Grand Prairie man sending $2.8 million worth of medicine to Liberia

As North Texans struggle to handle the arrival of the Ebola virus, a Grand Prairie man is sending $2.8 million worth of medicine to help victims of the epidemic in Liberia.

By the time the disease had grown to infect thousands this summer, Andy Perkins was operating BESTWA Inc., a nonprofit he founded in 2004. With an annual budget of about $130,000 plus in-kind donations, the organization’s staff of 22 Liberians feeds about 900 children daily and sends more than 500 to school.

But this year, the little charity is providing more help at one time than its founder ever dreamed possible.

BESTWA is distributing $2.8 million worth of medication this week, 2 tons worth, that should help 10,000 Liberians for three months. The massive donation came together through contacts Perkins has known for years and a new one he met on an airplane.

“I never asked anybody for anything,” Perkins said. “This is way beyond my ability to do. I just keep talking to these guys, and they stay on board.”

Pronounced “best-way,” the name is an acronym created by Liberians: Building Everyone’s Success Together in West Africa.

Dan Baucum, a friend who lives in Midlothian, described Perkins as “one of the most self-sacrificial people I’ve ever seen. They live in a double-wide, live on next to nothing.”

Another Midlothian friend, Gatlan Turk, said the work Perkins does is frustrating and difficult. Liberia’s government is known for corruption, and the entire country has lacked running water and electricity since a 14-year civil war ended in 2004.

A personable former soldier and salesman who was a preacher’s kid, Perkins has no trouble striking up a conversation. He came across powerful kindred spirits on his travels and wound up being given the big donation put together by several groups including the World Children’s Fund; Global Assistance; Medical Mission International; International Relief and Development; and Medical, Education, Training and Development.

Each organization worked on different aspects of the donation: obtaining the medicine, logistics, packing and shipping. The medications — antibiotics, general anesthetics, steroids such as prednisone and much more — arrived in Liberia this week from The Netherlands by air, Perkins said.

His staff of Liberians, charged with distribution, came up with a detailed, 75-page plan to get the medicine to 25 different clinics and Ebola hospitals in Buchanan and Monrovia, the nation’s capital.

The epidemic has slowed down other work by BESTWA. The group was building a birthing clinic when Ebola struck.

“We have stopped work on that,” Perkins said of the birthing clinic. “We can’t bring workers in and out of our compound like that, it’s too unsafe.”

He talks to his staff by text message several times a day. After the civil war ended, cellphone towers were erected but not equipment for landlines, Perkins said.

He said the whole country has basically shut down since midsummer. Schools are closed as are most government offices. The virus has altered the simplest elements of daily life.

“Liberians are very warm people who always shake hands. It’s a special West African handshake,” said Perkins. “They won’t touch each other now, which is wise, considering how Ebola is spread.”

BESTWA is taking rigorous precautions in its feeding program, he said. Children wash their hands in a chlorine solution upon arrival, again before eating and again before leaving.

“If Ebola gets into those feeding programs, that’s my worst nightmare,” he said.