Florence, a nurse and a member of the escort team that accompanied the children, tells the story of this incredible mission.
“There were six volunteers, including myself, who were entrusted with the mission of taking three recovered children back to their families in Madagascar and then returning with six other children, between ten months and four years old, who were in need of urgent medical care. This was the first time we had been asked to carry out a mission of this scale.
Escorting each child was an “adventure”, a fated encounter. Aside from accompanying the children on their journey, it was our responsibility to reassure not only them, but also their parents, whose fear of separation was difficult to overcome.
We met the recovered children at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris; there were two
“little ones” and one older boy. The older child, who had just spent four months living in Massongex, Switzerland, was a little upset to learn that this flight would mean the end of his exciting experience. In those four months, he had seen a glimpse of a world completely different from the one in which he had grown up.
Arriving in Antananarivo
Once we arrived in Madagascar’s capital city Antananarivo, the families were reunited, which was, of course, a very emotional moment for everyone involved, including the escort team. The sheer joy on everyone’s face symbolised the start of a new life after several long weeks of separation.
Then, for two of us, the second part of our mission began with a visit to a family whose sick child we would accompany to Paris for an operation. We were welcomed by the family into the only room of their well cared for home. Situated in one of the poorest areas of the capital, it was a place of fragile hope. Nevertheless, Elia, the little four-year-old girl with a fragile heart, gave us a smile. Perhaps she understood what was happening. With the invaluable help of our translator, we tried our best to reassure the family.
We then met Doctor Nivo, a young female doctor who introduced us to four other children who we would be accompanying. We could feel the bubble of excitement in the consultation room, where the children’s parents were also present. The children’s restlessness, the parents’ worry, and the volunteers’ kindness made for an unforgettable moment.
D-Day arrives: the airport was hectic
Not having had the chance to meet the family of little Christiano, the tension for me was even greater. It wasn’t until the plane was preparing to take off that I finally got to meet them, albeit in a somewhat unsettling moment. I managed to find the words to reassure his parents, people to whom I was a stranger and who were entrusting me with their child and all of their hopes for him. There are rarely any complications, but sometimes some of the children never return home. We knew full well the risk involved, but we couldn’t focus on that then.
After Doctor Nivo joined us, we went through the registration and departure formalities with the help of Air France’s customer service manager and the local representatives on the ground. When the dreaded moment of separation came, tears were shed. This moment was all too familiar for members of the escort team who tried their best to ease the parents’ worries and to comfort the children.
It was past midnight by the time we boarded the plane. Out of the six children, three of them attempted to runaway. We felt powerless, but we completely understood how they were feeling. With hugs and kind words, we did our best to assuage their nerves and to lift their heavy hearts, though they were yearning for home. Feeling exhausted, but nestled up against us, the children finally fell asleep just before landing.
After arriving at Charles de Gaulle and navigating our way through the airport’s hallways and down the escalators, we met with the host families and other members of the escort team who would oversee the second part of their journey. Here we left the children, who under the circumstances had already begun to trust us, to continue their journeys towards recovery.
After a short rest we were ready to leave again, feeling enriched by our new experience. We are important, inseparable links in a chain that aims to ensure the welfare of children from disadvantaged backgrounds and allow them to receive the care they need. It’s an incredible human adventure!”
Photos: © zeppelin / Aviation Sans Frontières