A medical team of surgeons, medical students, nurses and others has traveled this month deep into Africa's Ivory Coast with a Norman nonprofit humanitarian organization to bring health care to what some refer to as “the forgotten people.”
They hail from various African tribes and often live with broken bones and treatable medical conditions because they lack access to care, said Jacob Meyer, media specialist with the Norman group called the 1040 Initiative, or 1040i. He called them “forgotten people” because of their isolation due to geography hundreds of miles from the country's main city and former capital, Abidjan, and due to civil wars that tore apart the Ivory Coast in the last decade.
1040i has been sending teams both to heal people and rehabilitate education in the area each year since Norman resident Mike Cousineau founded it in 2010 to help the country post-civil war. He has served in the area for more than 30 years with other groups, Meyer said.
This trip, however, Ivory Coast customs agents are jeopardizing 1040i's humanitarian mission. The agents won't release a container that 1040i members shipped from the United States last November filled with fresh medical supplies, new surgical equipment and construction equipment and school supplies, said Norman plumber Bob Usry, who has been on many previous trips but couldn't go this year. The government also won't give 1040i any clear direction of how to free the container from customs so the team can take it deep into Africa's bush country, to the village of Doropo in the north part of the Ivory Coast, hundreds of miles away.
“It's gone beyond stupid,” Usry said in a phone interview from Norman last week.
On Thursday, Cousineau, working in Africa, issued a plea via email for help to officials in the United States so the medical team can continue its second and final week in the country, and so a second group of construction team members can start their own work building a new school when they arrive later this week. Usry is among those seeking help on 1040i's behalf stateside.
“We have been using supplies left over from last year, but they are nearly depleted. ... We have been trying to clear this container since Dec. 31,” Cousineau wrote in the emailed plea currently being distributed to Oklahoma's Congressional delegation, state lawmakers and anyone who might be able to put pressure on Ivory Coast officials to release the supplies. “If the government of this people don't (sic) care any more about their own people, then why should the USA care about them? However, we as an organization want to rise much higher than this.”
The offices of U.S. Rep.Tom Cole, R-Moore, and U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, became aware of the situation late last week, staff members said. Cole's office noted that the staff planned to inform the Ivory Coast consulate, while Coburn's office was reaching out 1040i to work towards a resolution.
1040i's mission is to help people in selected areas of Africa and Asia with medical care, education and clean water; this month's teams include about 80 people working around Doropo, coming in two-week stints, Meyer said. The area is only accessible by roads that are either dirt or paved and filled with potholes. Once there, group members have limited contact with the outside world, mostly using satellite phones powered by electric generators to connect to the Internet or call if necessary.