Canadian nurses 'elated' to be home from Haiti but would like to return next year

Canadian nurses who went to Haiti to provide medical care to local residents are "elated" to be back home but some say they plan to return to the Caribbean country.

Group of 8 provided medical care to residents, but violent protests prompted nurses to leave

Tracey Hotta, a registered nurse from Thornhill, Ont., speaks to reporters at Toronto's Pearson International Airport after she and seven other nurses returned to Canada following a stay in Haiti. (CBC)

Canadian nurses who went to Haiti to provide medical care to local residents are "elated" to be back home but some say they plan to return to the Caribbean country next year.

Tracey Hotta, a registered nurse from Thornhill, Ont., told reporters at Toronto's Pearson International Airport early Tuesday that the eight Canadian nurses in Haiti for more than two weeks are relieved to back. Their return, however, is "bittersweet."

"We are elated. We are exhausted. It was a trying day today," she said.

Hotta said the group had to go onto a rooftop on Monday to wave down a helicopter that took them to the airport in Port-au-Prince. "Finally, he saw us. It was a long morning," she said.

The eight, who had volunteered at a compound in the Haitian city of Grand Goave, decided it was no longer safe to stay because anti-government protests had turned violent. The group had planned to return last Wednesday but were unable to leave after roads to the airport in Port-au-Prince were blocked.

The nurses pose for a photo while in Haiti. Tracey Hotta, from Thornhill, Ont., is in the centre. (Facebook)

The nurses had been working with Hope Grows Haiti, an Ontario-based charitable organization that aims to help orphaned and abandoned children in the country after the massive earthquake in 2010.

'They need our help'

"We would go back next year for sure. There is no question that the Haitian people need the medical attention. They need our help. They need our care," Hotta said. "It's a very loving environment down there."

On Monday, after arriving at the airport, the group boarded an Air Canada flight to Montreal. The six from Ontario continued onto Toronto. The group included two nurses from Barrie, two from Ajax, one from Markham, one from Montreal and one from Truro, N.S.

Hotta, who has gone to Haiti twice now, said the group formed bonds with local residents.

"We felt really bad leaving them in such turmoil. It was very sad to be going up in the helicopter and just looking back and they were all waving at us and the kids were sitting on the fence and just seeing us off."

Haitians watch the helicopter leave the compound. (Facebook)

Stephanie Gibb, Hotta's sister, was among a handful of relatives at the airport to welcome the nurses back.

"We were relieved today, but it's just amazing to see her now just to know that she is actually home and safe and sound," Gibb said.

"She had no idea how worried we were and we never wanted to let her know how worried we were. It was hard to know that she was without us and we were helpless and she was helpless. It was very hard because it was so dangerous."

Gibb told her sister: "You have no idea, Tracey. Wait until you see all the footage."

At the compound, which was guarded, the nurses did not have access to media reports. They also had to ration food, water and fuel in the days before they left.

Tracey Hotta and her sister Stephanie Gibb smile at each other at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Gibb says she is glad her sister has returned home. (CBC)

Lisa Sturdy, a nurse who went to Haiti with her daughter Lauren Davey, said the work they did was rewarding and worthwhile. Davey has just applied to nursing school.

"We went down and we were on the compound and we didn't actually see a lot of the rioting, but we certainly felt the tension within the compound, and we weren't able to travel as freely as we did in the past," Sturdy said.

"It came to the point where it wasn't safe for us to stay anymore."

Davey said: "We definitely left a part of us back in Haiti. Part of our hearts are there. We made so many connections with the staff and the kids and everybody in the community of Grand Goave."

Haitian protesters have staged 11 days of demonstrations that forced the closure of schools and businesses. Those taking to the streets have been calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse as they struggle to deal with skyrocketing inflation. 

Lauren Davey, left, and Lisa Sturdy, right, at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Davey said part of their hearts remain in Haiti after leaving. (CBC)