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MD of Bonnyville Reeve says ‘spirits are good’ despite being stranded in Haiti

MD of Bonnyville Reeve Barry Kalinski is among the Canadians stranded in Haiti as the country is in a state of emergency and armed gangs have effectively taken control and shut down access to the main international airport in the capital of Port-au-Prince and commercial flights have been cancelled.

BONNYVILLE - MD of Bonnyville Reeve Barry Kalinski is among the Canadians stranded in Haiti as the country is in a state of emergency and armed gangs have effectively taken control and shut down access to the main international airport in the capital of Port-au-Prince and commercial flights have been cancelled.

In an interview with LakelandTODAY on Thursday morning, Kalinski sounded calm and in relatively good spirits, despite the violent unrest in the Caribbean nation.

Speaking from an orphanage west of Port-au-Price, near Les Cayes, where he is volunteering as part of a church mission, Kalinski said he is not seeing any signs of unrest in the village where he is, adding he is comfortable to move freely about in the area without fear. At this time, the turmoil in Haiti seems mainly centred around the nation’s capital.

"My spirits are good . . . You’ve got to go to work and do whatever you can to keep working here and doing little odds and ends,” he said of how he is coping.

“We are one little area, little pieces of farmland with the odd hut here and there. There’s a little main street with two or three stores on it and ladies that sit on the side of the road that sell little candies and little trinkets and stuff for the school kids that go by,” Kalinski said, describing his location.

“I’m fine, just going about my business here. I just fixed a window at an older part of the orphanage and now I’m going to fix a few doorknobs in the boys’ dorm. So, that’s what I’m doing. We’re just going day by day to try and keep busy, so you don’t think about it, but still no word on us getting out of here.”

Kalinski was supposed to leave Haiti last week, after spending two weeks at the Mission of Grace orphanage.

“My flights got cancelled on last Tuesday when everything hit the fan. We rebooked for two days ago and obviously they didn’t come through because we have to make two flights out of Haiti to get out of here,” he said. “That’s not going to happen for quite some time now the way everything is going. So, we are maybe waiting for some relief from some government or Government of the United States – or maybe the Government of Canada will reach out to us – we’re definitely in their sights,” he said, adding he would “probably hop a ride” with the four American volunteers also at the orphanage if a way out is found.

“We are working a little bit with the U.S. boys – maybe we might be lucky to get a chopper to come in and get us.” However, at this point there are no guarantees.

“I’d like to get out, but I don’t know how that’s possible at the moment.”

Kalinski said the group’s immediate concern is for a woman stuck in a hotel in Port-au-Prince trying to leave the country.

“We’d like her to get out first before us because she’s with four children and she’s living out of a hotel room for probably just over two weeks now and she’s pretty scared . . . she’s in desperate need.”

Asked if the village is seeing any issues with supplies, given the unrest in the country, Kalinski said, “They are starting to worry a little bit. We are starting to stock up on some gas and food supplies.”

In the meantime, while he awaits a way to return to Canadian soil, he is intent on keeping busy and doing what he can to help at the orphanage.

“I don’t have a lot of tools here, so I’ve got to make do the best I can but we get by . . . I have to walk a kilometre to get a drill to borrow,” then walk back to return it. Sometimes, he uses a motorbike.

“Everything is hauled by bike. They pack everything from a young cow to sheep to goats to human beings to, you name it. They pull rebar down the highway with those bikes so they are pretty universal,” Kalinski said as he paints a picture of the life in Haiti compared to the privileges of life in Canada. “It’s very, very tough living here, where I’m at anyway. It’s not easy.”

The Bonnyville Pentecostal Church has been supporting Mission of Grace since it started, originally with about 20 kids and now the facility has close to 200 children, Kalinski said.

Travel advisories to Haiti have been ongoing for years and while Kalinski is well aware of those warnings, his commitment to the orphanage is unwavering.

“I’d like to thank my congregation for all the effort they’ve put into this country and the Mission of Grace – they’ve supported it for years now.”

The orphanage has relocated from where it was first established near Port-au-Prince, mainly due to security concerns. He has travelled to the orphanage nine times over the years, the last three times to its new location, volunteering his time to do what he can to build and repair the children’s home. During that time, he has developed a tight bond with the workers and children there.

“We just took in a set of newborns just like three days ago. The mother had a c-section here in this village; she died on the operating table and so there’s no way they can take care of them, so they dropped them off. Another mother died up in the hills, not in childbirth, but the baby was really young. So, we’ve got three babies in the last week.”

Kalinski conveyed his thanks to everyone in Canada who have been trying to find him a way home, and reaching out to his wife and family with their support and prayers for his safe return.

“When someone tells you they are praying for you or thinking about you, it means a lot. They care about the situation.”

MD issues statement

The MD of Bonnyville issued the following statement Thursday in response to the situation:

“On February 26, 2024, Municipal District of Bonnyville Reeve Barry Kalinski left for Haiti on a mission trip on behalf of the Mission of Grace orphanage, a cause he has supported for well over a decade. Shortly after his arrival, the political system in Haiti came under attack and the country was thrown into chaos. The violence in Haiti has been centered around the capital city of Port-au-Prince and has forced the cancellation of all commercial airline flights. This has made it extremely difficult for Reeve Kalinski to return to the MD of Bonnyville.

“MD administration is in regular communication with Reeve Kalinski. He has indicated that he is currently safe but is unsure of when he will be able to return. In Reeve Kalinski’s absence, Deputy Reeve Josh Crick has assumed, temporarily, the duties of the Reeve, as per Section 152 of the Municipal Government Act.

“We pray for Reeve Kalinski’s safety, his safe return, and for the people of Haiti as they go through this challenging time.”

Clare Gauvreau

About the Author: Clare Gauvreau

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