuff Your Rucksack. Erica Wren fell in love with The Gambia and dedicates her time GETSuk, as she tells us here. And we recently received this story from Laura, who still gives her time back home in Italy to SOS Children’s Village in Dosso, Niger:

‘For two months I worked in Dosso. Every day we travelled through a rural area, and passed a building with high walls. From the outside I could see a slide and play areas, as well as some little houses. I was curious to know who had the privilege of living in such a nice place – the better buildings in town were usually the houses or offices of foreign delegates. I asked around and discovered it was an orphanage run by SOS Children’s Villages. It was then I decided to get in touch to see if I could go and meet the children, and maybe give them some of my free time.

In the meantime I went back to Italy, where I collected medicines and clothes from friends. The village does not receive any aid from the national government, and relies entirely on donations. The director was delighted with what I had brought. During my first visit, I met some children, who were scared of me initially! However, visit after visit, we played many games and I gave them lots of attention, which is something incredibly precious. On my last visit they could not stop crying… and I cried as well. There was something special in these children that life has given so little to, so when I came back to Italy, I decided to continue to support them. I sent emails to friends, and in July a container was sent to the Village containing 546 kilos of clothes, shoes, toys, medicines and stationery. Everything we collected would have been thrown away here as waste.

The more I learned about what the organisation does, the more I wanted to continue my support. The village takes care of 120 children. In each of the 12 small houses there is a Mum who looks after 10 children of different ages, like a real family. In this part of Africa where illiteracy rates are very high (only 29% of the population is literate). There is also a medical facility, which is open also to children not living in the Village, and to pregnant women. This facility is particularly important in a country where health care is not free – even in hospitals patients have to pay for all the equipment used. At the medical facility mothers receive advice on hygiene, nutrition, disease prevention and improvement of quality of life for their families. This advice can be shared with the whole community, with the long-term aim of reducing child mortality rates and fighting malnutrition throughout the community.’

If you want to learn more about SOS Village and how to help, you can get in touch with Laura by writing to sosteniamoilniger@gmail.com

It’s good to talk

Since Stuff Your Rucksack re-launched last year, we have had some incredible feedback from charities and travellers alike, who have received and given donations that have changed lives for the better. We like to share these stories with you as much as possible, with our success stories page on the website (keep an eye out over the coming weeks for the latest stories!), and we will also be adding some messages from SYR travellers and charities to the new blog. Messages like this, from travelling photographer Robyn Gwilt:

‘In Sept 2011 before our first Botswana/Namibia/Zimbabwe trip, my husband
Anthony found Stuff Your Rucksack online.  I mentioned it to our friends who were joining us on our trip. Everyone bought into the idea and contributed something for the trip, as did other friends and family members.

We filled 3 boxes with baby and children’s clothes, 40 plastic lunch boxes and
40 plastic juice bottles, blackboards, whiteboards and crayons, and about 10 soccer balls courtesy of Equatorial Guinea Liquid Natural Gas, where my husband works.

We visited Devava Kindergarten in Namibia: a tiny school built under a tin roof in the blazing African sun, where between 30 and 50 young children gather daily for care, while their parents work at the nearby lodges.

We departed with a couple of soccer balls left over, and handed them out along the way to various other schools in the area – places where we found children playing with ‘makeshift’ balls. Soccer truly crosses all boundaries, and it was wonderful to see the look on their faces when we gave them our surprise!

I offer this simple message: before you travel, there is always someone, somewhere who will appreciate something that you no longer have a need for.
You don’t even need to travel far – there could be something right on your doorstep. Wherever it is, if you recognise a worthy cause, add it to
Stuff Your Rucksack!’

Communication is at the heart of the Stuff Your Rucksack concept. Through the power of word-of-mouth we have endeavoured to bring together a global community of amazing projects and generous travellers who, bit by bit, want to make the world a better place.

Robyn also took some fantastic pictures of their visit. Here are just a selection: