Toronto ambulances lead Caravan of Hope

As the sun sets over Houston, Texas a road weary convoy of do-gooders turns in for the night.

Father Hernan Astudillo is leading a team of volunteers dubbed “The Caravan of Hope” from Toronto to Soyapango, El Salvador. Their mission is to deliver two decommissioned Toronto EMS ambulances to the impoverished town.

The ambulances will operate as mobile medical facilities to a population closing in on one million people.

“These ambulances are a miracle for the people of Soyapango,” he said. “There is nothing else, so they are like mobile hospitals.”

Toronto city councillor Joe Mihevc, Ward 21, St. Paul’s West, has thrown his support behind the project. An ambulance donated in 2008 was so well received, the city decided to send two more.

Normally these vehicles are put up for auction after 160,000 kilometres, or 54 months in service but Mihevc’s fellow councillors, Rob Ford, (Ward 2, Etobicoke North), and (Doug Holyday, Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre), have argued that the $6,000-$10,000 price they could fetch at auction would be better served on Canadian streets.

Mihevc says the benefit of the ambulances to an impoverished nation such as El Salvador outweigh any value they could generate in Toronto: “Such an insignificant cost at our end is of great benefit on their end,” he said. “By El Salvador standards it’s a fantastic vehicle.”

The philanthropic benefit reaches beyond Soyapango city limits as well. Mihevc explained that the good gesture has been felt right here at home; affecting advances that money just can’t buy.

“We’ve become much closer to our Latin American community (here in Toronto) through these initiatives,” he said.

The trip will take Astudillo roughly 10 days in total, through Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Guatemala and finally El Salvador. This is Astudillo’s eighth trip to the Central American country, a mission of aid that began 10 years ago after the destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch.

“After the hurricane there was so much destroyed, we collected donations and drove them to El Salvador in a bus,” he said.

Astudillo is in high spirits, but the road is not always friendly. On day three of their trip they were confronted by a police officer that was skeptical of their intentions.  Astudillo explained that the officer couldn’t wrap his head around a   congregation of do-gooders driving across the continent in used ambulances.

“He seemed to feel intimidated,” he said with a chuckle. “By the Caravan of Hope!”