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Monday, June 24, 2013

First-Hand Aid: Bringing Medical Supplies to the People of Cuba

The author with Marc Bohland
By Steve Siciliano

I first met Marc Bohland when he owned The Guest House, a hall on Stocking Avenue in Grand Rapids where a few of our Siciliano’s homebrew parties were held before the annual event outgrew the confines of an indoor venue. Marc also owned the Copper Top at the time and Barb and I formed a friendship with him during our occasional visits to his restaurant. “You should travel with us to Cuba sometime,” Marc said during one of those visits.


Before Marc gravitated to the restaurant business he worked as a surgical assistant in the emergency room at Spectrum Health and it was there that he met a doctor who had recently escaped from the island. The doctor told Marc about the horrible conditions in Cuban hospitals, about the antiquated equipment and about the lack of basic medical supplies. The doctor also told Marc about how his two companions on the inner tube raft had drowned in the Straits of Florida. Most people would have listened and gone back to their lives. Marc Bohland listened and decided to help.

In 1999, Marc and a fellow spectrum employee smuggled medical supplies to the Cuban doctor’s family. That initial and, in the eyes of the United States government, illegal trip to Cuba was the first step in a remarkable journey that has culminated in the formation of First-Hand Aid, a non-profit organization that now regularly, and legally, brings medical supplies to Cuba.

Barb and I made the trip six years ago and it was an extraordinary experience. Like the other travelers in our group, our suitcases were packed with the much needed medical supplies as well as with staples that the average American takes for granted—toothpaste and deodorant, soap and aspirin. We stayed with a Cuban family. We saw first hand what impact the embargo is having on the lives of the Cuban people.

This past Saturday Barb and I worked the cigar bar at “Havana Night,” First-Hand’s annual fundraiser. Siciliano’s market donated the cigars and we donated a few hours of our time as a way of helping the organization continue its extraordinary work.

There are numerous arguments for and against the continuation of the Cuban embargo, in effect now for over fifty years. In the meantime the Cuban people are suffering. Since it doesn’t appear that our government will lift the embargo anytime soon, Barb and I just might have to make another trip.

Learn more about First-Hand Aid by visiting their website and Facebook page.


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