Cape Bre­toner proud to be help­ing Haitians

The fol­low­ing is a first-hand ac­count by Mas­ter Cpl. Christa Strick­land of her en­counter with Haitian or­phans headed to Canada af­ter the is­land na­tion was hit by a dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake Jan. 12. The na­tive of North Syd­ney de­ployed with 86 Air­field Sys­tem

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY CHRISTA STRICK­LAND

JACMEL, HAITI

— First of all, I must say I’m very proud to be a Cape Bre­ton girl. Right now I’m lo­cated at the Jacmel air­port in Jacmel, Haiti, work­ing with the Cana­dian Forces air­lift com­po­nent el­e­ment op­er­a­tions.

My pri­mary func­tion is the pro­cess­ing of evac­u­ated Cana­dian per­son­nel for trans­port to Port-auPrince and then on to Canada.

Last week, Cana­dian em­bassy of­fi­cials in Port-au-Prince con­tact- ed Jacmel op­er­a­tions looking for air trans­port to the em­bassy for four or­phans who had al­ready been adopted by Cana­dian fam­i­lies.

The chil­dren ranged in age from two to four. They came from a nearby or­phan­age in Jacmel called Faith and Love. We met the chil­dren at the front gate and car­ried them to the tar­mac to await the ar­rival of a Cana­dian Forces CH-146 Grif­fon he­li­copter.

Most had just wo­ken up from a nap while driv­ing here and they were con­fused by what was go­ing on around them. They were dressed very well. The youngest in the group was wear­ing an “I love Canada” shirt.

I held a young boy named Sa­muel. He wasn’t afraid to come to me at all. He latched on for dear life, laid his head on my shoul­der, and I com­forted him as the sounds from the Grif­fon scared him a lit­tle. He had his eyes closed un­til the Grif­fon turned off its en­gines.

One of the chil­dren was re­ally up­set. Some Cana­dian Forces per­son­nel, who were sup­posed to go on a later flight, trav­elled with the chil­dren to the em­bassy so they would not have to fly alone.

Chil­dren have al­ways been my weak­ness. When I first heard of the earth­quake in Haiti, my im­me­di­ate thoughts were with them and how ter­ri­fied they must have been.

As more and more per­son­nel from CFB Tren­ton were headed for de­ploy­ment in Haiti, it started to hit a lit­tle closer to home for me. I vol­un­teered to come to lend a hand in any ca­pac­ity — be it as a clerk or an en­gi­neer.

Since my ar­rival in Jacmel on Jan. 21, I have re­mained at the air­port. I haven’t had the chance to see the dev­as­ta­tion in the re­gion. I only heard sto­ries from the dis­placed Cana­dian and Amer­i­can per­son­nel who would ar­rive at my desk ev­ery day.

Along­side em­bassy of­fi­cials, I have been val­i­dat­ing the pass­ports and visas of earth­quake sur­vivors looking to leave Haiti. From the Jacmel air­port, they are trans­ported by Cana­dian air­craft to the Cana­dian em­bassy in Port-au-Prince, prior to leav­ing the coun­try for Canada.

I wanted to get out to see the state of the coun­try, to see the fam­i­lies and to see the chil­dren.

When I re­ceived an email that some Haitian or­phans would be trav­el­ling through the Jacmel air­port, I ab­so­lutely couldn’t wait for them to ar­rive. When they did, as I sus­pected, my heart melted.

They were gor­geous chil­dren, so smart and so brave. They were not like the av­er­age child ex­cited to see air­planes and he­li­copters. They just wanted to be com­forted.

How­ever, in time the chil­dren did re­spond when I snuck a pock­et­ful of Valen­tine heart lol­lipops and pack­ages of Twiz­zlers into their back­packs.

Know­ing that I was able to as­sist in some small way in get­ting th­ese chil­dren to their new loving fam­i­lies anx­iously await­ing their ar­rival in Canada, if only with candy and some snug­gles, made that day the best day yet in Haiti.

The Cana­dian Forces is do­ing a lot of great work here with very lim­ited re­sources. Hav­ing never been part of a first ro­ta­tion be­fore, I’m in awe at how quickly we es­tab­lished a camp and have set­tled in for the long haul.

Every­one here has dif­fer­ent roles and ex­pec­ta­tions but I think it’s safe to say that we are all here to help the Haitian pop­u­la­tion in any way pos­si­ble.

Some­times all it takes is a smile and an in­vi­ta­tion for them to tell us what they ex­pe­ri­enced on that day.

It means a lot to them and to us.

The ap­pre­ci­a­tion I see on their faces makes me very proud to be here, to as­sist in any way I can and to be Cana­dian.

Sub­mit­ted by the Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence

Mas­ter Cpl. Christa Strick­land of North Syd­ney holds a young Haitian or­phan in her arms prior to his de­par­ture for Canada.

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