Mark and Della-Marie Caccamo of St. Joseph Island are relaxing in Miami after leaving strife-torn Haiti Feb. 16.
As reported earlier the couple, part of a group of approximately 30 Haiti Christian Development Project missionaries, many of which came from other parts of Canada and the U.S., arrived in Haiti Feb. 8, to be greeted by roadblocks of angry citizens trying to raise international awareness of their plight as they struggle against Haitian government corruption, double-digit inflation and extreme poverty.
“We really didn’t find out about the unrest until we landed in Haiti,” said Mark, the Haiti Christian Development Project an agency which delivers humanitarian aid to the people of Haiti.
Mark is a retired engineer who volunteers at ARCH, Della-Marie an ARCH nurse.
“I contacted the Canadian embassy in Haiti, I emailed them and I explained our situation, gave them our names and passport numbers, exactly where we were and our circumstances and asked them what they could do to help,” Mark said.
“To date, I have not heard back from them,” Mark told SooToday Thursday.
“Meanwhile, back at home, my son Luke in the Sault and my brother Paul in Thunder Bay were both shaking the cage (trying to get help from the Canadian government),” Mark said.
Despite being able to have some contact with the RCMP, Mark said he heard some Canadians had been evacuated from Haiti, only to be told by a government official ‘that’s not true, we’re not evacuating anybody but here’s the number of a helicopter company. Goodbye,’ and that was it, pretty much.”
One evacuation plan after another fell through before the Caccamos made their way out of Haiti.
Ultimately, the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ congregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, which sponsored the mission to Haiti, arranged and paid for a helicopter evacuation for the Caccamos and other missionaries to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, then catching an American Airlines flight to Miami.
The couple had to leave most of their luggage behind.
“The Canadian government left us hanging,” Mark said.
“I’m disappointed. Spending a few Canadian dollars to evacuate humanitarians from a situation like that, that would have been the moral thing to do, and they did nothing for us...they should have spent some money on helicopters, and we didn’t even get a response. That is not cool.”
“We were there six days before we got any notification from the Canadian government that people shouldn’t travel to Haiti, and meanwhile we were facing barricades and trying to make our way home,” Della-Marie said.
“I still think we live in the best country in the world,” Mark said, but stating he wonders if he would be “wasting ink” by writing a complaint to Canadian government officials.
Recalling their time in Haiti, Della-Marie said “we did one clinic, and on our way to the second clinic on our second day there, we met with a barricade on the road, abandoned that clinic and returned back to our headquarters. It was then we knew our mission likely wasn’t going to go ahead as planned.”
“We went back to do a clinic at the farm (a property the mission group owns in Haiti) on the second day, hoping things would clear up but there were more roadblocks and it became apparent on the second day we should start making plans to go home, reluctantly...we were pretty disappointed,” Mark added.
As scary as it sounds to hear people describe being stopped at roadblocks set up by enraged citizens, the couple realized the anger wasn’t directed at them.
“At no time did we really fear for our lives or safety. We were mostly saddened by the situation. We love the Haitian people, it was just a small percentage protesting. We would come across a blockade, there were tires burning, but only feet away from that were Haitian children smiling and waving. They’re just loving, wonderful people,” Della-Marie said.
“Even the people on the barricades weren’t gun-slinging bandits,” Mark noted.
“They’re being hit by double-digit inflation, they’re being badly treated by their leadership, they’re still rebuilding after the earthquake in 2010, it’s the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. They can’t get fuel. They’re desperate. They want the world to know ‘we’re hurting here’ so they’re getting the message to foreigners in their country by blockading...after a while they would let us through,” Mark said.
For Mark, it was the second mission to Haiti, the third for Della-Marie.
“We’re well rested and relaxed now,” Della-Marie said, the couple stating they fully intend to return to Haiti for another mission next year.
“They’re still the same Haitian people with the same needs...it’s a pleasure to help them,” Mark said, the couple planning to return home to Canada soon.
The Caccamos, Della-Marie said, are making their own contingency plans for their safety should a bad situation arise the next time they visit Haiti.