Volunteers welcoming home evacuees from Haiti

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For Red Cross volunteer Jarmila Lechner, helping to welcome home Canadian evacuees from Haiti is payback. In 1968, when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, Lechner’s parents were forced to flee, leaving behind their young daughter. Just six months later, Lechner was reunited with her family—thanks to the Red Cross.

Today, Lechner herself is a Canadian Red Cross volunteer—one hundreds across the country who are supporting all levels of government to repatriate Canadians fleeing the devastation in Haiti. So far, almost 1,100 evacuees have landed in Montreal, where they’ve been greeted by volunteers at the makeshift welcome centre and wrapped in warm blankets emblazoned with the international symbol for humanitarian aid.

Many of the evacuees have been met by relieved family and friends, or boarded connecting flights bound for destinations across Canada. But 373 evacuees have arrived with nothing. That’s where volunteers like Lechner come in, providing them with food and lodging, and even taking them shopping for winter clothes, coats and boots. “It’s a really beautiful experience, because you get to have one-on-one time with these people,” says Lechner.

The federal government estimates that the evacuation could last for weeks, with up to 6,000 Canadians arriving in Montreal. Lechner will be there to help, no matter how long it takes. “All of us agree that that’s what gives us a reason for being here—the gratitude people have,” says Lechner. “They know we’re giving our time, and they appreciate it—and they tell us.”

Friends and relatives in Canada seeking information on Canadian citizens believed to be in Haiti or returning on a flight from Haiti should contact the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada’s Emergency Operations Centre by calling 1-800-387-3124 or, for those in Ottawa, 613-943-1055.