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Mayor’s Corner: A return to Haiti with South Lewiston Baptist Church

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

This mission group is prayerful, fun loving and hard working. They are all Republicans with the exception of Peter Geiger, who is an Independent, and I am the only Democrat. Needless to say, we banter back and forth in a well-mannered way about our politics.

They are also practical jokers. I happen to snore, which they knew from last year when we were there. We bring tents and air mattresses and sleep on the cement roof of the house of Pastor Nathan Chérélus, located in the Tabar section of Port-au-Prince. When we leave, we leave the tents and mattresses behind for the people of Haiti.

After a sleepless first night, in my absence the guys all moved their tents to one side of the roof and they segregated mine on the other side. Peter Geiger saved the remainder of the week by giving me “breathe right” bandages that stick on the nose to help breathing through the nostrils. I didn’t snore the rest of the week.

Sgt. David Chick of the Lewiston Police Department, who had come with us last year, was unable to do so this year because of a family commitment. He and his wife sponsor a child in Port-au-Prince. Last year, he was able to meet her and her parents for the first time. A photo of Naika Paul, then age 13, and her mother along with Sgt. Chick appeared on the front page of the May 27, 2010 issue of the Twin City TIMES.

Sgt. Chick drove our group down to Logan Airport in Boston in a rented 15-passenger van. Before leaving he gave me an envelope for Naika with a copy of the above issue of the Twin City TIMES to give to her and money and a letter for her and her family.

She lives directly next door to where we worked. I gave her the newspaper and the envelope. Along with Deborah Ribera, we visited her home that consists of one small room for both her parents and her three sisters. They are extremely poor. Deborah received permission to film their living conditions.

Naika wrote a letter in perfect penmanship for me to bring back to the Chicks. We took photos and I had heard her sing a song that we filmed last year to bring back to Mrs. Chick. This time I asked her to sing a song for me. She sang it in my ear. What a beautiful family.

We flew from Boston on April 7 with a stop in Miami, Fla. There we met up with Deborah Ribera, M.S., CEO and Founder of Beyond the Block. Inc. She lives in San Francisco, Calif. I met her last October in North Hollywood, Calif. when my son and I were in line waiting to enter the NBC Studios for the Jay Leno Show. She was there with her mother and we struck up a conversation. As it turns out, her father is a former San Francisco chief of police. We have common acquaintances.

Deborah started talking about having gone to the Dominican Republic to make educational travel documentaries. She profiles everyday lives, cultural values, education and dreams and goals of students ages 10 to 18 in other countries. She then presents these documentaries to students here in the U.S., along with pre- and post-video activities and discussion. These service-learning projects and ongoing communication helps kids here in the U.S. to further broaden their global awareness and to internalize the lessons learned from the documentaries.

I told Deborah that I had gone to Haiti, which is adjacent to the Dominican Republic on the same island. She indicated that she would want to do a documentary there. I suggested that perhaps she could join us on this year’s mission. She said she would very much appreciate such an opportunity. I put her in touch with Andrew Letourneau, and the arrangements were made. We connected at the gate in Miami.

She was so pleased to be joining us. She said it seemed surreal that this was happening as a result of our conversation in California. We boarded the American Airlines plane and flew in to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Deborah Ribera’s website for her corporation is www.beyondtheblock.org; she is presently editing all of her filming in Haiti and will no doubt be on her website soon.

Arrangements had been made for Deborah to stay with Nancy Turner, who operates the Love and Grace Boys Home in Port-au-Prince. When we were there last year, Nancy had half a dozen boys at her home. She now has 17 orphan boys.

Nancy was at the airport in Port-au-Prince to greet us. Pastor Nathan was there as well, with big hugs for everyone. He is quite a man who works some 20 hours a day, seven days a week. He and his wife, Olive, have triplets, two girls and a boy.

We loaded all the supplies onto a waiting truck: toothbrushes, reading glasses, soccer balls, children’s vitamins, toys, candy, etc. Then we drove through the city to Pastor Nathan’s residence. The one thing we noticed en route was that the rubble from the earthquake had generally been removed. There were still damaged buildings, but there was significant improvement.

Aside from that, not much else had changed, other than commercial buildings were in the process of being repaired. But all the tent cities were as present as they were last year.

The following morning we set out to the Bethesda School in the Bethany Village of the Delmas 33 Section of Port-au-Prince. There we saw significant improvement from our work last year on the church/school. Last year it was uninhabitable.

Church services had to be held in the street, and school was being held in makeshift tents made out of tarps. Now the church was open on the first floor, and it had all been repainted. On the second floor, hundreds of children were attending school.

We went to work there for the next few days, breaking through some cement block walls of the church/school to the building behind it, where we removed even more cement block walls. It was physically labor intensive and very dirty work. We put in quite a bit of sweat equity. Pastor Nathan’s goal is to enlarge both the school and the church by connecting the two buildings.

While we were working, Deborah Ribera did her filming and conducted interviews with the children and the children gravitated to her.

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

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One Response to “Mayor’s Corner: A return to Haiti with South Lewiston Baptist Church”

  • andrew:

    Very good article Larry. I think it is hilarious that you would mention your snoring, but it was so good to have you with us again this year. I am very impressed with you as a man. Thank you for once again being a part of the team. Next year we may allow you to sleep right in the middle of all of our tents.

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