Returning from our third relief mission
Mission 3 Chapter 3
As we are taking off, there is a lot of crying and I know there is one small baby who is having trouble breathing. Dr. Guy is concerned but confident that he will be ok. We have a lot of kids needing Pedialyte, which we have plenty of.
When the seat belt sign is removed, Jude and I get up and start seeing how we can help the care-givers – some need diapers, some need help – and we are there to assist. Mary goes into full gear. She wants to pull all the winter clothes out and get them sorted and given to all the kids. We have one of the Air Canada volunteers, Keith, helping and much to my surprise, we work literally the whole flight to coordinate the sizes in order to get everyone dressed, with long pants and long sleeved tops – all of them with winter gear.
Obviously we didn’t know all the sizes or how many boys versus girls – but we are not bad – with only one exception, we have batted 1000. Pricille, the lovely Air Canada Communication Head who has made every flight, finds that somehow her child is missing some clothes. We have the best time outfitting our little guys and gals in the Olympic sweat suits that The Bay sent over. They are black with red stripes and have ‘Canada’ emblazoned across the chest. How appropriate – probably their first-ever heavy gear and already telling a story. The flight is busy – besides outfitting all the kids, we are also getting jackets on our evacuees – we have young people with their families, and we make sure everyone will have jackets and warm clothes as we have hit the coldest weekend of the winter season so far. Calin has had his little charge on his lap the complete flight. Putting clothes together for her has been challenging as she is a little older and her sizes have gone quickly, but we get it together. Jude and I have been trying to colour-coordinate things so that all the kids are the most awesome looking possible. I laugh as I remember him putting his request in for his little charge. Basically, Mary and Jude and I are looking out for 2 little guys, so we are constantly revolving, as the three of us work to help get things organized. Who knew that my fashion experience would come to some use on these missions – hysterical. We are ready to land and we do the best we can to clean up all the clothes and the garbage, and help the flight crew. The flight is again being led by Bob. Bob has made the last two flights. He is incredible because he is always smiling, and even when we are in the aisles hindering his and his crew’s process, he is smiling, and helping, and doing everything he can. Perhaps his most memorable moments are the speeches he makes as we land in Haiti and then back home in Ottawa. They are profound and emotional. He get is it – he gets the life changing moments we are all experiencing. He welcomes the little guys and gals to their new home and wishes everyone a big welcome home. Mary and Jude carry the children down. I follow after with the extra bags. The Red Cross volunteers are on every step of the stairs going down – they are ready with blankets to wrap them around the kids, but there is no need – the cutie pies have their snow suits on and little hats and mittens, but I can tell you, the little tykes weren’t happy. The most crying we heard the whole flight was when everyone was getting the heavy gear on them. Kids are kids and pretty much all the same – we change them with our adult hang-ups. We are escorted into a room in the airport with many Canadian immigration officials. Every child has a wrist bracelet with their names and they have been divided into groups. When their names are mentioned, they are paired with a CIC official and then they are escorted to their new families. We are taking pictures of all the kids and their caregivers. I want to take a few of the kids with their new track suits to send to Bonnie and her team at The Bay. As we wait, Jude’s little guy is worried – I can see it in his face. I bend down and talk to him in French and I ask him if he is OK. He shakes his head from side to side. He is being adopted with his sister. I whisper assurances in his ear, and tell him he is going to meet his mom and dad and not to be afraid. This doesn’t seem to give him any more comfort, so I put my arm around him and try as best as I can to give him the love I feel for him. Is it possible to fall in love with these kids in hours? Yes it is. And that should be a message we keep alive forever – loving is natural and easy; hating takes work. When our little guy’s name is called, we are escorted outside to a couple who are from Abbotsford, B.C. I can never really truly explain the emotions I felt when Mary handed the little guy to his new parents. He is scared and he wants to go back into Mary’s arms. We kiss him and we wish his parents well. We leave. I am crying, and I turn and see Calin Rovinescu, the CEO of Air Canada, and he has tears in his eyes. He has given his little charge over to her parents. Just about everyone on the plane, that had anything to do with this flight, are pretty much ‘basket cases’. As we come back into the room to follow Jude, we see our little guy and the parents from B.C. The father has him in his arms and they are playing and laughing. Five minutes – that’s how long it took for them to fall in love with each other. That memory will be indelibly etched in my mind for the rest of my life. Air Canada has organized a bus to take their employees to Montreal, and me and our nurses have hitched a ride. Actually, Air Canada, in their continuous generosity, have included us on their bus plans and ordered a bus large enough for all of us. I want to make sure the nurses are on it. Dr. Zaltsman has gone on to Toronto and Dr. Morris’s wife has come to pick him up. I also didn’t have time to talk to them on the flight so I want a chance to speak to them. I grab handsome Carl (Air Canada Security who has made all 3 flights) to help me get the nurses organized – he and Gilles have been amazing and a real pleasure to travel with – Carl had never changed a diaper and we wanted to teach him this flight but he ran away. The bus is parked in front of the plane and as I am sitting watching, outside the window there is a hearse waiting at the bottom of the cargo door of our plane. I didn’t know until now, but we have brought back the remains of a Canadian who passed away in Haiti. The coffin comes down and is draped with a Canadian flag. The sole family member is surrounded by Air Canada staff and it takes me back to the Cargo building where John, one of the Air Canada members of the Cargo team, had spent some time explaining to me about the protocol that Air Canada has implemented to take care of our fallen men and women in uniform who come back. They have built special carriages and made sure all the colors of all the equipment they use are part of the protocol of the Armed Forces. When in Toronto a fallen soldier is brought back, all activity on the tarmac at Pearson International halts, to make way for the procession. This touches me. There is something to be said for this kind of care and attention, and the desire to do the right thing. I am so honored to have been John’s student – it gave me another glimpse into a world I knew nothing of. The bus ride is crazy because believe it or not Carl is going up and down the aisle with goodies. I am almost sure we aren’t in the air … I laugh at him and he laughs back. I go to the back, finally to spend some time with the nurses. I hear some incredible stories. They spent the first 2 days at the IDF hospital (Israeli Defense Force hospital). The Israeli’s who didn’t get any of the credit they deserve, were in full operation with a hospital barely 24 hours after the quake. Their hospital was state-of-the-art, including a neo-natal division with full x-ray and laboratory capabilities. They closed up after having been there 2 full weeks, operating almost 24/7 and with no replacements. The nurses were thoroughly impressed and they learnt a lot. They then moved on to a hospital operated by the University of Miami. There were more challenges and difficulties there, and they felt they brought a lot of positive skills to that hospital. They were disappointed somewhat by the lack of organization. I explain to them that they can’t judge Miami by the IDF hospital’s standards – it is an unfair comparison. One is trained and organized to pull a “hospital out of a box” and the other has run to help – not really trained to operate in these circumstances. They agree. Caro, the most amazing young woman and the captain of this group, says the most profound thing I have heard in a long time. After discussing the lack of food and water for people, she says that it is almost better for some people to be in a hospital because at least there, they are getting food and a place to stay. The thought is revolting even though it carries some truth. They have seen cases of tetanus already, and they too are concerned with what is coming next. Most of them want to go back and would love to go to PIH. I promise that I will be looking into it. There are more discussions. I am so impressed with this group. They are truly inspirational. I am sorry I missed the doctors, but I make a commitment to call them both on Monday. We arrive at Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport and I get off the bus to take a cab home. We all say our goodbyes and hug and kiss. I know I will see most everyone again. We cannot leave this – somehow a reunion is a must. These last three weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions – bad ones, good ones, and an eye-opener to the resilience of humanity. Three trips in 2 and a half weeks. From total despair to small signs of life, to hope and anger, to the absolute triumph of 61 little people finding a new life. I am so sorry for the people of Haiti and I cry for the over 200,000 lives lost – most of them without the dignity of a proper burial. I wonder how many are injured and will need long-term care and I wonder how the country will cope with that, especially as the eyes of the world leave. I remember our little orphanage, that we had so much hope of giving them so much, only to have to leave because there was truly no other choice. There were close to 400,000 orphans before the quake – how many are there now and how do we make sure that this situation doesn’t become fodder for child trafficking? I think of all the millions of dollars of generosity donated by North Americans – the continuing outpouring of support. I wonder what will come next. I am sorry this had to happen. I am not sorry that we as an organization took the initiative to make the most of our passion and dive in to the deep end without stopping to think about it. We were blessed with the generosity of so many, especially Air Canada. Duncan and Jude trusting us to respect the great responsibility they had put on us. We left yesterday wondering if this was it- if ‘three’ was the final number. Could ‘four’ be a possibility? I am not sure. But I can say that if the call comes, and we have to spend the next 5 days working around the clock to get the job done, we will have no choice but to do it. Because the ‘calling to help’ is greater than we can understand. Haiti Forever. Should this be the final chapter, then we will know that we have done every single thing and have left no stone unturned. But we also know that our work will not be over. And our plans for a long term project in Haiti are just formulating.