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Lenexa's Heart to Heart Sends Team 6,000 Miles To Help Marshall Islands Prepare For Coronavirus

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Sorting through boxes of protective medical equipment, Brittni Blaser, disaster response coordinator (left) and Joan Kelly, disaster response manager, look for items to take on the mission to the Marshall Islands.

Workers at the Lenexa, Kansas-based global humanitarian relief organization Heart to Heart International are deploying to the Marshall Islands to help prepare residents there for potential coronavirus infections.

The team from Heart to Heart prepared to leave on Saturday after receiving a request from the World Health Organization to assist in the isolated islands in the Pacific, part of the larger island group of Micronesia.

"Anytime where resources are difficult to get to a place, that certainly increases vulnerability," said Joan Kelly, Heart to Heart International’s disaster response manager. "In a place like the United States, where we have resources across the country, it's a little bit easier. In a place that's very isolated, it's difficult to get to and communication can be difficult it certainly increases the vulnerability."

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Kelly said making sure that her team is self-sufficient in areas where local infrastructure might be compromised is a key part of a successful mission.

As of Thursday the islands were unaffected, but as new infections and deaths emerged in Asia and Europe, the coronavirus, or COVID-19, represents a potential threat. 

More than 6,000 miles from Kansas City, the Republic of the Marshall Islands has maintained a close association with the United States since the Second World War.

During their one-month visit, the team of nine Heart to Heart workers will focus on planning, preparedness and training.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Blaser and Kelly picked up a few final supplies in Heart to Heart's sprawling, 150,000-square-foot warehouse.

"We're talking very closely with the Marshall Islands about what exactly they need and making sure that if there's gaps in their supply chain that we can fill them," Kelly said.

A veteran of more than a decade in aid work, Kelly said she's always impressed with the Midwestern response to a crisis.

"We've seen time and time again Kansans all coming together to support global efforts and we appreciate the fact that we're getting support and the more support we can have the greater an impact it can really have," she said.

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her on Twitter @juliedenesha.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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