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OSU international students collect medical supplies to send to Ukraine, Uganda

Sam Nicklous
Graphic Design and Business major Ekaterina Dunovskaia (left), Rhawn Krogh (middle) and Sahar Kamalou, Ph.D. in Civil engineering (right) repack boxes of medical supplies at the warehouse on NE Belvue St. in Corvallis on August 24, 2023. Krogh has organized Operation Outreach, and enlisted the help of many international students.

Editor’s Note: A quote was changed to reflect a source’s greater intent for clarity to “I think it’s really helpful for countries under serious crisis.”

In a medical warehouse in Corvallis, Alina Hyk, a Ukrainian international student at Oregon State University, sorts unused medical supplies headed for countries in need such as Ukraine.

Raised in Kyiv and arriving in the United States months before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Hyk is now a second-year psychology major minoring in computer science and statistics.

Hyk is just one of an entire group of OSU international students from Iran, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Japan and more in a program called Operation Outreach. The group meets at a warehouse throughout the year to box medical supplies such as COVID-19 vaccines, needles, face masks, gloves and more from Samaritan Health Services.

Second-year Psychology major Alina Hyk speaks about her experience repackaging medical supplies at the warehouse on NE Belvue St. in Corvallis on August 24, 2023. Hyk, a Ukrainian international, has a personal connection with some of the supplies being sent to her home country. (Sam Nicklous)

The medical supplies sent to countries in need – this time around, Ukraine and Uganda – are not the normal standard product Samaritan medical staff are familiar with. To keep procedures clear and constant in medical facilities, it is safer to donate these supplies elsewhere, which allows this program to collect their supplies.

“Just because I have a 25 gauge one-inch needle, one brand to another brand has a slightly different safety mechanism on it, meaning that their motion when they’re doing it is slightly different. So it increases the potential for a needle stick. And so by sticking to that standard, we are doing the best we can to protect them,” said Todd Heustis, director of distribution logistics at SHS. 

The student-volunteers sort the supplies from standard to non-standard products, and the latter are packed away tightly in boxes to deliver overseas. 

Ukraine and Uganda do not only need medical supplies. In fact, they are not even the most valuable asset this program collects from SHS. Instead, it is bedding and towels, according to local philanthropist and program organizer Rhawn Krogh.

These supplies are often torn or stained, making them not up to standard for SHS, which is why they are donated. Heustis said he wishes they could send better ones, but that SHS is committed to finding new homes for products instead of ending up in the dumpster. 

“We have the philosophy here of we’re going to rehome, reuse, recycle scrap metal, donate and finally dispose of, if we have to,” Heustis said. “We take pride in how long it takes us to fill up a dumpster.”

The group has sent a total of three 53-foot box trailers overseas filled with medical supplies in the last year and a half. One shipment to Malawi with extra space was filled with an entire donated car: a Ford Excursion. 

“We’re gonna fill more than one this time. I think I’m going to be stacking pallets to get them in there,” Heustis said.

Krogh started Opportunity Outreach about 30 years ago, starting by sending a single donated X-ray machine to Ukraine. 

Krogh said he was inspired after seeing needs in other countries, and began looking for areas in the U.S. that were wasteful. One of those areas was the medical field, so that’s where he started.

Ekaterina Dunovskaia, a master’s student in the OSU College of Business and a founder of the OSU Russian Speaking Club, does not plan pursuing a career in the medical field, but said “why not” to helping those in need.

“Medical supplies are very important,” Dunovskaia said, adding that there are shortages of supplies in these other countries.

Aside from these supplies from SHS, shipment and other payments come from gifts from donations from churches, Ukrainian groups that support Ukraine, local trucking companies and more.

Mina Salehi Sedeh, OSU doctoral student in public health from Iran, volunteers with her husband at the warehouse and is passionate about the impact the program has. 

Sahar Kamalou, PhD in Civil engineering, cuts into a fresh box of medical supplies from Samaritan at the warehouse on NE Belvue St. in Corvallis on August 24, 2023. Kamalou and many other international students help redistribute the supplies to regions in need around the world. (Sam Nicklous)

“When I started working in the (medical) field, I realized the social impact on other people’s lives,” Salehi Sedeh said. “I got interested and decided to continue going to grad school for (public health) and I guess the most important motivation behind this is just to change the lives of other people.”

While the U.S. slowly forgets about the pandemic, Salehi Sedeh said the COVID-19 vaccines being sent overseas are important because the virus still remains a prominent issue in other countries.

Sahar Kamalou, OSU international doctoral student in civil engineering from Iran, was excited about the opportunity to volunteer.

“I think it’s really helpful for countries under serious crisis,” Kamalou said. “I think it’s not fair that they threw (supplies) away while other countries need them.”

Kamalou’s hope is that the supply boxes are delivered without damage and will be useful for the individuals in the countries that are receiving them.

“It will be really helpful because I have a lot of friends back in Ukraine who are working right now getting packages serving (civilians) in Ukraine. And I know from their first voice, how helpful it might be,” Hyk said. “Especially right now, because at the start of the war, I know that there were a lot of supplies, but right now it’s kind of more focused on machines…obviously, the medical part is really important. So I’m happy to help, I think it will be invaluable.”

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About the Contributor
Katie Livermore, Editor-in-Chief
Third-year double major in zoology and creative writing, minoring in chemistry and applied journalism. Summer and academic year Editor-in-Chief.

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