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New Ken man's mission to Haiti helps the poor

| Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, 10:17 a.m.
Tom Roberts with children at the Cambry Orphanage in Haiti
Tom Roberts enjoys making life better for children at the Cambry Orphanage in Haiti as part of a mission.
Give Hope Global workers help to build a structure at the Cambry Orphanage in Haiti.
Tom Roberts and other members of the Give Hope Global mission in Haiti
Tom Roberts talks with children during a trip to the Cambry Orphanage in Haiti as part of a mission sponsored by the Give Hope Global organization based in the Charlotte, N.C. area.
Tom Roberts and his son Scott ready to leave for a mission to Haiti.
Tom Roberts, while on a mission to Haiti, helped to install these solar panels that would provide electricity for pools where fish are raised.

Mention the word Haiti, and the first thought for many is a place beset by war, poverty and bad luck with weather.

But New Kensington's Tom Roberts is doing his part to make the Caribbean country on the island of Hispaniola a better place for its youngsters.

Roberts recently returned from a trip to the Cambry Orphanage in Haiti as part of a mission sponsored by the Give Hope Global organization based in the Charlotte, N.C., area. Cambry is in the southwest portion of Haiti, in the region known as Sud.

Roberts' son Scott prompted him to go on the mission, and the pair worked side by side.

An ultimate goal is to teach the children to raise fish and grow food through an aquaponics program. Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (growing fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil).

The thrust of the mission the Robertses were part of was to supply clothing, medical and dental care and school books and to begin construction of the aquaponics units in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

“I had a wonderful experience there,” Roberts says. “My son, Scott, worked for the Charlotte group in the sponsorship of an orphanage with 150 children.”

“When you first go down there, it makes you want to cry,” Roberts says. “The kids have their school uniforms, church uniforms and then rags.”

The first Give Hope Global mission in 2011 found the children malnourished and ill with worms, but progress has been noted in eight missions since it started. The next mission will occur in January.

Roger Braswell is the chief executive officer.

“My daughter, Angela Quinn, visited Haiti in January of '11 with a neighbor of hers who is a doctor,” Braswell says. “After she got back from the mission, she asked if I'd lead a team of doctors, dentists, nurses' assistants and a construction building person. I went, and I just fell in love with the kids.”

The most-recent trip to Haiti included medical staff, who gave physical examinations to 143 Cambry children as well as 45 other children bused in from Darivarger. A portable dental system provided services to more than 100 children needing care.

“We brought the kids monogrammed backpacks filled with books, school supplies, underwear, basic stuff,” says Roberts, retired president of the Allegheny and Homewood cemeteries and the former president of the National Cemeteries and Funeral Directors Association. He spent 35 years in the cemetery business before retiring.

The aquaponics project

One goal of Give Hope Global is an aquaponics project to help make the orphanage self-sufficient.

The first step is to build pools to raise tilapia. Then, the water from the fish pools in channeled into water gardens by way of a solar-power system. The water is recirculated back into the pools. Tom Roberts designed and built the sheds over the aquaponics tanks.

The gardens will allow orphanage residents to grow vegetables in a series of areas 50 feet by 4 feet wide.

“We built the first 12-foot-round pool in October,” Roberts says.

When the operation is at full force, Cambry residents will be able to produce 600 pounds of tilapia and 2,500 pounds of vegetables each month.

“This can result in more healthy food for the orphans, income and jobs for the people there,” Braswell says. “Tom and Scott were instrumental in getting this off the ground. Your town should be proud of Thomas Roberts. Just to see him there — the Haitian kids really gravitated to him.”

Braswell says each module for the pools and gardens cost $22,000. Give Hope Global hopes to build seven initially, then add more. The pools will run on solar-generated electricity, with solar panels installed at the top of the pools.

Give Hope Global also is trying to raise $3,000 to $4,000 for school books for the children who attend school on the orphanage grounds.

The public-service mission always has obstacles.

Because there is a language barrier, interpreters who understand the Creole French spoken in the area are part of the missions.

The Roberts father and son team are hoping to travel to Haiti again in June 2014 if they can get their schedules to jibe. Meanwhile, they are putting together a gift package of trinkets, toys and crayons to send to three children in the area.

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