Lewiston Mayor Laurent Gilbert is among the Maine Franco-Americans helping relief efforts in the devastated island nation of Haiti.

Gilbert became involved with Haiti’s relief projects earlier this year when Lewiston Police Sergeant David Chick asked him to join a group from the city’s South Baptist Church, who went to help the devastated island nation. 

They stayed in Haiti for 12 days to aid the distressed people after the Jan. 12 earthquake left roughly 230,000 people dead and millions others homeless.

“I saw this invitation as my opportunity to do something to help the suffering Haitian people,” he says.

Now, Gilbert says, he looks forward to joining two relief missions to Haiti next year. In February he will visit Pwoje Espwa Sud in southern Haiti (Hope Village) where he’ll assist Lewiston native and missionary Father Marc Boisvert with his work to aid Haitian children in Les Cayes.

He’ll travel to Les Cayes with Maine pediatric nephrologists Dr. Cynthia DeSoi, who is the medical director for the children cared for in the Pwoje Espwa Sud program.

In April he joins, for the second time, the Lewiston  South Baptist Church to provide non-denominational relief work in schools and churches in Delmas 33 section of Haiti’s capital city Port-au-Prince.

“I’m looking forward to going back to Haiti,” says Gilbert.  In fact, he has spoken with a documentary film maker from California who wants to accompany the group to Delmas to follow the progress of their rebuilding work.

“Someone described Haiti as a country aspiring to be a third world nation,” says Gilbert.  “I think it’s a good characterization of the situation.”

Yet, it’s easy to fall in love with the people of Haiti, says Gilbert.  “They are  loveable and appreciative of the help they receive from all over the world,” he says.

He is impressed by how the Haitians lives are filled with religious faith in spite of the tragic situations they face every day.

“Their faith sustains them through their many tragedies,” he says.  As poor as the people are, they still come out of their tent cities on Sunday mornings wearing their best cloths to attend church.  Men wear suits with clean white shirts and ties.  Ladies dress in beautiful clean dresses with high heel shoes. They walk through sewage to go to church.  “It’s a touching site to see,” says Gilbert.

Likewise, the children wear clean uniforms to go to school.  They are still pursuing their education even though many schools in Port-au-Prince were destroyed during the deadly earthquake.  He sees children attending school sitting under very hot tarps.  “Being under the tarps doesn’t help their attention to learning,” he says.

Gilbert grew up speaking French with his parents at home.  He enjoys speaking French, a language he says helps him to communicate with the Haitian people who speak Creole.

Gilbert and the other relief workers from South Baptist Church live with the family of the pastor whose school they are rebuilding while living and working in Haiti. They live with the pastor because his church was severely damaged during the earthquake.  Before re-building, they worked to take the broken building apart before starting new construction, he says.

While he was in Haiti Gilbert says he couldn’t wait to return home to the comforts he enjoys.  But, when he returned to Lewiston, he found himself unable to stop talking about his Haiti experiences.  “I would become emotional,” he says.  While devoting his full time attention to Mayoral responsibilities in Lewiston, he still thinks about the desperate situation of the Haitian people.

“I know I want to return and do as much as I can,” he says.