Above: Tamee Sutherland, Angela Smoot, Pastor Dasnis Pierre, and Kaity Grimley at a newly installed well from the 2018 FFL Well Fundraiser donated by The Whitney Family of Warrenton.
Warrenton chapter of Friends of Fort Liberté raises funds for wells in Haiti
The need for clean water has always been paramount in Haiti. In many areas, the only source of water is contaminated river water, which brings pollution and disease. A group of members from the Warrenton Baptist Church, including Angela Smoot and Tamee Sutherland, has made it their mission to help. They raise money to build wells in and around the Fort Liberté area of Haiti, in conjunction with the nonprofit organization Friends of Fort Liberté (FFL).
The origin of this mission had its genesis in the early 1970s. A Pastor from West Virginia formed a relationship with a pastor from a Haitian church, the Jerusalem Baptist Church in Fort Liberté, now headed by Pastor Dasnis Pierre, to offer assistance in constructing a new church. This developed into the FFL organization which quickly spread beyond the environs of West Virginia as churches throughout the country became involved, taking on FFL’s mission “To honor God through our partnership with the Jerusalem Baptist Church of Fort Liberté by helping feed, heal, house, and educate His children in Haiti.” While FFL’s initial mission was the church building, it then evolved into general humanitarian aid: education, food, housing, and medical needs of the residents of Fort Liberté. They moved on to assist with transitioning the orphanage system to a foster care network for children in need, and developed a sponsorship system by which supporters could sponsor the education of a Hatian child through the university level.
The Warrenton Baptist Church group has been involved with FFL for about 25 years, thanks to all the dedicated mission trip leaders, working along with the organization to provide basic humanitarian aid. Then, a few years ago on her first mission trip, led by Kaity Grimley and Kim Raines, Angela asked Pastor Dasnis Pierre what else was needed in Fort Liberté. Clean water, he immediately said. Due to government restrictions, there were limited wells, and some of them were broken. Members of his church, which includes about 4,000 people, many of them living in poverty, had to walk miles to find clean water, and many just drank from and bathed in the unclean rivers.
So was born the Warrenton Chapter’s new mission. They would work to raise money to build wells in Haiti for Pastor Dasnis Pierre’s church and the whole community of Fort Liberté.
Angela and Tamee dove headfirst in to fundraising and sourcing donations. Their annual fundraiser is held at Barrel Oak Winery in March, where last year they began with the goal of raising funds for two wells, each costing $2,500 to install. The fundraiser was a huge success and raised enough for seven wells. This year at the March fundraiser — one of the biggest fundraisers Barrel Oak has seen — the funds for nine wells were raised. Recently, a private donation was received which will enable 10 wells to be built this year.
Angela and Tamee handle the lion’s share of the fundraising, assisted by Tamee’s husband, Steve Sutherland of SiteWhirks, who built and maintains the websites for the well fundraising event and helps with sourcing donations. Each works many hours a week on FFL and well-related things starting in January for the March fundraiser, most of that time sending emails, making phone calls, and trying to make contacts and solicit donations. And they are overwhelmed with the response from the community. “We couldn’t have raised this much without so many people in the community donating,” they said. Barrel Oak, who hosted the fundraiser, donated a portion of the night’s proceeds. The merchants on Main Street were just wonderful, Tamee said, donating many items for the silent auction. Old Town Athletic Club held a spin class fundraiser which raised $800, and Warrenton Middle School raised almost $1000 through holding a Lollipop Pull and Penny War. The list goes on and on, from donations from Warrenton Baptist Church Vacation Bible School to big corporations like Disney, the Washington Redskins, and the Baltimore Ravens donating tickets and memorabilia for the silent auction. “We are truly blessed,” Angela and Tamee agree.
The wells are received by the residents with enthusiasm, joy, and gratitude. At a depth of 100 feet, not only do the wells provide enough clean water for drinking and bathing, they also provide water for agriculture.
Beyond the Wells
The Warrenton Chapter of FFL goes above and beyond raising funds for wells. Each year, the week of Thanksgiving, a group of about 20 local residents travel to Fort Liberté on a humanitarian aid mission. Recently, they have visited the wells they have funded, and then get to work doing anything and everything that is needed, from assisting with education to repairing roofs to helping with planting or harvesting on the church’s farm…really, anything that needs to be done, they do. This year, due to government unrest, food shortages are an issue, so they will be conducting a food distribution in November for which they are now fundraising.
The group consists of both adults and teens, and many make it a point to go every year. Angela and Tamee consider it life changing for their teenagers. Angela said, “I went to Fort Liberté for the first time three years ago with my husband. Last year, we brought our two teenage sons. It’s such a good experience for them because we want them to serve others, and it was just wonderful. Tamee’s teenage daughter has been going on the trips for the last two years.” Both Angela and Tamee were quick to point out that you do not need to be a member of their church to go on the missions; everyone is welcome.
“It’s really an eye-opening, humbling experience, to meet the residents of Fort Liberté. It made me cry. They literally, through our American eyes, have nothing, but they are such joyful, giving people who value what they do have and their families,” explained Angela. “The poverty there is incredible, but there’s also joy, and they also have a lot of pride. Last year, on the road back from the farm we saw a very poor family whose children were playing barefoot in the dirt yard with a kite made of sticks, a garbage bag, and some string. They were running and laughing, making real joy out of literal scraps. Here in America, we have so much, but we sometimes miss out on the true meaning of life and family.” She continued, “There, it’s just the opposite of what it’s like here on Black Friday. After my son’s first trip to Haiti, he couldn’t think of a single thing he wanted for Christmas. ‘I have so much, Mom,’ he told me. I find it actually depressing to come home, especially during the season of excess that December always turns out to be.”
When in Haiti, the group makes a point to go and see each and every well that they have funded. It’s a way of seeing in person the way your efforts are benefiting others. Tamee said, “When I donate to a cause, I really want to make sure my money is going directly to something good.” Staffed entirely by volunteers, one hundred percent of funds raised by this group go directly to the wells and other efforts and needs in and around Fort Liberté.
Want to help?
Attend the fundraiser at Barrel Oak Winery, held every March
Donate a silent auction item
Donate to FFL at haitifriends.com
Donate toward wells at haitiwellwater.com
Donate towards food needs at letsfeedhaiti.com
Join the mission trip as a volunteer
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information