January 26, 2010

Haiti Relief Team – Renaud’s story

Renaud Fenster was deployed to SDQ by the Haiti Relief Team as a Care Team Crewmember to order to assist Crew and Customers.

Renaud, specifically, was chosen to assist because he speaks French fluently, one of the two major languages spoken in Haiti. Upon arrival in Santo Domingo, he met up with Crewleader Verna and team leaders and went to the air field to survey planes. He met with representatives of JetBlue’s business partners from all over the world.

He spoke with someone from a United Nations to discuss transportation issues. One of the main challenges was actually the opposite of what one might think- there was an excess of planes with supplies and relief workers coming down and not enough tarmac to accommodate them all. It was difficult to decipher what goods were coming in and from where and how to funnel them to the correct channels so that they might make it to Haiti to their intended purpose of helping those in need.

The team assisted Customers and Crewmembers that came through SDQ, many of whom were trying to get home.

Renaud with Eve (left to right), the JetBlue Customer & Haitian evacuee that he assisted

Renaud with Yves (left to right), the JetBlue Customer & Haitian evacuee that he assisted

There was a U.S. Embassy briefing at SDQ at which time they commended JetBlue for supplying extra personnel to help with the flow of what was otherwise a chaotic travel experience, most especially for earthquake victims from Haiti traveling to the U.S. by way of Santo Domingo. One major challenge Renaud helped to problem-solve was that Crewmembers had collected supplies to donate but there didn’t seem to be any place to store them at SDQ or any way to transport them from SDQ to Port-au-Prince. Renaud spent nine hours straight one day running around and networking and talking with everyone he possibly could- airport personnel including the Assistant to the Director of the entire airport, outside aid organizations, a Norwegian United Nations employee, and even French rescue workers, but to little avail. He was finally able to build rapport with the World Food Program and got a “maybe” from them about how they might store and then ship goods to Haiti.

It was that next morning, relays Renaud, that Haitian evacuees started to make their way across the border into the Dominican Republic and to the Santo Domingo airport. They were met with open arms from these dedicated Crewmembers, offering assistance to people as they waited for flights to leave the island. Some Customers had family awaiting them in Florida, others had no one and nothing on them except for the clothes on their back, or a small stipend that the embassy had provided. Others yet had walked for hours, even an entire day, across the now dangerous border.

Renaud was especially touched by one Customer he helped, Yves. Yves was Haitian and had lost five family members in the earthquake. His wife had an American passport and had gone on to Florida and he had an American visa and was to travel from SDQ to FLL on JetBlue to meet her. He had crossed the border from Haiti to the D.R. in the middle of the night, deeming it too risky to cross during the day with all of the looting. He had only $250 in his pocket that the U.S. Embassy had given him, right before the building in Port-au-Prince was raided by hundreds of hungry, tired, angry earthquake survivors demanding aid. The Marines kicked everyone out and he was told to cross the border and escape via the D.R.. His flight total came to $261 with fees and all, $11 more than he had. At that point a U.S. Embassy representative pulled out his wallet and said, “This one’s on Uncle Sam.” And turned to Renaud and the other JetBlue Crewmembers and said, “You guys have already gone above and beyond the call of duty.”

This was just one case of many. Renaud ended up giving up his seat for the jump seat on the full flight home to allow an evacuee the last seat on the plane. He also helped translate for a young man who was traveling all alone and appeared to be developmentally disabled.

“One story was more devastating than another,” Renaud, but, “it was a huge privilege to get to do this and I want to go back.”

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