Third relief mission – Takes off
Haiti Forever Mission 3 chapter 1
We just took off. It’s 3am and the plane seemed to take every last foot of runway. I’m a little more stressed than usual, but maybe that’s because I know so much more about air travel than I knew before.
I came to work today at Air Canada Cargo after a business meeting which I had scheduled quite some time ago. I helped the other Air Canada employees (who have volunteered) to put together the various packages we need, to help all the different groups on the ground.
As it was last week with the “Air Canada Hospital”, it seems we have an orphanage to help and this has now been named the “Air Canada Orphanage”.
We have food and tents and such for our police officers. And as well, we have winter gear for all our new Haitian Canadians who will be coming home; also, another special flight because we have approximately 60 orphans we are bringing home to their new families.
It’s freezing tonight all over the country and last week when we landed in Ottawa, Air Canada wrapped all the orphans in blankets – I believe there was a mention in a news article about that. I get it, but I would respectfully say to the writer that if they fully understood the incredible resources Air Canada has put into these last 3 flights – the cost of the planes, the fuel, the dedication of their entire company, the attention to detail and safety – then I don’t believe that pointing out the small issue of the children being wrapped in blankets for 100 yard was necessary. That being said however, Duncan has asked for jackets and winter gear for not only the orphans, but for all passengers who are coming home. He is obsessive about every detail and my appreciation for him keeps growing. He is compassionate and driven to do the right thing. Something I consider paramount to myself and our organization – we are so privileged to be a part of this.
So the net is cast, and Louis Garneau comes through with winter gear for adults and kids – and we pack them by size and mark them. Friday morning it is confirmed that out of the 60 orphans, there are thirty who are under the age of 2. Those are small sizes and we don’t have them. But The Bay comes to our rescue and we get the cutest snow suits and Olympic gear. They have turned it around in hours again!! One email to Bonnie Brooks, the CEO, and that’s all it took.
Duncan, Jude and I discuss that Blackberry might want to make a commercial about the last 3 weeks, because we agree collectively that none of this could have happened without our Blackberrys. The constant instantaneous communication between all parties has been invaluable to make things happen.
All clothing that was donated over and above the jackets was separated into season and sizes – winter stuff for our returning kids and orphans, and summer stuff to help out the Air Canada Orphanage and Partners In Health who also requested some kids clothing.
I spent the day helping where I could to make the packing of the pallets as efficient as possible.
Right up until 5 pm on Friday January 29th, there have been Air Canada employees driving to the cargo doors with everything from food to Pampers to Tylenol and Pedialite. Everyone wants to do their part. And it’s such a dance. Weight is but one criteria – there is also volume, and passenger quantities plus their luggage. What’s going in the cargo and what’s going up top.
The weights are calculated and re-calculated by James – again Air Canada is making sure that these flights are maximized. Having experienced last week, the idea is to have all the goods that are destined for the Air Canada Hospital and Orphanage in the cabin. The amount of goods is large, including our Canadian Tire tents and sleeping bags, our Aquafina Water, sodas, food, bags of rice – all more than you can imagine… plus, all the clothes to help our passengers coming back to brave the incredible cold temperatures.
Loading the cabin means going up the stairs at the back entrance and bringing everything up the stairs and placing it. I have been working all day and so I go back to the hotel for a quick clean-up and change. When I come back all the crew and volunteers are at the plane loading up and it’s freezing. I join the line and start moving the goods off the pallets, up a few stairs, to the person closest to me. There are only 3 of us on the outside so going up and down the stairs becomes a good workout. It’s so cold that my hands are frozen because gloves weren’t a thought. There is great team work and shortly thereafter, the goods are all up. The sight of all this stuff crammed into every nook and cranny is amazing, because no one could ever imagine this if they hadn’t actually seen it with their own eyes. Doug who works with James is Captain up on top. It’s incredible – bags of rice strapped into the seats, Gatorade under the seats, bags of clothing strapped in the whole back section – the plane is full. I look around – there are approximately 15 people helping and I have to remind myself that they are volunteers.
Every single employee on these missions has volunteered.
More weight calculation – “can we add another pallet?” We are way ahead of schedule – it’s more than 4 hours before flight and even the cargo has been loaded. The weight has been deemed to be below enough, to warrant another pallet of a certain weight, so onboard comes some examination gloves, some masks and some paper products for the hospitals.
Finally it is time to load. The passengers coming in and being dropped off include more police officers from Montreal, plus there are a large number of medical personnel – doctors and nurses here to help with the 60 little new Canadians joining us.
We are waiting to pull out for de-icing, when Duncan comes down the aisle with the CEO of Air Canada. This is his first of these flights and he stops to talk to all. He is clearly proud of his team and his airline. He wants to understand how OneXOne has been able to work the logistics on the ground, so I tell him about Paul Farmer and Partners in Health – he wants to hear more about this later.
Duncan makes a short but very meaningful speech over the PA. He gets it, it’s not about us, it’s not about the airline or OneXOne or any organization on this plane. It’s about our privilege of helping our fellow human beings. He asks a priest to make a benediction, and he does so, blessing us and the plane and the journey we are about to take.
We are ready to go and as the plane motors down the runway at 3 am, I am in wonderment that once again we are leaving our country and all its comforts (minus the crippling cold!) to travel less than 4 hours away to a country whose standard of living was the poorest in the Western Hemisphere before this, and which now has been decimated to barely nothing – it will need the great will and friendship of many to rebuild itself.
I am also concerned that over the last few days, there are clear signs of fatigue from many. The news cycle is changing and the story is not Number 1 anymore but can be as low as 2 or 3. The donations have slowed down and the out cries are diminishing.
We were in a sprint for the emergency.
We are headed into a marathon.
We can’t stop.
This is why we have to be more committed and more passionate about continuing in this journey. The world may stop watching but our job is nowhere close to being finished.