Posted by Katrina Henningham on Sep 14, 2020
Guest Speaker introduction: Glenda introduced the guest speaker, Erica Henley, and her husband, Kim. Erica is the CEO of Operation Hope Australia Ltd – Supporting Refugees in Northern Iraq. Erica, a Rotarian with the Rotary Club of Toronto, was the joint recipient of the 2020 Zone 8 Rotarian of the Year Award.
Erica gave a little of her history as a volunteer working with refugee children. It started when they were living in Brisbane. In 2016, she had the opportunity to volunteer in refugee camps in Greece. From there, Operation Hope Australia Ltd started growing. Erica’s husband, Kim, ensured that all the paperwork to register the humanitarian aid organisation and comply with all the legal requirements were met.
In 2017, Erica travelled to Kurdistan in Northern Iraq to help set up a Women and Children’s Ward in the Emergency Field Hospital, only 20km east of Mosel (which was under seige by ISIS). Erica & Kim’s son set up the facility for women & children, whilst Erica raised funds for 25 medical treatments and surgeries throughout 2017 & 2018.
In 2018, Erica travelled to a refugee area in western Kurdistan (20km west of Syria). The camps are spread across an area that has a major thoroughfare dividing it from the markets and the schools. Every year, many refugees are killed or seriously injured by oil tankers making their way through. When Erica visited this region, only available by connecting with a local NGO, she worked with volunteers teaching English and running Women’s Health Clinics, as well as distributing women’s health kits.
Erica shared the story of the first shipping container sent to Northern Iraq. Erica and her small team filled a 40foot shipping container  with donated medical & hospital equipment, 2200 Days for Girls women’s health kits, hundreds of blankets & wraps made by Wrapped with Love, clothes and knitted teddy bears. Because of the “mix”, this actually ended up causing a lot of bureacratic customs red tape at the other end. So Erica decided that collecting “mixed offerings” would not happen again.
In October 2019, Toronto Private Hospital offered thousands of dollars worth of anaesthetic machines and other medical equipment. On contact with other hospitals, many offered to donate their superseded equipment as their own was upgraded. So, another shipping container was filled – with only medical equipment & medical training manuals, to make the customs clearance much easier – and shipped on 2 August 2020, arriving 27 September.
ISIS had targeted schools, libraries, and hospitals destroying all educational materials. This shipment will go a long way to support medical training in the region. To facilitate the customs process, and the ability to use the equipment at the other end, Kim replaced every power cord and recorded all the information required for shipping & customs. A huge effort.
Erica’s vision for 2021 is to take a team of medical professionals to Kurdistan, once the COVID travel restrictions are eased. There are training sessions, prior to departure, for any doctors or nurses who are interested in volunteering for this mission.
Vote of Thanks: Club Service Director, Glenys thanked Erica, and presented a book that will be given to a local school on her behalf. Erica loved the idea and was thrilled at the topic of the book “Stories from around the World”
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