PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI – Following the tragic school collapse near Port-au-Prince this past November that killed and injured hundreds, along with the existing devastation from the recent hurricane season in Haiti, relief for the holidays in that region seemed almost beyond reach.
But on Friday, Dec. 19, a group of 30 American Airlines employees, led by Crew Chief William Dise, organized a mission from South Florida to assist people in Haiti just in time for the holidays.
Dise, an American Airlines employee for 28 years, is a Denver-based crew chief. For more than a decade, he has frequently volunteered to organize missions to assist the needy in the United States and across the world.
“The support I received in the past and this time around has been unreal,’’ Dise told the South Florida Times on Dec. 19. “Not only do we have this aircraft full with goods, but we will also be sending in another plane to Port-au-Prince tomorrow.’’
With the support of the Airline Ambassadors, a nonprofit organization founded in 1992 by American Airlines flight attendant Nancy Rivard, a large quantity of containers were able to make it to Haiti. The organization, along with Mariah Fuels and churches and friends of Dise, covered the cost to pay for the 6,800 gallons of fuel needed for the trip from Miami to Haiti.
Much of the flight crew received phone calls just days before to join this mission. Many, more than willingly, even walked away from their vacation times and their families to be a part of the cause.
So as the American Airlines Flight 9701 took off from Miami International Airport, there was an understandable atmosphere of purpose and promise throughout the plane.
While many organizations and charities are sending goods to Haiti, few offer the unique brand of hands-on delivery that the American Airlines employees provided.
Rachel Madhere, Haiti-based manager of community and government affairs for American Airlines, made it her personal duty to ensure that all the goods were going straight to the people who needed them, including areas outside Port-au-Prince, Gonaives and other towns.
“With the history of corruption in Haiti, we have set up this relief to assure that all the goods will go to the people in need. We’ve collaborated with well-known and reliable organizations,” Madhere said.
Francesca LaRouch, an American Airlines flight attendant trainee, agreed.
“We are very happy to do this,’’ LaRouch said. “American Airlines does a lot for Haiti annually and this time we wanted to focus on hurricane relief and much-needed aid for the people of Haiti.’’
The Airbus A300 aircraft, provided by AA, was filled with food, first-aid kits, medical supplies, baby products, clothing and various other much-needed resources.
Upon arrival in Port-au-Prince, the 30-employee group unloaded approximately 80,000 pounds of goods from both the cabin and cargo areas of the 260-seat, wide-body aircraft. Box after box was handed down from those situated at the top of the aircraft down to the people stationed at the bottom by the cargo truck.
The shipment alone was valued at more than $1 million. There were a number of organizations, including the Church of Latter Day Saints and Project CARE, a Colorado nonprofit organization, that were key contributors.
Nonprofit groups, including Feed the Children and Mother Teresa’s orphanage, also helped distribute the goods.
“It just simply feels good to give back,” Dise said.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Rachel Madhere