What's New?

Humanitarian Engineer
By Lucianna Ciccocioppo

Come to the edge, He said.
They said, We are afraid.
Come to the edge, He said.
They came.
He pushed them...and they flew.
- Guillaume Appollinaire

Stepping off the plane in Port-au-Prince, Haiti last July, Michelle St. Cyr looked around the old, decrepit airport, took a deep breath and thought: "Now what?"

Pushing through the hot throngs of people, trying to stay calm amid the machine guns, St. Cyr and her friend, Youki Cropas-Marchildon, were looking for the two nuns who were to greet them.

"We had sent photos of ourselves but it didn't help. They arrived in Haiti two weeks after we landed," said St. Cyr with a laugh. Given the fact they were the only two white girls off the plane, it wasn't difficult for the nuns to spot them.

St. Cyr had no idea what she would be doing in the impoverished country. All she knew was she wanted to help the children, to alleviate in some small way the poverty that took a hold of them at birth and never, ever let them go.

The bilingual, first-year U of A engineering student was one of four North Americans who volunteered at a three-week summer camp for 50 children. She had been to Haiti the year before, on a 10-day mission with her high school, College Mathieu, a private, French Catholic boarding school in southern Saskatchewan. The trip increased her awareness of Third World issues. It also increased her determination to return to Haiti and do something about the poverty.

Fund-raising efforts for the trip included a letter writing campaign for support to every person and organization she knew. Her mother was her biggest supporter. One stop at a Catholic funeral home in Calgary, where the St. Cyr family is based, resulted in a large donation. "The man pulled out his cheque book and gave us $400," said St. Cyr. When the tally reached $4,000, the two girls were ready to go. They packed up five 32 kg suitcases with school supplies, such as paper, pencils, crayons, glue, and balls -- soccer and basket.

Once in Port-au-Prince, St. Cyr and Cropas-Marchildon embarked on the journey to Gros Morne, the site of the day camp. The 150 km trip took more than five hours--the so-called "highways" were dirt and gravel roads, many of them flooded. But no one was more grateful for their arrival than the children, aged seven to 12, who were desperate for something to do.