Thursday, 19 April 2012

Do you want to help me out setting up a lab in Africa?

How can you join me in my efforts to set up the Institute of Biomedical Research (IBR) in the medical campus of the Kampala International University (KIU) in Ishaka-Bushenyi, Uganda? (KIU is a non-for-profit private institution)
  • When you go to the bank, to a restaurant, to IKEA… if there are publicity pens, pencils, notebooks, pen drives… take one for us. Give them to me next time we meet and I'll bring them.
  • When you accumulate points shopping with your credit card, filling up the tank, or being loyal to one of those companies that exchange fidelity for things more or less useful, check the catalog looking for something that we can use here, a screw driver, a desk organizer… Same as before. All these things are not worth the money of the delivery. If we meet, I'll bring them with me; otherwise, money will be the easiest to move around the world and we can buy these things here.
  • When you are running out of tape, eraser, ink in your white-board pen, paper… and you are going to buy more, buy one for us or, better, put the money aside and send it to us when you put some together.
  • Do you remember all those half-used notebooks that are accumulating dust somewhere in your room? Take the sheets that are useful to you and send us the rest.I'm going to leave this one out for the moment because we don't have an easy and cheap way to bring them here, but keep it in mind.
  • I know that the world is in crisis, but if you want to get involved a bit more, you can fund the master’s thesis of one of our MSc students. They already have a salary because, while they study, most of them are lecturers in the School of Health Sciences. What we need is the money to buy the reagents and materials for their research projects.
  • You can also fund for a period of time one of the expenses in our lab, like the internet connection (this is urgent, unlimited access with a router that can handle four or five computers costs 90€ – $120 – per month), the paper for the printer (we are trying to be paper free printing only what is absolutely required, but most of the things are not digitalized around here and we need real paper to talk to other departments and make things happen), the food for the flies, or one of the works we need to get done in the lab ( a door that has a padlock, the mosquito meshes that will stop the mess that the termites create in every storm, or fixing a dark room for the fluorescence microscope that was donated by the University of Cambridge in 2011).
  • Do you drink a lot of soda? Find out if your favourite brand offers the possibility of getting donations in exchange for collecting bottles, cans, plastic or metallic bottle tops. The same with any other product that you usually buy and has a certain environmental impact. Remember that you can “sell it” as a contribution to the environment in addition to the development of a developing country. If the company that sells the product doesn’t respond positively, try with an NGO that works for the environment.
  • Start your own team of waste revalorisation. In some cities it is possible to get a small economic incentive for some of the products that we trash or recycle (paper, metal, glass bottles, old cell phones and other electronics, ink cartridges, plastic bags…). In some cases it is as easy as taking them to the store by the corner. What one single person can get is usually not worthy (that’s what the big companies that make money out of our rubbish are using to make business) but if you put a team together you can collect some products in all your blocks, maybe some schools and shops in the neighbourhood will help you out. Talk to associations of neighbours, parents or students. No matter how little the amount you collect, for us it will be like rain after a draught.
  • If you are engineer or engineering student, you can come for a visit – you can use the excuse to go on a safari! - and design for us the solar power structure to provide with 24/7 electricity our lab. We also invite you to study the possibility to get energy out of the incredible amount of water that falls on our roofs almost every day, not only on our building but on the other blocks on campus, the hospital, and all the apartment blocks in which KIU hosts its employees.
  • And the cheapest thing of all, help us extend the rumour, reaching someone that can help us. This is not an NGO, not for the moment at least, for the good and the bad. We don’t have the back up of x number of years making good, but we also don’t have a bureaucratic load or intermediaries that can exhaust the funds before they get to their destination. This is me, Marta, whom you know or of whom you have heard about probably through someone who knows me - otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this – and I will put every penny in the lab, I will show you pictures, and the bills and the account books, and I will host you in my home if you want to come and see it, and I will make room for you if you want to come and do something with your own hands, and I will thank you for every crumb of help with every cell of my body.
And if you work in a lab you can do much more:
  • When you find an abandoned micropippete in a drawer, poor thing no-one is ever going to use it again because it is not trustable, keep it for us.
  • When you change the electrophoresis system and the old gel trays don’t fit in the new tanks, keep them for us!
  • Get books for us! Any lab manual, protocols book, manuals of genetics and Drosophila, textbooks of any subject that has anything to do with Biology and the Biomedical Sciences (and if you are teaching and you ask the publishers they will give them to you for free). If the copy that you have in the lab is old, ask your boss to get a new one and send us the old one.
  • Ask about the warehouse of your university or institute, where all the things that no-one wants to use because they are old or obsolete go. Look for electrophoresis tanks, spectrophotometers, dissection microscopes to work with flies or C.elegans, scales, incubators, refrigerators, thermo-blocks, water baths, computers… Find out how to get a donation from your institution and if they could cover the delivery if it’s something big that I cannot carry in my luggage. If they don’t cover it, campaign a bit to raise the funds.
  • Every time a commercial representative asks for your time to tell you about the virtues of a product, ask them to donate some samples for us in exchange. Any plastic consumable would be welcome (1.5ml tubes, conical tubes – 15 and 50ml), small tools (pestles, forceps, scalpels…), extraction kits, small samples of reagents, anything!!!
  • If you find any funding source from your country to collaborate with developing countries in the fields of research and higher education, think of a project in which we can work together. We will do anything you need us to do: institutional back up, use of facilities, publicity, logistics of the event… I will, if you want to come and do something on the ground, host you in my house.
Basically, anything that you can think of that can help us start (and keep going) the engine of this laboratory will be received with applauds. Receive in advance the gratitude of the Director of the Institute for devoting ourselves the time to read all this. I will do my best to bring here everything you get for us at the minimal expense for you.

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