volunteer and former employee Nancy Kilker of Winchester recently traveled to Cuba, where she assisted in delivering $500 in medical supplies donated by Winchester Hospital.
The trip was a government-sanctioned, humanitarian mission sponsored by Bringing HOPE Foundation, Inc. The 14-member team delivered the supplies to rural schools and the Sisters of Charity, a division of Catholic Charities which operates community-based outreach centers, retirement homes and special needs facilities throughout Cuba.
Prior to the trip, Kilker shipped 50 pounds of supplies to Bringing Hope. She and her husband, Wayne, additionally carried 30 pounds each in their luggage of over-the-counter medicines and vitamins, first aid and cold supplies, and items such as toothpaste, hand soap, dish soap and laundry detergent which the Cuban government recently cut from its rations. As a result, according to Kilker, these items are only available at inflated prices in stores or on the black market.
“People wanted to trade us handicrafts for soap,” recalled Kilker, who freely distributed the bars of soap she didn’t use at her hotel. The Kilkers also brought baseballs, school supplies and candy for children.
“They’re very proud people who don’t want handouts,” she said, “but they have to survive.”
Kilker, who formerly worked in Winchester Hospital’s Community Health Institute, has volunteered in the Emergency Department since moving to Winchester in 1993. She said she has long wanted to travel to Cuba, and this was the first of hopefully multiple visits.
While traveling through the cities of Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad, Kilker said she was struck by the poor condition of the country’s infrastructure. Perhaps due to the black mold that is visible on the interior and exterior of so many buildings, a large number of residents suffer from asthma and allergies.
“When the nun from Sisters of Charity saw all the vitamins we brought, particularly the children’s vitamins, she almost cried,” Kilker recalled. “She said, ‘Thank you, thank you,’ and asked us to send her prayers to Winchester Hospital. She was just overwhelmed.”
Part of the mission of the Bringing HOPE Foundation is to interact with Cuban citizens to bridge the cultural, social and political gap between the two peoples. Kilker emphasized that everyone she met was friendly and open. Many asked her to relay a special message.
“They said, ‘Tell the American people we love them,’” she said.