Pilot Returns to Haiti on School-Building Mission

Jonathan Glynn, a Sag Harbor artist and pilot, with some of the children he has helped with his organization Wings Over Haiti. Courtesy photo
Jonathan Glynn, a Sag Harbor artist, is returning to Haiti to build a second school through an organization he helped establish, Wings Over Haiti. Courtesy photo

By Stephen J. Kotz

Jonathan Glynn, a Sag Harbor artist, was flying his Cessna single-engine plane to Florida on January 13, 2010, the day after a major earthquake devastated the impoverished country of Haiti. Mr. Glynn, who had visited Haiti when he was younger and who also had experience flying small planes to the Bahamas, began to think about ways he could help.

“It was a fantasy, really, something to think about as I flew to Miami,” he said on Sunday. That fantasy soon turned into a series of one-man relief missions over the next month, as Mr. Glynn shuttled medical supplies into the country after learning on his first visit that doctors were performing amputations with carpenter’s saws and no anesthesia. Returning home and forgetting about it was no longer an option, he said.

Within a year, Mr. Glynn and his partners had created the Wings Over Haiti foundation and raised $100,000 to build a school for 43 children in Croix-des-Bouquet, a small town outside Port-au-Prince. That school, which has added a grade each year, now serves about 140 children, and Mr. Glynn is launching a fundraising drive to raise $50,000 to do it all over again.

“I’m not going to pretend this is going to help Haiti,” Mr. Glynn said, “Haiti’s a mess. This is going to help the kids.”

The current Wings Over Haiti School “is now an overwhelming success,” Mr. Glynn said, with a garden, fruit trees, basketball courts, and children, who “probably live in shacks with dirt floors and sheet metal roofs,” able to attend school and get regular meals.

It was made possible, he said, largely through the generosity of East End residents and service clubs like the Rotary and Lions.

But it wasn’t easy. “We made a lot of mistakes the first time,” Mr. Glynn said. At first the school leased the property, but it soon faced extortion efforts and official corruption. “It was pointless to do anything unless you own the land,” he said

The new project, near the town of Ranquitte, has a considerable head start in the form of the gift of 7 acres of land from the family of Magalie Theodore, a Haitian banker, whose father ran a school on the site until the earthquake hit seven years ago. Mr. Glynn said she had been asking him to consider the project for the past three years, but the time was not right — there was a death in his family, he had to undergo surgery, his dog died — until now.

Although some of the buildings remain on the site, they are dilapidated and have to be razed, Mr. Glynn said. At first, Wings Over Haiti plans to launch a soccer program, which attracts the community, and then rebuild the school, starting with an enrollment of about 35 children with a goal of eventually educating about 10 to 12 times that many children.

Mr. Glynn visited Haiti in January to meet with the community. “They told me their number-one priority is getting the school back up and running,” he said.

Wings Over Haiti has begun raising “seed money” for an event it will hold at the Watermill Center on June 17. “Hamptons Artists for Haiti” will feature the works of some 35 artists, a silent auction, raffles, music, and food. Tickets are available for $125 at the group’s website, wingsoverhaiti.net.

Mr. Glynn, who is 65, said, the experience of the first school building project has made him confident he will be successful again. “I told Magalie my goal is to hand this off to you as soon as possible. I’m not interested in the day-to-day running of a school. I would prefer to build an infrastructure of smart, reliable Haitians who will keep it going a long time.”