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The Globe and Mail

Peruvian woman longs to join husband injured in Ontario crash

Giovanna Figueroa de Alba (L), whose husband, Javier Alba, was injured in in the crash, is next to her mother Maria Esther Yaya who is carrying Giovanna's 6-months-old baby Ashraf Alba at their home in Comas.

Pilar Olivares for The Globe and Mail/pilar olivares The Globe and Mail

As her husband lies wounded in a Canadian hospital, a Peruvian woman clutches her sick baby in her small living room, desperate to join him.

Javier Aldo Medina was among the men injured in this week's horrific crash on a southern Ontario country road. He told his wife, Giovanna Figueroa de Alba, by phone that he has a broken pelvis and ribs, but is recovering.

He left for Canada last Friday to earn money to help care for their baby.

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The temporary foreign worker had just finished his first day on the job and was in a van with a dozen other labourers on Monday, heading home to Kitchener, when police say the driver failed to halt at a stop sign. The van collided with a transport truck. Ten of the workers died, and the truck driver, Chris Fulton, celebrating his 11th wedding anniversary that day, was killed almost instantly.

Mr. Aldo has said that he was trying to sleep in the back of the van and saw a light hurtling toward him. In moments, he was lying immobilized, his body broken. He began to comfort another survivor nearby.

"Don't move, don't move, help will come," he said.

His wife wants to travel to Canada to help him, fearing her husband will be alone without means when he's discharged.

"I have to go to Canada, for the well-being of my husband," she said, adding that she has not heard from Canadian officials.

In Hamilton, Mr. Aldo's fellow survivor Edgar Sulla Puma lies in a hospital bed, his eyes firmly shut, his bruised body completely still. His older sister, Matilde Sulla Puma, grabs his hand and speaks to him softly in Spanish.

She tells him he's strong and she's waiting for him to wake up. Not just her, but his many friends in Canada and his mother and sisters in Peru.

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Mr. Sulla, 26, arrived in Ontario in September, 2010, to work on poultry farms, chasing and catching chickens so they could be vaccinated. Only he and two others, Mr. Aldo and Juan Ariza, survived. And while the other two are on the mend in a London hospital, Mr. Sulla's condition in Hamilton General's intensive care unit is precarious.

He hasn't spoken or opened his eyes since being airlifted for treatment and his head injuries are extensive. His sister and her husband are praying for a miracle.

"Only a miracle can help him to be with us," Ms. Sulla said, tears streaming down her face as her husband, John Edwards, translated for her.

But she still has faith.

"She asks people with all her heart to pray for him. When she sees him, she feels it's possible for him to get better."

A priest visited Mr. Sulla early on Thursday afternoon, offering a blessing at his bedside.

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Mr. Sulla grew up in the village of Espinar, the youngest of five children and the only boy. He's pint-sized (only five feet and three inches tall) but strong. A handyman in Peru, he jumped at the opportunity to work on chicken farms in Canada, even though the labour was hard and the hours were long. The job gave him the chance to save as much as $1,000 a month, allowing him to send money home to help his mother and sisters. In Peru, he made about $250 monthly, about $94 Canadian.

Maria Orellana got to know him through her daughter's boyfriend, also a farm labourer. She saw him often on weekend nights at TJ's Roadhouse, a Kitchener bar around the corner from the apartments where the farm workers lived.

"He's so sweet. Short guy. Loves to dance," she said. "All these guys they are so nice."

Mr. Sulla was quiet and reserved, but he shone on the dance floor, his sister said. His moves earned him the nickname Michael Jackson.

Ms. Sulla and her husband want to get some music to him in the hospital, hoping the sound of techno, his favourite, will help.

They last saw him on the weekend, when he visited their Toronto home. It was the first time he held his nephew, Julian, who is just three weeks old.

"He is a proud uncle," his sister said.

Monday's tragedy has touched many in Kitchener's tight-knit Latino community. On Thursday afternoon, a group of the men's friends and members of the community gathered at the Mar Sol banquet hall to plan a fundraiser for their families.

"The vision is to make this not just a sad, grim event, because that's not how we remember them. They were joyous, happy people," Arpo Kalenderian told the meeting.

And so the fundraiser on Feb. 18 will be a celebration of life. It will feature three DJs, Latin musicians, dinner and dancing. The goal is to raise $10,000 to support the families of the men in Peru, as well as the family of Juan Castillo, in Kitchener, and the widow of truck driver Mr. Fulton.

With reports from Colin Freeze in London and Adrian Morrow in Kitchener

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