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