Jean Kruger of rural Deerwood has a soft spot in her heart for the Haitian people.
Every six months for the last 2-1/2 years Kruger has traveled to Haiti as part of a Massachusetts-based missions group to work on construction projects at an orphanage and three schools in Leogane, just 25 miles outside Port-au-Prince. She works as a massage therapist at Family Chiropractic and The Fine Line Salon and Spa in Brainerd. She sets aside all the tip money she earns for her missions trips.
"It's the only thing I care about, I don't go on vacations," Kruger said of volunteering in Haiti.
She left Jan. 9 for her fifth missions trip to Haiti, accompanied by her mother, Judy Kruger, also of rural Deerwood, who was making her first trip to the country.
When the earthquake struck the women were on a bus, one of two buses filled with volunteers returning to nearby Carfou, the town where they were staying.
"I believe it's a miracle I'm alive right now," said Kruger. "Our bus was rocking back and forth - it was so scary - and all this chaos happened. The walls around the bus just crumbled down. This 11-12-year-old girl didn't have her hand anymore, she was bleeding and screaming. People were carrying babies that were bloody in their arms. Everyone was in the street and everyone was screaming."
The walls around the secure compound where they were staying were destroyed so the head of the missions team hired about 15 Haitian men to guard the perimeter that night, said Kruger. They all slept outside since the buildings weren't safe anymore.
"I don't think anyone slept that night," she said.
Her mom, a licensed practical nurse, and a group of mission volunteers went to the United Nations building in Port-au-Prince to help in the rescue efforts while Kruger and the rest of the group traveled to the orphanage to check on the children.
Jean Kruger of rural Deerwood joked with several Haitian children at the school she volunteers at in Leogane, located about 25 miles from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
"I was crying the whole time," Kruger said on the way to the orphanage, worried about what they'd find when they reached their destination. "There were bodies in the streets. There were people with bones sticking out of their bodies. Our bus driver just kept trying to get us there."
Kruger said all the orphans were outside, scared to go inside the orphanage because the walls were cracked and damaged. The walls outside the orphanage and a nearby school were destroyed. A doctor from northern Haiti had hitchhiked her way to Leogane and they helped her set up a makeshift medical clinic to help treat the injured. She said the doctor was performing toe and foot amputations and they only had children's Tylenol for quake victims to numb the pain.
"I have no training and I was just doing whatever people told me," said Kruger. "I didn't cry once and I saw a lot of stuff. I freak out when I get my finger pricked at the doctor's office and this was a lot for me."
Kruger said she and her group were able to get home, thanks to Rick Hendrick, a NASCAR team owner who volunteered use of his planes to get supplies into Haiti and bring Americans and Haitian orphans out of the country. The head of the mission got a call that a plane had just landed at the airstrip next to the Port-au-Prince airport and could take people out so the Krugers quickly made it to the plane, along with most of their missions group, four dentists and two missionary families. The rest of the missions team boarded a cargo plane in northern Haiti, she said.
Kruger and her mother, Judy Kruger posed with Naomi, a Haitian orphan, while in Haiti last week during a mission trip. The Krugers survived the Jan. 12 earthquake and assisted in the relief efforts.
The Krugers returned home to rural Deerwood at 3:30 a.m. Saturday. As much as Kruger would like to return to Haiti, she said the country now needs surgeons and people in the military or with military backgrounds to project the shipments. She hopes to return soon to help rebuild the country, particularly the orphanage and schools where she has volunteered many times.
"I felt safe the whole time I was there and in the streets at night they were singing praise songs, saying 'Thank you, Jesus,' 'Thank you, God' for being alive," said Kruger. "And everyone of them thanked us and everyone of them said they would pray for us. That says a lot, because people here would not be like that for us."
A 5.9-magnitude aftershock hit the country Wednesday, forcing more earthquake survivors onto the streets and sent others fleeing for the countryside. Kruger worried Wednesday about the orphans, especially 5-year-old Naomi, whom she would love to adopt.
"The orphanage may have fallen down today, I don't know," Kruger said after Wednesday's aftershock. "I'm worried about her a lot."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.