Volunteers get personal thanks from Carter on the way to Haiti -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Volunteers get personal thanks from Carter on the way to Haiti

By Phil Kloer

 


President Jimmy Carter greets volunteers Sunday on their Delta Air Lines charter flight to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The former president shook the hand of each volunteer on the flight and thanked them for helping the Santo community. © Allen Sullivan/Habitat for Humanity

   


Nearly 500 volunteers for the 2011 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project took two chartered Delta Air Lines planes to
Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Sunday.

Volunteers assigned to the first flight early Sunday morning got an unexpected treat when former U.S. President Jimmy Carter walked through the passenger cabin and shook the hands of all 200-plus people on the flight.

Carter smiled softly and thanked each volunteer for coming.

“It was total excitement, just pandemonium,” said Karen Steinberg, a U.S. Air flight attendant from Decatur, Georgia, who is joining her first Carter Work Project. “Everybody just jumped up and started taking photos, so I think I have a photo of someone’s earlobe. I was so nervous when I finally shook hands with him; I forget what I said to him.”

“I didn’t really think I would get to shake his hand,” said Deb McNally of Hudson, Wisconsin, another Carter Work Project novice. “He was so gracious, and I felt so honored.”

The volunteers were bused from the Port-au-Prince airport to a campsite in Christianville, about an hour outside the Haitian capital run by Haven Partnership, an Irish nongovernmental organization. There they settled into tents with simple cots and mosquito netting, with four to 10 volunteers sharing a tent. They will live in the campsite for the next week and commute about a half-hour to Santo, the construction site. There, 100 concrete foundations have been set in the ground and await the volunteers Monday morning, along with 100 Haitian families who will be getting new homes in one week.

Phil Kloer is a senior writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International, based in Atlanta.