About First-Hand Aid
A One-Time Trip Becomes a Life-Long Mission
First Hand Aid (FHA) started in 1999 after Marc Bohland and a colleague made a trip to Cuba. They traveled on behalf of an exiled Cuban who worked with them at a local hospital.
Some years earlier, the hospital worker and two other Cubans had placed themselves on inner tubes and launched out of Havana to flee. Halfway to Florida, they encountered a storm, throwing two of them off the inner tubes and into the turbulent ocean.
The two men lost their lives.
The remaining Cuban was left alone under the relentless sun, somehow surviving with no food and water. He only recalls waking up in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter.
On the surviving Cuban’s behalf, Marc and his colleague agreed to make a trip to Havana to bring medical supplies and other scarce necessities to his family village. While there, they encountered a Cuban begging them to save the life of his daughter, who had been diagnosed with a blood deficiency disorder.
After much persuading, Marc and and his colleague traveled with her blood back to the U.S. After further diagnosis, and with the right medicine in hand, both returned to Cuba. This young girl is now a freshman in college, healthy and beautiful. And something came alive inside Marc.
That trip led to the creation of First-Hand Aid, an organization dedicated helping Cuban people. It would prove to be the beginning of a long, beautiful relationship with the Cuban people.
Since 1999, First-Hand Aid volunteers have made more than 80 trips carrying humanitarian relief—and hope—to Cubans in need. In addition, we operate programs inside Cuba that also bring aid directly into the hands of the people.
Co-founder of First Hand Aid, Marc made his first trip to Cuba in September of 1999. The great need and hope for the future first attracted Marc to the people of Cuba, focusing on the needs of children first. Marc continues this work because he believes that “to whom much is given, much is expected.”
Mary joined the board in 2011. She and her husband, Steve first traveled to Cuba in 2009 and made a subsequent trip in 2011. She initially traveled to help people with so much less and also to satisfy a curiosity of what Cuba was really like. She was quickly impressed with the needs and the warmth of the Cuban people. She looks forward to additional travel to Cuba and is grateful every day for what we have and for the freedom we enjoy in the U.S. By serving she wants to help enhance the mission of First Hand Aid in their effort to provide needed medical supplies and help fulfill the daily needs of the Cuban people.
Paul Gezon first traveled to Cuba in 2006, and the experience caused him to change his college major to International Relations. Since that initial trip, Paul has traveled annually and joined the board in 2013 to put his social media skills to use for the children and families of Cuba.
Dr. Ron Hoekman
Ron Hoekman’s medical mission work started in 1997 at the Kikuyu Hospital, in Kikuyu Kenya. He has returned to Kenya and also have worked at St Jude Hospital in St Lucia several times. In January 2010 after their devastating earthquake. Ron traveled to Haiti with a medical team from Western Michigan to aid in their recovery. Other non-medical mission trips have taken him to New Orleans, Texas, Cuba and Nicaragua.
Dr. Kyle Rasikas
Kyle Rasikas is a local internist who studied at Aquinas, Wayne State and did his residency at Blodgett and Saint Mary’s Hospital. Kyle provides an extremely valuable medical perspective for the activities of First Hand Aid.
Joel Talsma joined the board in 2008 and currently serves as the board treasurer. During Joel’s first trip to Cuba in 2008 he knew that this is where he belonged and that Cuba would never leave him. Since this time, he has regularly traveled back to Havana. After each trip he returns with a greater appreciation of the importance of the work there and a sense of wanting to do more. The passion of the people and their growing needs inspires him to continue to help his friends in Cuba. You can often see him on the streets of Havana supplying kids with baseballs and gloves and even playing a game of catch with them. Joel hopes that every traveler will be inspired to make a difference in this world and be the change you want to see.
Dr. William Telford
Jennifer Waters has travelled to Cuba three times in the last three years, utilizing her skills as a photographer to document the lives of the children and families First Hand Aid supports. As she wrote recently of meeting one of our senior recipients of meals named Maria: “She didn’t want me to see her missing teeth, but we ended up laughing so much that it couldn’t be helped. She taught me to say “I love you” in Spanish, and we said it back and forth to each other, hugging and laughing. She was grateful for the small gift, but I think the greater gift was meeting Maria.