I've checked out USPS, UPS, DHL, FedEx, and several smaller international freight companies. I've checked airlines excess baggage. I even looked into adding our cargo to other nonprofit organizations container shipment going to Lesotho. Here's what I've learned -- All the more economical options have some restriction that prevents us from using them.
Our cheapest option will be to ship two laptops at a time using the Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate Boxes. This will cost about $990. Insurance would add about $50.
With the shipping cost so high, I'll look into the option of having Peace Corps ship them for us. With PCV Aaron only marginally involved now, I don't know how amenable Peace Corps will be to this, but it's worth a try. If that doesn't work, I'll have to add the shipping costs to one or more grant applications.
Note to self: I need to get over feeling reluctant to ask people and organizations for favors. It's not in my nature, but it is essential to this work.
For those who may follow in our footsteps, here's a bit more information about shipping supplies to Africa:
Before you start, you need to know the weight and dimensions of the items you need to ship.
USPS (US Postal Service) has a less expensive option called Air M-bags IF you're shipping large amounts of printed material. It also has ISAL (International Surface Air Lift) for total shipments >50 pounds, but this only goes from airport to airport, and it doesn't go to Lesotho. For our laptops, the only options are Priority Mail boxes. There are weight and size requirements for all the USPS options, but their website is really easy to use. You get a 5-10% discount by doing the shipping labels online.
UPS offers Air Freight and Ocean Freight. Their Air Freight rates are fairly comparable to USPS's priority mail rates, just a tad higher for our particular needs.
DHL requires you to fill out every possible little detail, including shipping date and billing information, just to get a rate quote. They do offer Air Freight, Surface Freight, and Ocean Freight, but I only looked at Air Freight. I'm still waiting for the quote.
FedEx doesn't deliver to Lesotho, which is a good thing because I'd hate to have to break my boycott of FedEx.
If I took the laptops with me when I fly to Lesotho,Delta's excess baggage would actually have been the cheapest option, except of course that you can't put computers in checked bags. For other supplies though, going to Africa you can take 2 checked bags up to 50 pounds each for free (62" combined dimension), plus you can take up to 8 more bags! If they are all under 50# & 62", the third bag costs $200, the fourth and fifth cost $350 each, and six through ten cost $600 each. If I checked one personal bag and took 4 50# boxes of supplies, it would cost $900, about $140 less than sending them USPS.
The other nonprofits I contacted were sympathetic but either didn't have room, weren't going to be sending a container any time this year, or had rules against including another organization's freight with theirs. If you're going to try this option, plan WELL in advance and check around.