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Georgians help Georgians: Hospital equipment bound for former Soviet republic

POSTED: December 21, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Richard Weaver, left, and Bob Forrest carry a couch into a container of aid items being shipped to the Republic of Georgia.

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Georgia’s been on James Jennings’ mind a lot lately.

The Gainesville resident and founder of the nonprofit humanitarian aid group Conscience International visited the beleaguered Republic of Georgia to assess the needs of refugees since Georgia’s armed conflict with Russia in August. He came back with some lasting impressions of a desperate people.

"Just the experience of being there in Georgia was eye-opening for us," said Jennings, whose work has taken him to some of the globe’s worst war-torn regions. Jennings said there are some 160,000 displaced people in refugee camps who fear they may never be able to return home.

A visit to Gori Pediatric hospital revealed rooms devoid of basic medical equipment.

"The existing hospital is one of the worst I have ever seen," Jennings said. "It’s a brand-new hospital, but there’s nothing in it."

On Saturday morning, volunteers inside a warehouse near Chicopee Woods loaded up a 40-foot shipping container with patient beds, incubators, monitors and other basic equipment donated from area hospitals.

The surplus equipment, worth up to a quarter-million dollars, is bound for the port of Savannah and then on to the port city of Poti in the Republic of Georgia.

It’s the first of what Conscience International officials hope will be as many as four deliveries to the region.

Helping with logistics is Cornerstone International Ministries, which worked with Conscience International on previous aid shipments to Iraq, Rwanda and elsewhere.

"It’s a group effort, so we can get to the areas that Cornerstone works in and the areas they work in as a partnership," said Floyd Higdon of Cornerstone.

Doug Hanson, who turned out to help with the loading Saturday, said he was impressed with the fearless work done by people like Jennings and Conscience International’s director of logistics, Al Nixon.

"None of this would be possible if they had not been courageous enough to go to a war-torn zone and do an assessment," Hanson said. "You never find these things out until you actually go there."

Jennings noted that his group was trying to make a difference in Gori, birthplace of one of the 20th century’s most notorious dictators, Josef Stalin, where a shrine at his childhood home still stands.

"Here was a communist leader with Chicago-style politics," he said. "We’re trying to reverse some of that in an attempt to do charitable works."

And, Jennings said, "We’re just starting this project."



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