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7857: Real 'son of a Gunn' aims to improve Haiti (fwd)

From: amedard@gte.net

Real 'son of a Gunn' aims to improve Haiti

Thursday, April 12, 2001

The Sun Courier

Charlie Gunn has a newfound appreciation for expressways, running water and shoes.

The North Olmsted man went on a volunteer mission to construct a medical clinic in
March in Haiti. When he returns there in May, he wants to be loaded with supplies.

Gunn was spurred into action by a Today Show report on Airlines Ambassadors
International and did some research on the Internet.

I saw the story and it sounded so interesting, he said. I called them and they told
me about a health clinic project and, since I was in construction - I am retired now
- I thought this would be a good fit. This would be a way to help out and give
something back.

Airline Ambassadors International is a nonprofit membership organization determined
to helping children in need. Members hand-deliver humanitarian aid and provide
medical care to children in more than 20 countries, and escort orphans to new homes
and children to hospitals for medical care.

There are more than 2,500 members, including many airline personnel. Other members
are doctors, dentists, business executives, housewives, teachers and students.

Since the organization was founded by an American Airlines flight attendant in 1997,
AAI has delivered more than $5 million in humanitarian aid, involved more than 60,000
children in its programs, and escorted 500 children in need. The organization runs on
an annual budget of less than $50,000.

Still, Gunn wasn't prepared for what he saw during his five-day trip.

The village we were in, Juampas, is only 35 miles from the airport in Port-Au-Prince,
but it was a three-hour trip because of the roads, he said. The roads are
unbelievable - one lane, dirt roads, somewhat dangerous.

And there is no running water, no hot water and no sewage. As we were being bussed
along these dirt roads and I was looking at the shacks along the road, I was
thinking, "What have I got myself into?' But the house the volunteers stayed in was

During his first trip, Gunn helped the Haitians dig the foundation for the medical
clinic - all by hand, using shovels and picks.

We would carry rocks from any place we could find them to use for the foundation, he
said. And cinder blocks are all made by hand, with a person going 1 mile each way to
the river to get water.

The volunteer said the villagers continue to work on the project and look forward to
having a clinic.

The natives will pay 10 cents per visit to the medical clinic, if they can afford it,
and this money will help to pay for two local women who are getting nursing

But a lot of work still has to be done - not easy in the heat, Gunn said.

It was in the 90s every day in March and they are in the middle of a drought. They
haven't had rain for five months, so their crops are not doing well.

He said the living conditions are poor, with one-room houses not much larger than a
work cubicle.

Most things are done outside, such as bathroom facilities, cooking, eating - so,
basically the house is a room to sleep in, Gunn said. In most cases, it is a dirt
floor with a straw mat and a couple of sheets. There are no telephones and no mail
delivery, since no one has an address.

The volunteer said everyone he met was kind and that he made a lot of friends there.

The villagers are very friendly people. You hear about all the crime and how bad it
is in Port-Au-Prince, but when you get away to the remote villages, the people are
just really nice. The little kids are so funny. I don't know how many Americans they
have seen, but they sure do get excited.

But one thing did bother him.

Most of the kids do not have shoes, which are required for them to go to school, Gunn
said. And school costs $2.50 per year per child to attend, but many families can't
afford it. And we saw the school. There is just nothing there; the walls are bare.
The kids are so anxious to learn, but they just don't have any materials. Now, I have
a better feel for things they need.

So, Gunn is on a another mission. He's collecting used children's shoes, any
children's educational books and materials, as well as used medical equipment for the

I can't believe that everyone walks around with no shoes, he said. They walk on hot
dirt, sharp rocks. Their feet are like leather.

Anyone interested in contacting Gunn can reach him at (440) 779-8168 or
SonofaGunn11@aol.com on the Internet.