The Journey of Sea Containers Bringing Medical Supplies and Hope Worldwide

Medical supplies ready to be loaded onto a sea container.
Dr. Gil Irwin, President of Medical Missionaries, loading medical supplies to be sent to Africa.
Dr. Gil Irwin, packing master, fitting in the final items.
Seton High School students loading medical supplies.
Dr. Irwin gives a ‘thumbs up’ of approval to this team of volunteers.
Sea container of supplies being offloaded from a ship upon its arrival overseas.
Sea container being offloaded from the ship.
Truck delivering medical supplies to an overseas clinic
Container loaded on a truck on its way to a clinic.
Local community welcomes the arrival of medical supplies from Medical Missionaries at their clinic.
Medical supplies arrive at a clinic in Africa.
Clinic staff in Africa unpacking donated medical supplies.
Clinic staff will put every donated item to good use.
This thank you note says it all!

Since 1998, Medical Missionaries has been sending sea containers of medical equipment and supplies internationally. Sea containers are typically 40 feet long and can hold up to 10 tons of goods.

By the end of 2020, we had packed and sent over 200 containers worldwide, filled with medical equipment and supplies to help those in need and to help build infrastructure in impoverished countries that lack even basic healthcare. They mainly go to Africa (including Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Congo, and Malawi), but have also gone to Laos, Afghanistan, Philippines, Ukraine, Syria, and Jamaica, in addition to supplies sent to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It is an immense and complicated project to send these sea containers, involving many volunteers who enjoy coming together as well as those on the other side of the world waiting patiently for their container to arrive.

Medical Missionaries Volunteers at Work

Medical Missionaries collects donations at a steady pace. Even throughout the pandemic, on holidays and weekends, they arrive at our office. Almost everyone who donates to us has a story that goes with his/her donated items. One person shared that her mother, who had just passed away, would be so happy to know that the items which helped her so much in her care would now be able to help others. Another person donated a specific item that was colored blue; when she saw the pictures on our website of her “blue” item being unpacked in Africa she cried.

Our President, Dr. Irwin, makes the determination when enough goods have been collected so that a container can be packed to its capacity. A date is agreed upon to have the container driven to our warehouse and a call for volunteers is made. Before the pandemic we were fortunate to have a committed and strong group of students from Seton High School in Manassas, VA; they could pack an entire container in 3 hours! During the time of Covid, we limit the number of volunteers involved, so it usually takes longer to pack the container.

Container day is a joyful affair! A truck delivers the container to our loading site. Everyone gathers dressed to work and eager to start. Dr. Irwin is a master at packing these large behemoths and organizes the volunteers as to how items are loaded in. To say that it is “stuffed to the gills” is an understatement; every possible nook and cranny in the container is filled. Once the larger items like beds, furniture and machines are loaded then the space is filled in with boxes, mattresses, bags and then comes the army of crutches, canes, wheelchairs, commodes, and bath chairs. It is literally so full that it takes a few people to close the doors!

Volunteers Packing Medical Supplies

Before leaving the site the group photo is a must have! Once the information is collected as to the tracking numbers on the container and its inventory is completed the job of the volunteers is over. Now they eagerly wait for news that the container has arrived safe and sound at its destination.

The truck driver returns to our warehouse and hooks up the container. The first stop of its journey is typically the Port of Baltimore, MD but has also traveled through Norfolk, VA, New York, NY or Savannah, GA. The container has to pass through Customs both in the U.S. and the partner is responsible on the international side. Once through customs it is hoisted onto a container ship, hopefully sailing to a port close to the country it is destined for. The timeline of the container arriving at its destination can take from 6 weeks to 3-6 months.

Medical Supplies Arriving Overseas

When it arrives at the port in country it is loaded onto a flatbed truck where it will be driven to the clinics where people will benefit from all the supplies inside. We look forward to receiving photos of much celebration and joy as the container arrives, is unpacked, its contents sorted, and delivered to hospitals and clinics, many of whom lack even basic medical supplies and equipment.

By the time that container is being unpacked Medical Missionaries’ team has usually already packed the next ones and sent them on their way!

Read our previous blogpost about Medical Missionaries’ Shipments of Aid in the USA and Worldwide.