It was an experience Sault-area missionaries Mark and Della-Marie Caccamo won’t soon forget.
The couple, St. Joseph Island residents, are members of the Haiti Christian Development Project, which delivers humanitarian aid to the people of Haiti, a country torn up in yet another round of unrest and deadly violence.
Mark, a retired engineer who volunteers at ARCH, and Della-Marie, an ARCH nurse, landed in Miami at approximately 5 p.m. Saturday.
“They’re happy, they feel safe and secure again,” said the Sault’s Luke Caccamo, Mark’s son and Della-Marie’s stepson, speaking to SooToday Sunday.
“They don’t have anything against the country of Haiti and they certainly don’t have anything against the people of Haiti.”
“They feel so bad for these people, the situation they’re in,” Luke added.
Protests demanding the resignation of Jovenel Moise, Haiti’s president, have claimed several lives over the past week.
Haitian protesters are angry about double-digit inflation and embezzlement from a Venezuelan program that sent oil to Haiti at a discount.
As a result, visitors attempting to leave the island nation, such as the Caccamos, were and continue to be hindered by the civil unrest.
For Mark, it was the second mission to Haiti, while it was the third time for Della-Marie.
“They say it’s the most beautiful place with the most beautiful people,” Luke said.
The couple arrived in Haiti Feb. 8, just as the country’s latest round of trouble began.
“They didn’t know what they were getting into when they landed there,” Luke said.
“Mostly, they encountered the citizens of Haiti setting up blockades and refusing passage through on roadways. The violence was in the cities, but they travelled to the rural areas where people can’t get health care.”
The Caccamos making the decision to leave Haiti, Luke said, “on the second-last day they were there, they went through 20 blockades and at each one it was a negotiation with these people to get through, trying to explain they were there to help.”
“They’re burning tires in the streets to prevent people from getting through.”
Mark and Della-Marie were part of a team of 30 missionaries.
“We had some local authorities trying to reach out to them to see if they were safe, calling hotels...they would say they’re Canadians, but they couldn’t communicate they were Canadians. The people there assumed they were Americans,” Luke said.
“We felt helpless. We couldn’t do anything,” Luke said, keeping in contact with Mark and Della-Marie whenever they could get to a Wi-Fi spot.
Frustrated because missionaries from other parts of Canada were able to get help, Luke started a Facebook page, asking friends to contact the prime minister’s office for assistance.
A Canadian Bank Note Company employee, Luke said, “I was going to work every day and staring at the walls, wondering, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ We would go 14 hours without talking, wondering if something was wrong. It was really hard.”
“We were on edge, but it’s nice everybody is safe.”
Speaking with Mark and Della-Marie by phone Saturday, Luke said, “they were exhausted.”
“Plans (for their departure from Haiti) were always changing. People would be ready to go and, five minutes later, the plans would change again. There was talk of them chartering a boat, getting a helicopter, renting ambulances to get through these barricades. They didn’t get a chance to rest.”
“They were very emotional. Last night they got to a hotel in the United States, just taking the chance to decompress. They just want to relax.”
The couple was finally able to get to a helicopter, which took them to the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, catching an American Airlines flight to Miami.
Luke said Mark and Della-Marie, undaunted, plan to return to Haiti.
“Strangely enough, yeah. When I was talking to them, they said, ‘Next year, when we go back,’ the message being Della-Marie and Dad are good people and they want to help the Haitian people in what they’re going through. They feel they’ve been dealt a raw deal and they want to do what they can to help,” Luke said.
“I’m inspired somebody could be so dedicated to a cause.”