Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Undue hardship! Diaspora members say customs duties preventing them from carrying out outreach activities

Published:Tuesday | December 27, 2016 | 12:00 AMCecelia Campbell Livingston
Barrels stored at the wharves.

Some Jamaicans and organisations in the diaspora are facing undue hardship as they seek to give back to the country of their birth.

For many of these 'Jamericans' who have big hearts and a desire to contribute, the obstacles they face may one day force them to throw in the towel and not assist. This is especially true for those individuals who are not affiliated with a charitable entity.

The biggest complaint is the high cost in clearing welfare and other items at the wharf - most of which were bought at bargain prices.

Lorna Rawle, founder and president of New York-based United Missions of Goodwill (UMG), which is a registered 501c charity organisation both in Jamaica and in the United States, has done a lot to assist the needy in Jamaica. UMG annual outreach programmes have benefited several hospitals in May Pen, Savanna-La-Mar, Port Antonio, as well as several high schools across the island. Despite the tremendous work her organisation has done, she still has had challenges on occasions getting medical supplies into the country.

CLEARANCE CHALLENGES

"From time to time, individuals and other groups indicated that they have encountered challenges with custom clearance of the items that are shipped to Jamaica for distribution to, or for use for, the poor. To date, UMG encountered one such challenge in August of this year. Despite presenting proper documentation, our shipment was detained by the customs officer, who stated that reading glasses did not fit the description of medical supplies," shared Rawle.

She said, as a result, she had to pay a significant amount of duty plus additional storage charges.

"Unfortunately, the money paid for the customs duty was diverted from funds that were to assist at least 10 students with urgent financial needs. The detention of the items also delayed the start of the scheduled outreach," she told The Gleaner.

For Rawle, incurred cost associated with providing assistance can be enormous.

"Some of our supplies are donated. The donated equipment is bought with money raised through fundraising efforts. Although we are given small discounts on shipping costs, expenses run into thousands of dollars here in the US and for documentation and storage in Jamaica. In addition, our volunteers are health-care professionals who volunteer their finances, time and expertise to assist," she said.

With all that, Rawle said it has not dimmed her desire to continue the humanitarian effort, as the roadblocks are not caused by the persons who need assistance. "Instead, it is the barrier that prevents those persons from receiving the assistance they need. Health care is a basic right for all. We in the diaspora want to assist the country in delivering such care in a more timely manner. It simply means that fewer persons will be a burden to the health-care system at no cost to the country. It means more persons will have better health and the lives of more families will be change," she stated.

Meanwhile, New York-based Althea Spence-Turner, who grew up in Barbican, St Andrew, said her family has for the last five years focused on assisting needy kids at the Miracle Tabernacle Freetown Church of God of Prophecy in Clarendon during the Christmas season. With the assistance of monies raise from friends, families and her own slush fund, she has helped to purchase toys, books, clothes and other supplies. She said it is disheartening to hear how much the church is asked to pay in customs cost to clear the barrels that are sent each year.

Had it not been for the desire to assist the kids and the overwhelming love and support she received from church members when her family visited in July of this year, she said she might have given up. She is grateful, though, for assistance from Trans Continental Shippers for shipping the barrels each year to Jamaica for free.

rural@gleanerjm.com