Crewmembers share stories from April humanitarian mission (part one)


For years, JetBlue Crewmembers have been making trips to El Salvador to volunteer in the community. Although each trip has been full of once-in-a-lifetime memories, their most recent visit may have been the most special.

Volunteer group with kids

On Jan. 12, 2009, Inflight Crewmember Laura Hibbler died in an auto accident on her way to work. Laura was a dedicated humanitarian and a frequent traveler on the El Salvador relief missions. In Laura’s honor, a group of Crewmembers made their 13th mission to El Salvador to bring donations to an HIV Orphanage and dedicate a medical clinic, built with help from JetBlue Crewmembers in March 2007, in Laura’s name.

Three Inflight Crewmembers shared their thoughts about their April 13-19, 2009 trip to El Salvador, which we will publish here on B6 Blog. Part one comes to us from JFK Inflight Crewmember Ulises Zanello, who also provided many of the photos from the trip that will accompany these stories:

I was asked to write some words, a story about my personal experience, but I find it hard to write anything about me because this story is about us. It’s about people and their desire to do good, to effect change. It’s a story about two women, Cindy Paulus and Laura Hibbler, without whom, we would not have had this opportunity. It’s a story about our values as JetBlue Crewmembers and as individuals.


Everyone takes something different from this type of experience but what we give, as little as it may be, will change the lives of those we touch more than any of us can ever imagine. A fellow Crewmember who I recently spoke with said to me today, “I gave Charley some clothes but it wasn’t much, I wanted to give more but I couldn’t, it wasn’t enough.” I said to her “it will never be enough, the need is such that not all the clothes in the world could help those in need” the simple fact that you gave however, was enough, because you understood that what was being done was greater than ourselves. Cindy in collaboration with JetBlue, Leadership and fellow Crewmembers over the past few years has given us the opportunity to better the lives of thousands less fortunate than ourselves and for that we are all thankful.

I thought the final mission to El Salvador had taken place last July. Cindy Paulus was starting her own non-profit and it had apparently become a bit cumbersome for JetBlue to continue with the missions. When I heard that Cindy was going to make one final trip to dedicate a clinic that JetBlue Crewmembers helped build in El Salvador, I jumped at the opportunity. Not only to help but to celebrate the life of a Crewmember who understood that the world is a better place when we give of ourselves to help those less fortunate.

The pictures tell their own story but if I may, I would like to put a name to one of them.

Ulises and Brenda

I and Brenda are with Carolina, Maria, Virginia, and Brenda. I saw them all the year before and their health at the time was precarious. They are all orphans in an HIV clinic and to my thankful surprise, all seemed to be doing well. Their stages of severity vary and it was good to see they were doing better. The clothes they wear were donated and their medical treatment was financed through charitable organizations. However, beyond these gifts, unconditional love and human contact produce smiles. These children will never lead normal lives. They may never know the warm embrace of a father or the loving kisses of a mother, but what they will have the smiles they had when we were there. The sign on the wall of the clinic that greets its guests reads, “They will not look like you, they will not have your eyes or the color of your hair, but it is possible to have your smile.” This is one place that has become very dear to the hearts of JetBlue Crewmembers. Life is so fragile there, yet so full of hope and life.

During our travels we reached a school high up in the mountains in a very remote location where there was only one steep, dirt road. We donated 10 refurbished Mac computers through the collaboration of a new nonprofit known as Social Planet, with which our own Cindy will be an integral player. As we mingled with the children and handed out school supplies and other donations, I along with Mark VanDijk and Rodrigo went to visit the older kids.

El Salvador kids

When we walked into the classroom we were greeted with shy smirks and curious eyes. I asked them where their teacher was and the students replied that she had not shown up today so they were just hanging out. We decided to stay with them for a while and they took the opportunity to ask us tons of questions. I asked if they had ever been to New York because that is where we were from. The class looked around at each other in what seemed like disbelief at the question and then one of the girls spoke up and said in Spanish, “Not even in our wildest dreams.” As a Crewmember, at times I forget how fortunate we are not only because we are from the U.S., but because of the opportunities we have to just hop on a plane and go somewhere. These students were in awe and could not even fathom what it would be like to go to some place like New York. They spoke of it as though it were an unreachable utopia. That night a few Crewmembers returned to the school to help set up the computers and make them internet capable. It may not seem like a big deal, but for children who in some cases literally walk three hours on dusty rocky roads each way just to attend school, the internet is a window to the rest of the world. The internet makes knowledge more attainable and it makes the possibility to one day visit New York less of a dream and more of a goal. As we sat and waited for the Google page to load, the excitement and joy that came over all our faces when it finally did was a great indicator that we had done good that day. Not only did we provide these children with school supplies and friends in the short term, but also tools to help them in the long term.

My last story is about the clinic that was dedicated in Laura Hibbler’s honor. This village has a very tragic story that is recorded on the colorful wall that serves as a memorial you see behind us. Only 12 years ago during fighting between El Salvador and Honduras, the village was invaded and men women and children were executed. The village had been trying to rebuild for years, but the scars left from the tragic memories have made it nearly impossible. The clinic that JetBlue Crewmembers helped build has united and empowered a struggling community with the hopes that this small facility will provide crucial aid and medical treatments to those who would otherwise have to travel hours for help.

Clinic dedication

Being in that place reinforced the reason why I, as well as the 29 other Crewmembers who had made the trek were there. Many of us left with smiles and some with tears, but what we left with the community was immeasurable — a glimmer of hope and the possibility to further rebuild. My experiences in El Salvador were nothing short of extraordinary, the memories will last for a lifetime.