The second story from the April 2009 humanitarian trip to El Salvador was written by JFK Inflight Crewmember Ashleigh Davis. Thank you to Ashleigh for the story, and to JFK Inflight Crewmembers Ulises Zanello and Mark Van Dijk for the photos!
I was one of the very blessed Inflight Crewmembers who got a chance to go on this year’s mission. In the eight years I’ve been with JetBlue, I finally got the chance to experience the mission to El Salvador that I had always heard about. Our company is so generous to let us go down with our very own JetBlue aircraft while it goes for its checks. While the plane gets a “face lift,” we get to put smiles on the faces of a lot of people that aren’t as fortunate as we are. We arrived in El Salvador armed with an amazing amount of donations of school supplies contributed by fellow JetBlue Crewmembers. We really came together!
On our first night there we had a dinner in honor of Laura Ann Hibbler, our fellow Crewmember who was taken from us on Jan. 12, 2009, in a car accident on her way to work. We were joined by Vicky Stennes and Ken Maxwell and were so pleased that they were able to take time out of their busy schedules to spend time with us. It was a beautiful dinner!
Another main reason for our visit was to dedicate a clinic in memory of Laura. In March 2007, JetBlue assisted in building a medical clinic in the town of El Mozote, a remote area in the mountains of El Salvador. Laura was a wonderful woman who loved doing these missions and helping others. The dedication included a ribbon cutting ceremony with El Salvadorian dignitaries. We also placed a plaque outside the clinic with a picture of Laura and her name, so people can see and remember the woman who helped make it the clinic happen so their families could get treated. Inside the clinic, our ceremony continued and we each placed a rose in a vase and Inflight Crewmember Jarred Thompson performed and dedicated a song to Laura. We also watched a slide show honoring the amazing life she led. After the touching ceremony, we went down to a mural dedicated to the children whose lives were lost in a massacre on the village. In front of the mural we planted flowers in Laura’s memory. I hope to go back on our next mission and see the flowers bloomed.
I didn’t know Laura personally, but always recognized her smiling face in the Crew lounge. The banner from the event at the clinic now hangs in our Crew lounge. Laura is someone to admire and so is Cindy Paulus, who has organized these trips for us. Cindy is the soul of these missions and without her there would be no missions. She does such a spectacular job putting it all together. For those of you who don’t know Cindy, she is another outstanding person you would admire.
The second day we got on our “blue bus” and went to an HIV orphanage that is home to 21 children ranging in ages from one through seven. This was JetBlue’s third visit there. These children were so sweet and enjoyed every moment we spent with them. The women who work there take excellent care of the children and keep the facility very clean. When we got there, we played with them and gave them stuffed animals, balloons and lots of other goodies … and of course you can’t leave out the hugs and kisses, which they loved the most! Our very own LGB-based Inflight Crewmember, Geri Eberle, made each one of the children a quilt.
The children also enjoyed hearing a touching story by JFK-based Crewmember Charly Debiasse-Calle. It was hard to say goodbye, but we then headed to a second orphanage in San Cristobal. JetBlue has also visited there five times in the past and from the welcome you can tell they love when we come. We were greeted with lots of hugs from among the 27 children, who ranged in age from five to 16. Unfortunately, the living conditions in this facility were unsanitary, and it really hurt your heart to see that they have to live that way. Yet in spite of that, the children are happy and loving. We played in the courtyard with them and they played beautiful music for us at the party we had for them. Gena (Laura’s daughter who joined us for the trip) and I handed out a personalized monogrammed towel to each child. What an amazing second day of a very memorable mission!
On the third day, we traveled to a remote mountain area where we stayed for two nights. In this area, the rooster’s crow was our wake up call every morning and he did his job well! Here, we visited two schools and provided donated kits of school supplies. Another school also received refurbished Apple computers that were donated by Social Planet, another amazing organization. Ryan and Gena, Laura’s son and daughter, donated their own money to get the children extra monitors and desks. They are so generous and take after their wonderful mother! After the schools, we went to a village where we handed out aid to families, goodies to children and Geri was able to give her quilts to expecting mothers.
Most of these people walked hours just to come and receive these items. One woman’s legs were twisted and she walked the two to three hours just to see us. This will definitely stay in my mind the next time I want to complain about the long walk to the AirTrain.
I take away from this mission the appreciation we should have for our families, friends and one another. Life is short and we are all very blessed to have all the things we take for granted. We waste water and food and these people have nothing or close to it. But one thing they do have is a lot of love! I left for the trip only recognizing one or two names and left with friends for life. I hope you all get a chance to experience something truly life changing and unforgettable like this.