State College

Local humanitarian gets a holiday homecoming

Christy, right, hugs her sister Elizabeth after her flight arrived Friday at University Park Airport. Christy Delafield is a representative of humanitarian group Mercy Corps, and was most recently serving in Aleppo.
Christy, right, hugs her sister Elizabeth after her flight arrived Friday at University Park Airport. Christy Delafield is a representative of humanitarian group Mercy Corps, and was most recently serving in Aleppo. psheehan@centredaily.com

There’s something about holidays and airports.

Maybe it’s because of the movies, but there’s a certain windswept romanticism to the weary Christmas traveler circumnavigating a series of missed connections, delays and uncooperative weather before stumbling off of a plane just in time to deck the halls.

It’s the stuff of great novelty songs, a buddy road comedy just waiting for a hole in Jim Carrey’s schedule.

Of course, try telling that to Christy Delafield.

The State College native’s flight was originally scheduled to arrive at University Park Airport early Friday afternoon, but snow in Turkey pushed her triumphant return late into the evening.

Delafield was aware of this possibility as early as Wednesday, when all she could do was hope that it wasn’t karma for skipping the last tour on the family holiday circuit.

“I didn’t go home at Thanksgiving because I was so exhausted,” Delafield said.

Thus is life as a senior global communications officer with Mercy Corps, a humanitarian agency that has dispatched her to crises in far-flung locales such as Nepal, Haiti and Beirut.

My role is largely telling the story and trying to help people understand what’s happening there.

Christy Delafield

Her most recent trip regarded Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, which has been a recurring casualty of the country’s ongoing civil war.

So far, Delafield and her colleagues have seen more than 3,000 people come through the refugee welcome center they established in Syria, where water, food and blankets are waiting to take some of the bite out of freezing cold temperatures.

“My role is largely telling the story and trying to help people understand what’s happening there,” Delafield said.

Before we delve into what the specifics of what exactly that entails, it’s important to know that this isn’t the career Delafield planned on having — largely because she didn’t realize that it was an option.

She knew that she wanted to travel, though — go to new places, meet interesting people and experience all of the general wonderment and horizon broadening implied therein.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Delafield and her mother, Dotty Delafield, were in New York City getting ready to go to enact yet another classic Hollywood airport scenario — the emotional goodbye.

Had the events of the day unfolded differently, she would have been on her way to a semester in France instead of leaving her friend’s Big Apple apartment in the rearview mirror on the road back to State College.

Dotty had pulled rank — the privilege of motherhood — and in the face of tragedy wanted her daughter back home with her husband and their other three children.

Delafield did eventually make it to France and was humbled by the displays of support her American accent drew.

“I think that I really developed this passion for bringing people together,” Delafield said.

You should never stop figuring out if there’s a better way to help people.

Christy Delafield

In Aleppo, she was responsible for collecting information from the most important sources available — the people they were trying to help.

Not only does that ensure Syria remains in the public consciousness, but it keeps Mercy Corps’ efforts moving in the right direction. Give the people what the want, as the expression goes.

And the Syrians want carbs.

“Bread is a staple of the Syrian diet. It’s not a meal unless you have bread,” Delafield said.

Mercy Corps helps satisfy that demand by getting flour to local bakeries, which then turn around and sell the finished loaves at an affordable price.

“For years, people have been telling us we’re their only source of food,” Delafield said.

Most of the Mercy Corps team working near Aleppo is made up of citizens from Turkey and Syria. As the outsider, the only thing that Delafield hopes to bring to the equation is an open mind, the better to understand the long-reaching consequences of an act spawned from even the best of intentions.

“You should never stop figuring out if there’s a better way to help people,” Delafield said.

Meanwhile, Dotty was preparing for her daughter’s return from yet another distant locale in a world that hasn’t gotten much friendlier.

Much like she eventually had to allow her daughter to go to France, she’s accepted that this is just another day on the job at Mercy Corps.

“Obviously, as a parent, it made us a bit nervous, but we’ve also had a lot of confidence in the organization,” Dotty said.

So far, that faith has been rewarded in more ways then one.

The impact of Delafield’s experiences out in the field have trickled down the family tree, putting petty annoyances — like a delayed flight, for example — into perspective.

“Just having time to visit and enjoy each other becomes very important,” Dotty said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

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