I admit it. I always tear up a bit when I hear our national anthem played. It wasn’t always this way. It takes leaving the country to see how much pride one has for Canada and Canadians.
When I was twenty years old, I backpacked through Southeast Asia. Whenever I crossed paths with someone sporting a Canadian flag on their backpack, I knew I was in good company. I did not have to worry about being robbed or worse. Canadians are trustworthy.
When I turned fifty, I had the opportunity to volunteer as a nurse (with Canadian Medical Assistance Teams) in Haiti after the devastating earthquake struck the country. There were many small camps such as ours offering medical treatment ranging from performing amputations in field tents (no running water and no electricity!) to treating “bad bellies” due to drinking unclean water. Our camp was desired because we were the only one in Léogâne with a portable X-ray machine. People with broken legs flocked to the camp with the big Canadian flag!
We were kept safe from looters in Léogâne by the Canadian Navy guarding us by day, and the Van Doos (the Royal 22nd Battalion) guarding us by night. Desperate times can lead to horrible scenarios. Many similar clinics were robbed of their cash, cell phones and drugs. With the support given to us, we were free to carry on our medical work without concern. Canadians are supportive.
At night, I shared a tent with two other young women. We slept on the hard ground but then again, so did most of the country. People were afraid to sleep indoors for fear of their home collapsing from another earthquake. Aftershocks were felt daily. One of my tentmates spoke fluent French. If someone needed medical aid in the night when our clinic was closed, the Canadian soldiers would wake us so my fellow nurse could translate. They knew where to find her by the giant Canadian flag draped over our tent like a beacon. Canadians are helpful, no matter the time of day or night.
All of us succumbed to a stomach bug during our stay there. I lost 10% of my weight. I will never forget the day a Canadian Navy gal emptied her backpack of Jell-O, Gatorade and fruit cups . . . all for me! Canadians are like that—they put others first.
On our last day, we rose at 4 am for our drive to Port-au-Prince to reach the Canadian embassy.
We passed by a queue three city-blocks long at the embassy. Seeing how these families longed to leave everything behind for a chance to live in Canada put it all in perspective for me.
Air Transat provided our team a free plane ride to Montreal. We were called humanitarians. I never thought that of myself. I just saw a need and my desire to help.
Our plane was shared with frail senior citizens and dozens of orphans. Canada is welcoming like that to offer refuge. All of those people would have been homeless beggars otherwise.
My family was proud of me for assisting the Haitians. This was an unexpected emotion to behold. I didn’t do it so anyone would be proud of me. I did it because it was the right thing to do. That’s what Canadians do daily. Arriving home, clad in a T-shirt, capris and sandals, I took a moment to stand still on the snowy tarmac and let it all sink in, to absorb what I had experienced in Haiti. I may be only 4’11” but I stood taller than I ever have, head tilted back with snowflakes landing on my eyelashes. I was home, safe in Canada. I was a Canadian and proud of it!
We’re all everyday heroes, whether we welcome an immigrant family to the neighbourhood or help someone at the store struggling with English as a second language. We do things with love and compassion because it’s the right thing to do—to help others—regardless of anyone’s background.
O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons command! Happy Canada Day!