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Mayor’s Corner: A return to Haiti, Part II

This is the second of a two-part column about Mayor Gilbert’s trip with the South Lewiston Baptist Church to provide aid and assistance in Haiti. The first part was published last week.

By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.

Mayor of Lewiston

Last month I reported in the Twin City TIMES on a group of us visiting Les Cayes, Haiti, where Father Marc Boisvert, a Lewiston native, has been serving the people there for over 12 years. It is a four-hour drive from Port-au-Prince.

This second trip in as many months was with the same group that I went to Haiti with last year. The group is led by Andrew Letourneau from the South Lewiston Baptist Church (SLBC).

On Saturday, April 9, we finished work early, so we went all the way downtown to view some of the damage that still exists there, such as the Roman Catholic Cathedral where the Bishop was killed during the earthquake.

Last month when I went through downtown to get to Les Cayes, the Presidential Palace hadn’t been touched since last year. This time, there was heavy machinery removing the rubble. We walked around the square there and in the park across the street from the palace; there is still a tent city. We have yet to see any of the tent cities close. We also drove by the markets, which are very poor.

On Sunday, April 10, we attended the church service headed by Pastor Nathan. He had a special program to welcome Pastor Bryan Church of the South Lewiston Baptist Church. He presented Pastor Bryan with souvenir gifts of Haiti. There was a choir of women headed by Pastor Nathan’s wife, Olive, and another choir of teens and young adults. Both choirs had special uniforms.

On that afternoon we went to a place called Double Harvest, which is run by a gentleman named Art Spaulding, originally from New Jersey, who lives there with his family. It is several miles from Port-au-Prince. There are 200 acres used for agriculture and horticulture. The Haitian laborers work the farm and sell to vendors. The vendors bring their products to the city to sell them. It provides food and income for the people there.

Art also heads up a church and medical clinic there. It is quite an operation. We were most impressed with what goes on in this rural area of Haiti.

We left Double Harvest and went to a dry riverbed that is covered with rocks of similar size. We drove on it as far as we could, then we walked to enter a canyon there. Suddenly there was an explosion on the side of the mountain, and an avalanche of rocks came tumbling down the side of the mountain. We went no further.

As it turns out, there are workers there who break up the rocks and load them into dump trucks to be used for building materials. When the river is flowing, it runs from the west in the Dominican Republic all the way through Haiti to the ocean.

After our workday on Monday, April 11, we went to visit Jeff and Deb Dnlinger and their three children Colton, 13, Kylie, 8, and Brooke, 7. Living with them is a nurse named Vanessa. All are from Pennsylvania. They operate an orphanage for their church, which houses and schools some 80 orphans.

Teams of workers come and live on the bottom floor of the house, and the family lives upstairs. It is a beautiful home designed by Jeff Dnlinger.

Jeff was a contractor back in the States who sold his business and committed to working three years in Haiti. Aside from running the orphanage, he has established a church and school in a rural area north of Port-au-Prince called Canaan. He invited us to visit there.

It is an area where folks have set up tents, and the government gave the people the land where they located. There are about 5,000 families living there; with an average of five people to a family, the population is around 25,000. It is not far from a mass burial site that we also visited. Jeff and his family are doing outstanding work there. Deb home schools her children.

On Wednesday, we had all of our work done, so we drove up the adjacent mountain overlooking Port-au-Prince to the Baptist Mission there. We ate lunch there and did some shopping for souvenirs. Then we drove over to the next mountain to an observation area which overlooks all of Port-au-Prince. It is a breathtaking view of the entire city.

After visiting the Village of Canaan, we continued north to a beach resort called Kaliko Beach Club. We spent the afternoon there, where we swam in the ocean as well as played water polo in the pool with some of the Haitian kids. We ate a wonderful meal. This place was like being in another world. Tourism could be a big industry in Haiti. This was indicative of the potential that exists there.

Before going to Haiti, friends of my wife and me, Nasser and Parivash Rohani of Auburn, who are of the Baha’i faith, gave me a tent to use while in Haiti and to leave it behind for someone there. Parivash has a long-time friend that has lived in Port-au-Prince for some 26 years. She said her friends Ferial and Farhad khozouee own a factory there.

Parivash put me in contact with Ferial in order for me to visit them during my stay. They picked me up and brought me to their beautiful home in the foothills overlooking Port-au-Prince. We had a wonderful dinner together. Their sons Adib, 21, and Iman, 19, were away at college. Their daughter Shirrin, 16, had supper with us. I encouraged her to look into Bates College.

They also invited friends of the same faith to join us for dinner. They were Linda Gershuny, Nadia and Line Balthazar. We spent a wonderful evening together, and I have photos to show Parivash and Nasser. Mr. Khozouee employs 500 employees where they make parts for computers and other electronic equipment. The next time I am there, he will give me a tour, as it is near the airport in Port-au-Prince.

When Friday morning, April 15 came, we broke camp and headed for the airport. From there we flew to Miami. We had a bit of time to eat supper there before flying off. This is when we had to part ways with Deborah Ribera, who was heading on to San Francisco. With hugs to everyone, we said goodbye and off we went to Boston. Lewiston Police Sgt. David Chick, who was unable to make the trip this year, was there to pick us up and bring us back home.

We are always glad to return home to our families, yet we miss the people of Haiti that we leave behind. They are lovable, filled with faith and full of hope. I realize that when I am there, color disappears. That is when I fully realize that we are one humanity and that they truly are our brothers as sisters. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

By the way, Pastor Nathan and his wife Olive will come to Lewiston for a conference at the South Lewiston Baptist Church in October of this year. We look forward to their visit.

I can’t wait to return!

See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.

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