Image of a woman holding a first aid kit, with an open suitcase beside her.

The experience of travel can teach us many things - acceptance, tolerance, new perspectives, and resilience. It is what we take away from our travels, the memories and experiences that linger, that help shape our future decisions and chart courses we never imagined. 

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." Helen Keller  

Drew Cumpson was relaxing and body-surfing at a beach in Peru at the end of a humanitarian trip in 2011 when a wave impacted him against the ocean floor. Resuscitated by friends, he had broken his C4 vertebra and nearly drowned. This accident left Drew a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic. 

The Canadian's first-hand experience of being in a foreign country, with limited medical supplies and treatment inspired him to help others. He speaks openly about disability and promotes accessibility and accessible tourism.  

"I could either let it break me, or I could start to change the world and change the way people look at disabilities, and the way they look at everything to do with accessibility in general. That has been my mission.” 

He started a chapter of "Not just Tourists" in his local area. Originally started in 1990 after seeing the serious lack of medical supplies in Cuba. Dr Ken Taylor and his wife Denise - from  Ontario, Canada - began taking medical supplies to remote areas in Cuba. Soon others who were travelling to Cuba began approaching them to take medical supplies too. The organisation uses donated suitcases and medical supplies to assist those in need, and with assistance from airlines and travellers, they make connections worldwide. Thus began the Not Just Tourists phenomenon. Their motto is "take a suitcase, change a life".

The volunteer organisation seeks volunteers in many ways - to carry supplies, donate supplies, pack and sort supplies, contact and connect with travellers, or notify them of medical clinics in need. The organisation have delivered over 10,000 suitcases with more than 3,000 volunteers. They welcome travellers to deliver supplies to clinics in need.

Not Just Tourists accepts donations of:

  • Supplies such as bandages, antiseptics, examination gloves, scalpels, wound-care kits, IV kits in sterile packaging, masks, disposable needles
  • Dental and dental hygiene supplies, eyeglasses and optical supplies
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Wheelchairs, crutches, walkers


And send out:

  • Generic contents are sent to remote areas
  • Examination gloves, syringes, wound care kits, etc
  • Specific contents are sent to medical facilities that have received suitcases in the past and sometimes send through “wish lists” so that any future suitcases can be personalized to their needs
  • Hospital supplies, such as more specialized items, are sent to hospitals. These include surgical instruments, IV supplies, machines and equipment.

Whilst there is currently no chapter of "Not Just Tourists" in Australia, many Rotary or Lions Clubs across the country offer similar programs. IDEAS Information Officers can help you find an organisation in your area that takes donations.


Resources and for more Information:

Not Just Tourists