Leftover Paint—For Good

By Jerry Rabushka,

  Filed under: Feature

Award-winning  Global Paint for Charity distributes recycled coatings worldwide.

If there’s one thing we can learn from Rony Delgarde—and there are many—it’s that color matters much more than we think. Try living without it—it can be a condition of poverty that is rarely considered. “The house I grew up in was not painted, and my school was not painted,” said this Haitian native, who, now living in Atlanta, has devoted his life to donating paint to communities in need, both in the U.S. and abroad.

It wasn’t an overnight decision so much as a lifetime of his own interests combined with his passion to help people in need. He’d been there himself; during his childhood his family found itself on the wrong side of Haitian dictator François Duvalier, and “Papa Doc,” as he was called, did not take opposition lightly. “I grew up in a small town on the north side of Haiti. My mother was lucky to survive the terror—torturing, raping, murdering, and kidnapping young girls and women—of the Tonton Macoutes, a paramilitary force under the Duvalier regime.” His mother put him in the care of his paternal grandmother and fled to America before he was a year old. Here, he reports, fortunes turned and she became a successful entrepreneur.

While he lived and learned in a place without paint, he liked to draw and to imagine how the buildings around him would look with a good shot of exterior color. “I enjoyed seeing how things like houses, doors, animals and other objects looked outside,” he said. “I drew houses, cars, and buildings that did not even exist in my neighborhood. I used bright colors such as red, yellow, pink, and blue on the objects, and it was beautiful. On my very first day in the U.S, I landed at the Miami International Airport. I could not believe what I saw that day. ‘This is a perfect adventure,’ I said. I thought it was remarkably beautiful to see a city where all houses and tall buildings were painted with amazing colors.”

 

Paint Safari

Let’s fast forward, Rony has lived for many years in Atlanta but for the moment he’s in east Africa and it’s 2010. He’s in Kenya and Uganda to help donate basic health supplies and nutrition kits to mothers in refugee camps. Without paint, however, not only were people living in ugly surroundings, but their buildings lacked the protection paint provides. Back home, however, everyone had leftover paint they didn’t know what to do with.

“I was shocked just to know how many gallons of paint were thrown away in the U.S.,” said Delgarde. “Each year, hundreds of millions of gallons of paint are discarded in North America alone. More than one billion gallons of paint are sold for commercial use, but 10% of that goes unused or ends up in landfills. I said ‘are we really throwing away that much paint at the expense of other people who don’t have any? I need to do something about it.’”

One of the first thing he did was ship paint “back home.” After the Haitian earthquake in 2010, he collected 500 gallons to send to the devastated island.

 

“It was remarkably beautiful to see a city where all houses and tall buildings were painted with amazing colors.”

 

The Two Week Gallon

The trip to East Africa woke Delgarde to the idea that the need to beautify housing in the developing countries is very important. We know how much difference a fresh coat of paint can make over an old coat, but imagine if someone has never had paint at all. “Many of the family tents, homes, schools, churches, and orphanages I saw were in such a poor state of that they were not only uninhabitable but also poorly conducive to safety and healthy living standards,” said Delgarde. “I could relate to that due to my childhood experience in Haiti.”month for that gallon, quite the luxury when you aren’t sure how you’ll be eating over the next day or two. “Take a moment today and think about how many family homes, schools and buildings you see that need paint around the world. I find myself in tears many times. In many developing countries, paint is the synonym of luxury, and only the top 10% of the population can buy paint to beautify their homes.”

This lead to Rony founding Global Paint for Charity. In the early days, he would drive around himself, starting from home base Atlanta and wheeling to cities such as Macon, Savannah, and Charleston, SC to collect leftover paint. “I believe a little layer of paint on the walls will change everyone’s life for many years to come,” he said.

It’s more than just pretty, he points out. “It is one of the only solutions to protect exterior and interior surfaces from bacteria, diseases, bad germs, mold, severe unsanitary conditions and temperature changes.” He noted that World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control estimate that three million children die each year from contact with bad germs on interior surfaces including unpainted walls and other unsanitary conditions. “Yes, people need food, soap, shoes etc,” he adds, “and that is why there are so many organizations collecting those items. However, not as many organizations are focusing on the physical image of underprivileged communities.”

Here in America there are programs to spruce up a fading downtown. Color makes a difference; it’s the same in Nairobi and Kampala as it is here. “While the psychological effect of colors is based on personal experiences, many people will agree with the basic connections,” he said. “Many homes have plain white or tan colored walls. Supplying families with paint will encourage creativity, hope and pride in the communities, schools, and churches. “

“In many developing countries, paint is the synonym of luxury, and only the top 10% of the population can buy paint.”

 

More Than A Gallon of Giving

Assistance is “applied” even after the paint goes on, he said. “The organization’s volunteers, the board members, and I often travel to regions where paint was shipped, not only to paint but to provide the organization’s heartfelt sense of support to current and completed projects,” said Rony. “We have been very fortunate to receive donations from the top brands of the U.S. including Benjamin Moore, PPG, Valspar, Sherwin-Williams, Glidden, Rodda, Miller, Behr, ACE, and a few more to assist our ongoing projects all over the world. Those paints are durable and are of the best quality.” And so far, so good! “We have not seen any facilities from those projects that need a repaint.”

Global Paint for Charity also puts the paint to use at home. The organization is working on the Housing Rehabilitation Project for veterans and the Neighborhood Painting Project in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Miami, and New Orleans. “Through these projects, we aim to help 10,000 veterans and senior citizens restore their homes,” said Delgarde. “Our volunteers spend countless hours in the community to help these homeowners restore the beauty in their homes and maintain their property values. This project will be ongoing in the five cities until 2025.”

In Africa, the Basic School Beautification project has sent resin and vehicle to Ghana, Benin, South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea. “Our goal is to restore 8,000 schools in those regions between 2016 and 2025,” said Rony. “We aim to involve communities developing schools that support local families. We are confident that getting the communities involved will allow the locals to take pride in their schools and bring happiness to the children who attend. So far, we have donated paint to projects in Kenya, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica.”

 

Paint Pride

He’s noticed that projects boost community pride as well as community involvement. In the U.S., local youth, community groups, and thousands of volunteers from many corporations have pitched in. “Our project brings people together to paint for the seniors, widows and neglected locations in our communities,” said Delgarde. “Regardless of the number of the volunteers and the ultimate purpose(s) of the company’s social and community responsibility, our paint programs build social benefits by boosting an individual’s engagement as well as building organizational impacts and support for the community.”

There has been recognition aplenty. “We are grateful to have media support for our mission,” he said. “It is an added bonus that the State of Georgia and the media strongly supports our mission.” GlobalPaints.org