NORTH ANDOVER — At 71, Roland Cook exudes youthful idealism.
He believes he can change the world, “one child at a time,” he said.
Cook, raised on the lower end of Massachusetts Avenue near what is now the Carl Thomas Playground, graduated from North Andover High School in 1959. He went on to a career in high-level human resources management, from which he is retired.
He now heads a non-profit organization called Helping Haiti’s Children, a group of volunteers formed in 2010.
His work with Habitat for Humanity led to his effort to help the children of Haiti, he said. He estimated he has helped build 30 to 40 houses for poor people in Uganda, Vanuatu and American Indian reservations. While he can swing a hammer and possesses “alleged building skills,” Cook said his primary strength is “organizing people.”
For his first project in Haiti, he was asked to build a “glorious latrine” for an orphanage. In a poverty-stricken country where children are often abandoned because their parents can’t afford to feed them, orphanages are full.
The 70 children at this particular orphanage used an 18-inch pipe as a toilet.
“It was horrible,” Cook said. The stench was overpowering.
Cook organized a crew that built a 4-hole latrine. They equipped it with lime to suppress the odor. In Haiti, indoor plumbing is a rarity.
For many Haitians, a properly constructed latrine is an improvement in their sanitary facilities.
The latrine led to further efforts to help the children of Haiti, Cook said. The organization he started supports two orphanages. One, in Croix de Bouquette, houses 70 children. The other, in Bon Repos, serves 20 children with handicaps, Cook said.
The orphanages also provide schooling for their children through the sixth grade. Haiti does not have a public school system that provides education for all children.
This is where Helping Haiti’s Children steps up to the plate. Once children in the orphanages have finished sixth grade, they are on their own, Cook said.
This can mean that they end up on the street or become domestic slaves, he said.
“We don’t want to see that happen,” Cook said. So Helping Haiti’s Children pays the tuition to enroll older children in private schools.
Right now, the organization is keeping 10 children in secondary school, Cook said.
The number of orphans in Haiti rose dramatically after the January 2010 earthquake devastated the country and killed more than a half million people.
“People are desperate to feed themselves and their families,” Cook said. In Haiti, one almost never sees a fat person, he noted.
Cook and the dozen or so other volunteers who make up Helping Haiti’s Children solicit donations for the work in Haiti.
For more information, visit www.helpinghaitischildren.com or call Cook at 321-725-5624. Donations can be sent to: Helping Haiti’s Children, PO Box 34113, Indialantic, FL 32903.
Cook’s wife, Joyce, died in 2001. If she were still alive, “She would have been right here with me,” helping Haiti’s children, he said.