Tiny dent in Haiti’s hunger has big impact

Published 8:38 am Thursday, March 24, 2011

Column: Kathleen Parker, A Little Sanity

Everybody wants to save the children. It’s the cliche that tipped the point that jumped the shark in a perfect storm.

But few people, however well intentioned, actually bestir themselves from the sofa to aid those in distress. Most of us — speaking first-person plurally — make a tsk-tsk-ing sound, perhaps tap a PayPal button, and wish that man and the gods were less cruel.

Kathleen Parker

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And then there are those rare individuals who drop whatever they’re doing and dash to the worst places on the planet to lend a hand.

Jonathan Nash Glynn, a well-known artist in this erstwhile whaling village, belongs to the latter demographic. On Jan. 13, 2010, the day after Haiti’s horrific earthquake, Glynn was en route to South Florida in his single-engine Cessna when he had a change of heart. Stopping in Miami only long enough to find a temporary home for his co-pilot — a dappled daschund named Lily — Glynn grabbed some charts and turned his plane toward the heart of the apocalypse.

Not knowing whether he’d be able to find a landing strip, Glynn carried 15 gallons of extra fuel, enough to make it back to Turks and Caicos. In the first of many instances of providential reprieve, he found a place to set down in the seaside town of Jacmel. The “airport” was a small gravel and asphalt strip between two 10,000-foot mountain ranges where a twin-engine Piper crashed shortly after Glynn arrived. Glynn himself had only a handheld GPS to guide him.

How one decides to enter such a fray is, for most, not easily understood. For Glynn, it was a simple calculation: He had an airplane and time. Then things got complicated.

Upon arrival in Haiti, he learned that thousands of amputations were being undertaken with carpentry saws and no anesthesia or antibiotics. For the next 19 days, Glynn became an air force of one, transporting morphine, antibiotics and surgical saws to medical outposts.

Those life-saving days were life-altering for Glynn and also for 43 lucky Haitian children and their families. In the span of a year, Glynn has created a foundation — Wings Over Haiti (WingsOverHaiti.org) — through which he has raised about $100,000 for food, water and a school in Croix-des-Bouquet just north of Port-au-Prince.

Two partners, who found Glynn via Facebook, have been crucial to his success. Melissa McMullan, a sixth-grade teacher in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., is head of the Wings Over Haiti School. Her students in both countries work interactively as part of the school’s mission to build learning partnerships. Co-director Shad St. Louis, a guidance counselor in Middletown, N.Y., is a native of Croix-des-Bouquet whose mother slept with a machete at her side before the family escaped Haiti’s political turmoil and emigrated to the U.S when St. Louis was 12.

The artist, the teacher and the counselor understand that Haiti’s hope rests with its children, who first need a full tummy and then a school. Glynn, an idealist without illusions, says he can’t save the world, but he figures he can help 43 children get a toehold.

Ages 3 to 6, these lucky few now have five teachers and three laptops. They have food, which costs about $1 per day per child, and clean drinking water, thanks to a new 70-foot well. And they’re learning to read and write.

Like all children, they vary in their abilities, but one girl is “brilliant,” Glynn says with what sounds an awful lot like parental pride. “I can’t wait to see what happens to her as she gets older. … Humans are too fragile for us to think we can mold their success, but we can try to give them the best chance possible to make the most of their lives.”

A 59-year-old bachelor “for too long,” and without children of his own, Glynn has set aside his career for the indefinite future. It may be gratifying to paint and sculpt for the art crowd, but incalculable is the reward of seeing a well-fed child in a clean blue “Wings Over Haiti” T-shirt holding up his schoolwork.

Glynn and his team have big plans, if limited resources. They recently bought two acres on which they hope to build a new school and a medical center. They also hope to cultivate the land, thus providing work for the adults, food for the community and the possibility of a self-sustaining future.

It is a mere dent. A tiny drop of sweet water in a deep well of despair. But it is sure something.

Kathleen Parker’s e-mail address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.