Bras going to Africa after solution is found

A Morpeth resident’s volunteering at a local charity shop was an important factor in finding a solution to the predicament of what to do with more than 650 donated bras when her plan hit a snag.

Thursday, 28th March 2019, 2:21 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th March 2019, 2:23 pm
Pictured at the Oxfam shop in Morpeth with a few of the donated bras are Heather Smith, centre, her husband Peter and Bryony Taylor. Picture by Jane Coltman.

Peter Smith has visited and worked at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) several times over the past 14 years. The experienced nurse practitioner with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and his colleagues have provided support and training to the team at the Tanzania hospital to help them improve the service provided to patients.

His wife Heather, who has a nursing role at Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, joined him during his most recent trip to the African country – they went on a safari after their work stints to celebrate Peter’s retirement from the nurse practitioner role.

Before the trip, he heard that the nurses were desperate for bras as they are expensive and difficult to source in Tanzania.

With plenty of donations from colleagues at the two health organisations and the These Girls Can Run Morpeth group that Heather is part of, they had more than 750 bras.

Heather, who went out to Tanzania a week later than Peter, vacuum packed a holdall and some of her case.

But explaining why she ended up only taking a few of them, she said: “When Peter and his colleagues arrived, the Tanzanian authorities would not let the bras in, saying they were not fumigated.

“After much haggling, they let the bras through, but they had to pay a fine out of the Northumbria Healthcare charity and so we decided not to take the others apart from about 20 that I gave to some very grateful nurses.

“A few days after he arrived, Peter heard that apparently an organisation had been buying bras in this country for £10 a tonne and selling them on in Tanzania for much larger amounts a tonne, so we think that was probably the reason why there was the issue at customs.

“As for my week at KCMC, I ended up helping out on the burns ward and it was a most humbling and emotional experience – particularly seeing the children with bad burns. I’m so glad that things are better than they used to be at the hospital.

“I also got to visit a local school and give a lecture to junior doctors about learning disabilities, drawing upon my own experiences.”

When they returned to the UK, her attention turned to what to do with the 655 bras in the sitting room.

Heather volunteers about once a fortnight at the Oxfam shop in Morpeth and a suitable alternative was found after doing some research and speaking with shop manager Bryony Taylor.

The bras were collected last Friday and taken to the charity’s Wastesaver warehouse.

They will then go on to Frip Ethique, an Oxfam-run social enterprise in Senegal. Most of its workers are women, who sort and sell the donated items of clothing to local market traders, and bras donated by Oxfam shops or via collections are its most valuable item – almost 7,000kg of them are sold each year.

For more information about volunteering at the shop in Bridge Street, call in or phone 01670 511997.