Special Report: Orphans arrive
Published Monday, January 25, 2010 9:26AM EST
Dozens of Haitian children have finally met their new Canadian families.
On Sunday, 24 orphans set foot on Canadian soil, after a long and grueling journey, made possible thanks to tireless work by dozens of volunteers.
For the crew that brought the children north, the trip began as they loaded generators, medicine and water onto an airplane destined for Haiti.
Air Canada staff volunteered to be caregivers on the flight, and they tried to prepare for everything they could think of as they headed down on Saturday.
Mary O'Neill was one of those packing boxes with everything from muffins to diapers, then loading them aboard the plane.
"I think it will just be overwhelming, an opportunity for these children to come to a safe and loving country," said O'Neill.
Risk of delays
The opportunity risked being delayed once again, because of the chaotic situation at the airport in Haiti.
Air Canada V.P. Duncan Dee explained the difficulties.
"You basically have to land within a certain window," said Dee. "If you don't arrive into the airspace around Port-au-Prince during that window you're basically told you can't land."
This flight did land as scheduled, which is when the doctors aboard learned the final tally: 24 children would be transported back to Canada, and all of them would have be given physical exams to ensure they were healthy enough to fly, after ten days living in the ruins of the city.
Hampered by time constraints, and the limitations of working in a country sturck by a natural disaster, Dr. Nick Withers struggled with not being able to do as much as he wanted.
"Being a physician and maybe a bit of a type A we want to be able to control as many of the variables as we can, clearly that's not possible here," said Withers.
One of those variables came after the plane landed, and the time estimate for the arrival of the children proved to be wildly optimistic.
Midnight came and went before the convoys of evacuees finally arrived at 1:30 in the morning, but the busload of sleepy children was warmly greeted with hugs and smiles.
Dehydration & Malnutrition
It was quickly evident that most of the children were fine, although a few were suffering from dehydration and malnutrition.
Karina Lalani noticed one toddler was undersized, "definitely for the age of two, he's much, much smaller" than he should be, said Lalani.
"You can see that he's not well nourished."
In fact once the children were in Ottawa, two were taken to hospital with fever and gastrointestinal problems.
"Most of them were all right," said Dr. Guy Riendau. "Some of them had thrown up and had a couple episodes of diarrhea."
With everyone checked out and buckled in, the flight took off, heading for Ottawa.
And though it was short, some volunteers quickly bonded with their charges.
"I want to take her home with me!" Silvana Freitag said, knowing she could not.
"You know what it's a wonderful feeling it's great to be able to get something good out of something so awful."
The rescue flight touched down in Ottawa just before 7 a.m., where the children finally had the chance to be united with their new families, some of whom had waited for years for this opportunity.
In all close to 200 children from Haiti will be adopted by Canadian families, with at least 93 of those children joining families in Quebec.