Metuchen Resident helps coordinate aid for Haiti after Hurricane Matthew

New Jersey Sentinel Newspaper, October 26, 2016

When Metuchen resident Robin Bolton, who is married to long time Metuchen resident, Dianne Tappen-Bolton, arrived in Haiti at the end of September, it was not anticipated that his work would include assisting in the coordination of disaster relief.

Bolton’s initial mission was to conduct a swim teaching program for children on the small Haitian island of Ile a Vache. Typically the children play in the water, but don’t learn to swim. As the only form of transportation for the eight miles from the island to the mainland of Haiti is by old, wooden, and sometimes overcrowded, boat, swimming courses can save lives in the event of accidents. Bolton, who swam for N. Ireland, volunteered his time with The Good Samaritan Foundation of Haiti, a nonprofit organization that has built and operates two schools in Haiti, one of them on Ile a Vache. The children, who would otherwise not receive an education, attend for free and also receive a lunch to ensure that they at least have one good meal a day.

Prior to going to Haiti, Bolton had run a swimsuit drive in New Jersey in order to provide a swimsuit for each of the children in the swimming classes.  He was overwhelmed at the generosity of swim stores, swim clubs, YMCAs, schools, a bank, a swimsuit manufacturer and many individuals. The children were thrilled to receive the swimsuits on the day after he arrived in Ile a Vache.

But within three days, a more immediate threat to human life would arrive as Hurricane Matthew, the strongest Atlantic cyclone in almost a decade, tore across South-Western Haiti.

As of one week after the hurricane, Bolton said the Good Samaritan Foundation’s two schools are the only ones in their areas to have reopened after Matthew’s destruction.” More than 275 cooked lunches are being served at each school every day, plus extra for elderly neighbors,” he said.

On Ile a Vache, which lay directly in Matthew’s path, there has been substantial damage, although miraculously, no loss of life. The island and its neighboring islets have a population of approximately 14,000. Bolton and the Good Samaritan’s only paid administrator, Mandy Thody, were staying in a Haitian house that lost about one quarter of its roof in the hurricane.

“Even prior to the hurricane, I described the living conditions on Ile a Vache as “poverty” for those at the top, “extreme poverty” for many more, and “abject poverty” for the majority. As a result of the hurricane, about 30 percent of the houses are completely roofless and probably 50 percent more partially roofless. Around 10 percent totally collapsed.” he said. “This means that a large percentage of the population is sharing housing with relatives and neighbors, which is boosting the likelihood of contagion, not only of cholera but also skin diseases, TB, dengue and flu, which affects malnourished people severely.”

The Good Samaritan Foundation has already raised close to $23,000 to assist the 4,000 people in the three village communities its programs serve.  $1,000 of that has gone to Aquatabs to purify water for distribution in the event of a cholera outbreak, as well as painkillers and anti-malarial medication. Another $2,000 has been used to purchase hand tools for the clearing and repair of the villages with the help of local civil protection units, and $5,000 for 1000 sheets of roofing tin, nails and cement for repairs, which will be undertaken by volunteers while the Foundation attends to those most in need such as children, elderly and the disabled.

The next $10,000 will be used to help supplement food for up to half of Ile a Vache’s population for up to six months. Much of the island’s fruit trees, banana and plantain plants, crops, hens, cows, sheep and goats were destroyed in the storm, and fish and conch are also in short supply. The Good Samaritan Foundation is also working to repair and restock its own agriculture program to help feed the community.

“The biggest problem in all of South-Western Haiti is the immense loss of fruit trees and ruined crops. In the case of Ile a Vache, all the southern half of the island’s fields are salted by the sea or spray and must be cleaned by rain for a few weeks before replanting,” said Bolton. “With no electrical grid on the island, there is no refrigeration and families must gather food each day. Most of the people rely on fruits and vegetables grown on their own small patches of land. It will be at least six months before home-grown staples will be ready for eating.”

In the area of the Good Samaritan Foundation’s second school, there was less damage to buildings, he said, but total loss of livestock and poultry.

“I lived with a Haitian family for two weeks and got to know many more people in the area. Despite having no luxuries and few of the things we consider basic necessities, they are happy people, always willing to smile and laugh. They are hard-working, though the lack of electricity, lack of any form of goods transportation except mules and horses, lack of roads, and lack of money, makes everyday tasks so much more difficult and time consuming,” said Bolton. “I have never felt so passionate about any cause in my life and I appeal to readers who want to support the Good Samaritan Foundation’s work in Haiti to make a donation to the organization through its website:  www.goodsamaritanofhaiti.com

The Good Samaritan Foundation of Haiti is a registered 501(c)(3) charity and all donors will receive a tax receipt to offset their taxable income by the amount of their donation.