Yves Carrier was on his fourth humanitarian mission to Burkina Faso and, on this trip, the retired school principal lived a long-time dream of bringing family and friends to share the life-altering experience.
For Mr. Carrier’s wife, Gladys Chamberland, the trip provoked some apprehension among loved ones. On the eve of the voyage, she sent out a message of reassurance to Facebook friends saying the odds of dying in a terrorist attack were 1 in 116 million. “I just want to remind you of the numbers,” she said. The trip, it appeared, went off without a hitch until very near the end. Mr. Carrier’s daughter, Maude, a 37-year-old school teacher, shared a video of a bustling market under the comment “I love Africa!” She beamed in one photograph of her holding a baby.
Son Charlelie Carrier, 19 and on his first humanitarian trip with his parents, took a slightly more jaundiced view, posting messages about the lamentable state of African WiFi and the plumbing in Burkina Faso. He did appreciate the large $1 beers and 30-degree temperatures, however.
An adventurous voyage of peace and goodwill that began on Christmas Eve came to a bloody end Friday night for the four family members and two other Quebeckers, just before flights were to start taking the group home from the capital Ouagadougou. Terrorists stormed the Splendid Hotel and Cappuccino café where the group was relaxing, hours before three were set to board flights. They all died, along with at least 22 other people of several nationalities.
The attacks have left a tight-knit school community in shock. At Quebec City’s Cardinal-Roy high school, where two of the victims have worked, administrators are bringing in psychological support for students and staff on Monday. Louis Chabot had been a math teacher at the school in the past. Maude Carrier, a French teacher there, was due to return to class on Monday morning.
“She was close to her students and very much appreciated,” school principal Elizabeth Fortin said on Sunday. “She was generous, always positive and dynamic.”
Maude Carrier’s mother, Camille, said her daughter took on the mission with gusto, helping Yves Carrier raise funds for months before their trip. The group was backed by an aid group and they raised the money in support of the Notre-Dame du Perpétuel Secours order of nuns, who have operated in Burkina Faso for decades. Ms. Carrier had two small children.
Quebec religious orders and aid groups have a long history of involvement in Burkina Faso and the provincial government carries on regular exchanges with the government of the francophone country.
“We’re just gutted,” Camille Carrier said. “It’s incomprehensible that a humanitarian mission to fix up schools and orphanages could end this way.”
The group, bound together by their careers as educators, saw their activities in Burkina Faso as an extension of their work. They renovated schools and orphanages, and provided material such as powdered milk for children.
“You become attached to the people there and want to support them. They’re very welcoming and generous,” said Claude Guay, a Quebec City school guidance counsellor who went with the group of Quebeckers on a previous trip in 2013, and knows the victims of the terrorist attacks. Mr. Guay said that before leaving for this trip, group members had been briefed on the political picture on the ground.
“We were aware of the political upheavals,” Mr. Guay said. “But the situation was stable and our contacts told us there was no real danger.”
Yves Carrier was the group’s leader and was well known in the community for his volunteer work, from fundraising for overseas work to snow blowing his neighbour’s driveway.
“We told him before the holidays: ‘You be careful over there, it’s no joke,’” said Marlene Carrier, Yves’s sister. “His answer was, ‘I’m going over there to build a school.’ He built his school. It’s a big heart that has left us.”
Sister Lise Desrochers of the religious order said Mr. Carrier was a regular supporter of the nuns’ work. On this trip, his group repaired and painted a school and the nuns’ home in a village north of Ouagadougou.
Every couple years, Yves Carrier would start a fundraising cycle that would end with a trip to Burkina Faso. This was his fourth trip. “Every two years, he reformed new groups and came back again to help at different levels,” Sister Desrochers said. “He did it in love and respect. They were very comfortable in what they did.”
The Africa-bound group of Quebeckers had been fundraising for the trip with spaghetti dinners, flea markets and other activities. Mr. Chabot was the administrator of a Facebook group called Amis du Burkina Faso (Friends of Burkina Faso). A little more than a week before departing for Africa, he was still raising money, posting a photo of a 2016 wall calendar for sale for $10. “Thank you for contributing to our cause,” Mr. Chabot wrote to a donor on Dec. 14.
A married father of three, Mr. Chabot was a long-time and much-appreciated teacher, most recently working with young adults struggling with school. Several former students spoke of an educator whose patience and attention encouraged even those who had little aptitude for math.
“There wasn’t one person in class who didn’t like him,” said Stéphanie Bourassa-Deschênes, 19. The teenager entered her second year of high school barely passing math, and completed her course with Mr. Chabot with an average of 80. “He would always take time with individual students to make sure they could grasp the subject. Everyone is in shock.”
Mr. Chabot’s death has left his large circle of friends reeling. “It feels like a nightmare we’d like to wake up from. But we can’t. It’s the new reality,” fellow teacher Lucette Martin said.
“Louis was a good, loving person who liked to help others,” Ms. Martin said. “He was a bon vivant who adored life.”
At the Carrier family home in Lac-Beauport, a town of about 7,000 residents, dozens of neighbours and friends left messages of support on the doorstep. “Even if nobody’s in there, we want the family to know we’re here,” Valérie Tremblay told a Radio-Canada camera crew.
Mayor Louise Brunet said the town is in “total shock.” Ms. Brunet, who taught Maude Carrier piano lessons when she was little, said Charlelie Carrier worked for the town in the summer as a day-program instructor for younger children. “The son was involved with local youth, while the father was always ready to pitch in on anything. We’ve all lost a great neighbour,” Ms. Brunet said.
Ms. Chamberland worked as a communications adviser in the Quebec environment ministry. She won a prize in 2009 for creating a public-awareness program for the risk of getting rabies from racoons. More recently, she worked in the mining sector.
For Suzanne Bernier, the trip to Africa was the continuation of her lifetime passion for education and children. A widow whose own kids were grown up, she had retired from a career as a teacher and school principal and continued giving her time to needy pupils in Quebec City.
She also set her sights further afield, travelling to do humanitarian work in Guatemala last year.
“The trip to Africa was part of that – of giving back to children,” said her colleague and friend Marie-Ève D’Ascola, a school principal. “She had a heart of gold.”
The attacks killed four current and former employees of the same Quebec City school board, the Commission scolaire de la Capitale. “It’s like a family. Everyone feels affected,” she said.
“When you live in Quebec, you never think that you will lose someone to a terrorist attack, and especially not while they’re helping others, doing good for humanity,” Ms. D’Ascola said. “It’s hard to lose Suzanne that way.”
LES PERREAUX AND INGRID PERITZ
MONTREAL — The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016 8:24PM EST
Last updated Monday, Jan. 18, 2016 7:52AM EST