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MD of Bonnyville Reeve ‘blessed’ to be home after being stranded in Haiti

Journey home not easily made

BONNYVILLE - MD of Bonnyville Reeve Barry Kalinski will spend Easter with his family following a harrowing experience of being stranded in Haiti for several weeks after the Caribbean nation descended into political unrest and armed gangs pushed the country into chaos last month.

“I’m happy to be home for sure,” Kalinski said Wednesday, adding he woke up feeling particularly blessed that so many people had included him in their prayers in recent weeks.

“I’m very thankful. I always said how safe I was, but I had, it seems like, thousands of people praying for me and it’s maybe there’s a good reason I was safe. . . I couldn’t go wrong.”

Kalinski arrived on Canadian soil Monday, grateful to be back in the Lakeland after a journey home that was not easily made.

An initial plan by Project DYNAMO, a U.S.-based veteran-led organization specializing in evacuating Americans and allies out of conflict zones around the world, was successful in initially airlifting two of Kalinski’s colleagues out, but problems with the plane prevented it from returning to pick up Kalinski.

Kalinski and three American women had travelled from the Mission of Grace children’s orphanage, where they were part of a volunteer mission, in the early morning hours of March 24 to the coastal city of Jérémie, where the Project DYNAMO plane was to meet them.

“Then we had a lot of struggles getting onto that plane and then it could only take two of us at a time so two women left first,” he said. “They never came back.”

He and his American colleague hunkered down. At one point, they considered making their way to the southern coast of Haiti to see if there was a route home from there.

“The lady I was with couldn’t make that trip, so it wasn’t an option for me leaving her. We are in the middle of nowhere, I’m not going to leave somebody that I was at mission with for three weeks and say, ‘see you later’ – that’s not very Canadian.”

They stayed at a “motel, kind of a make-shift place” for a week before being picked up by a State of Florida plane and flown initially to Turks and Caicos and then on to Florida, before Kalinski returned home.

He had initially travelled to Haiti in late February for a two-week mission at the orphanage – a trip Kalinski has made about nine times over the years – but after chaos erupted in the country and the international airport at Port-au-Prince shut down, it became impossible to get out through normal routes.

Now safely home, Kalinski’s thoughts are with the 200 children and staff at the orphanage as there seems to be no end in sight to the turmoil in Haiti.

“I am very blessed to be a part of that organization in whatever small part that we have with funding and stuff. There is a lot of things that have to line up every day to keep it going for sure.”

While his support for the orphanage’s work is unwavering, Kalinski is unsure when or if he will be able to return in the future.

“I would but I don’t know if my family will ever let me go back. It’s been a month of suffering (for them). I think it would have to really change; the whole process and the government would have to change because it’s a scary place to be if you’re in the wrong place that’s for sure.”

Clare Gauvreau

About the Author: Clare Gauvreau

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