Report from Fort Liberté, West Virginia offers helping hands for Haiti

by Sam Sentelle

Friends of Fort Liberté, Malissa Smith (left) and Annette Crislip, spoke with Rotarians today about the Haiti mission.

West Virginia offers helping hands for Haiti

Report from Fort Liberté

April 3, 2018

Fort Liberté is a town of about 8,000 souls on the north coast of Haiti. a short walk from La Navidad, the site of the first European settlement in the New World.

And the area has often been described as a “4th world” country which suffered with a history of colonial exploitation, servile revolution and isolation. Disparate living conditions declined further when a major earthquake in 2010 devastated the island nation.

In West Virginia some fifty years ago Dr. Robert Weaver, of the First Baptist Church of St. Albans, hosted Pastor Andre Jean, a recent seminary graduate ministering in Fort Liberté.

Pastor Andre had a growing congregation in need of a building.

J. D. King, an architect in the St. Albans church, heard about Pastor Andre’s work, and he sent work crews to build the Jerusalem Baptist Church in Fort Liberté.

Word spread about the mission to Haiti, and other groups from West Virginia began work on a new building for Pastor Andre’s Eben-Ezer School. The school which had its start in the 1960s with a kindergarten program now serves 1,200 children at all grade levels.Teacher pay was about $40 a month.

Through a teacher-buddy program, Eben-Ezer teachers were paired with various groups in the state — individuals, Sunday school classes, civic groups — for supplies and assistance.

The lunch program at Eben-Ezer was supported by a “Feed My Lambs” project. Any donations marked “food” went into this program to feed hungry children.

West Virginia friends also replaced an orphanage building, the King Center, which housed 50 children. A medical clinic was staffed by a few nurses, and a doctor who visitsd one weekend each month.

As interest and involvement grew on the work in Haiti,West Virginia Friends of Fort Liberté formally incorporated in 1993. The mission is trans-denominational.

The leader of the organization since 1993 has been Annette King Crislip, a member of the first work group to Haiti from St. Albans back in 1975. “It’s like snakebite,” she told Rotarians today. “Once you go, it’s hard to get it out of your system.”

Crislip was the spouse of architect King who died in 1989.

All work for the organization at Fort Liberté is donated and all labor is volunteer. None of the directors are paid. Trips to Fort Liberté are funded by the workers themselves. “Every penny given goes to Pastor Andre Jean’s children in the Eben-Ezer School and the King Orphanage.

Putnam Rotary joined the Fort Liberté relief mission six years ago with donations to the food program and the King Center orphanage construction fund. Rotarians also sponsored visited St. Julien, a student at the Eben-Ezer School, with food and school supplies. Eight-year-old Walnise was in the second grade.

The impact of the Friends mission is evident. More building construction is underway. Residents are taught to raise modular sections so the work continues when mission teams are not on site.

A farm on land donated to the church is beginning to produce food and income for the community. The church farm is producing food, and most children now receive at least one meal every day.

Several families raise gardens and keep animals on the land, assisted by a resident farmer with a college degree in agricultural science.

Wells for water, sponsored by West Virginia donations, provide for crop irrigation and encourage land development.

Trash and litter were once a big problem, but now Fort Liberté has its own garbage truck.

Crislip was accompanied today by Malissa Smith, who visited once before with Putnam Rotary. Smith has been on mission trips to Fort Liberté since 2001.

The Jerusalem Church and Eben-Ezer School have brought about these and other changes at Fort Liberté in the past fifty years. Pastor Andre retired in 2015 after 40 years of ministry. His work has gone to Pastor Dasnis Pierre, who grew up in the church and the Eben-Ezer School.”

Walnise St. Julien is a teenager now in the seventh grade with brighter prospects for work and an improved quality of life for her time in the school.

The literacy rate for the community has grown from 10 to 20 percent fifty years ago to 50 or 60 percent today. The Jerusalem Baptist Church has grown from 200 people to nearly 2,000 today with several “outpost” churches. “Visiting teams for years provided the only medical care in this town,” Crislip told the Putnam group. “We built a clinic in 2004 with an infirmary available full time with a Haitian staff.

“When visiting doctors and nurses go to Fort Liberté, they set up with the Haitian staff.

“We are constantly resupplying. We work with Blessings International and Rotary. There is a Rotary in Fort Liberté and also in Cap-Haitien, a nearby city.

“When people go with us and see the need there,” she said, “they get involved. A group is arriving today from Clarksburg Baptist,” she added.

“Child sponsorship,” said Malissa Smith, “is at the core of everything we do.

“Most of the children we have are not actually true orphans,” Smith said. “There’s just no way they can afford to take care of them.”

With assistance to the families, the Friends group is placing orphans with relatives.

Smith is presently working with an older couple already caring for two grandchildren, and who have agreed to take in two more grandchildren.

“For $9,000,” said Smith, “we can build a three-bedroom house with a kitchen out back and a bathroom.”

A public university has opened close by, and some 50 students in Eben-Ezer School want to go on to higher education, which can be supported with $100 a month.

“What we really need,” said Crislip, “are plumbers, electricians, block layers. There is a vocational school in town.”

“Make a difference for one,” is the motto of the Friends of Fort Liberté, said Crislip. “And one-by-one is how volunteer workers and generous donors from West Virginia are making a difference.”

FRIENDS of Fort Liberté

PO Box 8282,

South Charleston, WV 25303 (304) 844-0970

Friends of Fort Liberté, Malissa Smith (left) and Annette Crislip, spoke with Rotarians today about the Haiti mission.
Friends of Fort Liberté, Malissa Smith (left) and Annette Crislip, spoke with Rotarians today about the Haiti mission.

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Sam Sentelle

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