DEFUNCT Canberra Hospital beds, destined for the tip, are making their way to struggling overseas hospitals – often in developing countries – that have few supplies and little equipment.
The enterprising idea is that of the Belconnen Rotary Club and is one of 100 projects the club has undertaken in its 50-year-history.
Some 40 obsolete – but still usable – beds along with other medical equipment such as crutches, wheelchairs, walkers and shower chairs have already been shipped overseas and are helping to save lives in poverty stricken countries.
“It gets to a point where hospitals can’t maintain equipment anymore so they buy new stuff and the old equipment ends up being dumped,” said Belconnen Rotarian Peter Kain.
“The project is called Triple R or Recover, Rehab, Re-use and it’s run by club member Fred Fawke, in conjunction with other clubs in Canberra. “Fred’s a retired policeman and has his ear to the ground rescuing old medical equipment, fixing it up and rehoming it. There’s a shipment about to head to Lightning Ridge and another to Sri Lanka,” Mr Kain said.
It is a special year for Belconnen Rotarians.
In April, the 38-member club will celebrate 50 years of “doing good” in the Canberra community.
This year also marks the centenary of Rotary in Australia and NZ.
Despite declining membership numbers worldwide, Rotary district governor Michael Moore argued the organisation is still “relevant” and is achieving incredible things, such as supporting education in Africa and PNG, working on clean-water systems in Nepal and eliminating worldwide polio.
“Rotarians have contributed more than $2.1 billion to protect nearly three billion children, in 122 countries, from the paralysing disease… in fact it was an Australian Rotary president who kick-started the project,” Mr Moore said.
In its 100th year, despite its ageing membership, Mr Moore says the historic organisation is changing.
“There is a perception that Rotary is very conservative. There are still conservative clubs, but Belconnen for example is not one of them, it’s vibrant and energetic, it has achieved a lot in 50 years.”
Chartered in 1971 with 20 members, the Belconnen club’s major source of fund raising is its Trash ‘n’ Treasure market held every Sunday since 1974 at the Jamison Centre car park.
In 2024 Trash ‘n’ Treasure will celebrate its 50th birthday. To date the iconic market has raised more than $6.2 million to help support many international, national and local projects including Rotary Cottage at Calvary Hospital and the Shepherd Centre for deaf children.
“Back in the early 2000s parents of children with hearing disabilities were having to go to Sydney for Cochlear implants,” Mr Kain said.
“One of our members had profoundly deaf children and floated the idea of setting up a Shepherd Centre. Our club sowed the seed and got the ball rolling and the next thing we know a Shepherd Centre was established here in Canberra.”
It was another of the club’s ingenious ideas that helped fire-ravaged communities get back on their feet.
Last year, Belconnen Rotarians rolled up their sleeves rescuing scrapped, hail-damaged roof panels from the tip and loading them on to semi-trailers to be delivered to fire-affected towns across NSW.
“A lot of builders in Canberra were repairing hail-damaged roofs and dumping the damaged galvanised iron sheeting at the tip, so through the Triple R project we collected the panels and delivered them to farmers that needed materials to rebuild,” said Belconnen Rotarian Linda Baldwin.
“A lady that sells Batlow apples at our market lost all of her machinery and storage sheds in the bushfires. We helped her with money but she also used the galvanised iron sheeting to rebuild sheds on her farm.”
Ms Baldwin, 66, joined Rotary eight years ago. She’s one of a handful of women in the club, and said it feels “good” to give back.
“Wherever there is a need we try to help, it’s what we do.”
A sentiment shared by Mr Kain, who joined the club 34 years ago when his teenage son took part in Rotary’s student-exchange program.
“I was really impressed with the club when my 17-year-old son Sean went on exchange to Germany so a few years later I signed up,” he said.
“My parents were both heavily involved in the community when I was growing up and Rotary seemed to be an extension of what I knew about giving back.
“It’s nice every now and again to get some recognition for what we do as Rotarians, but you don’t join Rotary for the kudos, you join because there’s a need in the community.”
Retired public servant Peter Oldham, 79, said being a part of something “big” inspired him to join some 30 years ago.
“You meet the most amazing people,” Mr Oldham said.
“You can go to any Rotary club in the world and feel welcome. It’s an incredible way to feel a part of something and to meet new people.”
And the group has a message for any would-be rotarians: “Give it a go, it’s nice to be able to give back.”
The Belconnen Rotary Club celebrates its 50th birthday on April 17, with a gala dinner to be held at Thoroughbred Park. Former members and friends should contact the club if they wish to attend.