EBAC Orphanage

Hearts for the Hungry warehouse in Haiti and operations are located within the EBAC Orphanage. We also assist in feeding and supporting the children and staff of EBAC. This article describes EBAC and is printed with permission from the Post Gazette and Andrew Rush.

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CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti -- On the outskirts of this northern coastal city, more than 150 children dressed in their finest clothes pack into a small pavilion. Girls in white dresses play with bows in their hair and sing hymns about Jesus in French Creole.

Alice Wise and Kathy Gouker lead the worship -- Ms. Wise directing the music and Ms. Gouker playing an electric keyboard. There is no city power on this Sabbath, so the low hum of a gas-powered generator accompanies the children as they sing.

The weekly Children's Church service at the EBAC orphanage has doubled in size since the earthquake Jan. 12 destroyed much of Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince, bringing a stream of refugees to the second-largest city in this island nation.

With homes and families in shambles, dozens of them continue to find shelter at EBAC with two missionary women from Dunbar, Fayette County. For 32 years, these women have brought hope to hundreds of orphans, one child at a time.

Ms. Wise and Ms. Gouker, both 59, have no children of their own. Yet to many of the orphans they serve, "Miss Kathy" and "Miss Alice" are the only mothers they've known.

The women started their journey together 43 years ago in the pews of Dunbar Baptist Church. They met as teenagers and shared a vision to serve God wherever he led them.

Both graduated from Bob Jones University in South Carolina where, as seniors, they decided to serve in tandem as missionaries in a rural area near Charles Town, W.Va. They worked under a mission board -- the Independent Gospel Mission -- and taught after-school Bible classes.

After three years in West Virginia, they felt God was calling them to a greater ministry.

"We were willing to go where many others weren't. We thought we should go to a foreign country," said Ms. Wise.

Ms. Gouker said she prayed at age 15 to meet "a man of God who needed help." She believes that prayer was answered when, while serving in West Virginia, she and Ms. Wise heard about the Rev. Cebian Alexis, a member of the mission board who had started a program for pastors on the outskirts
of Cap-Haitien.

On their first trip to Haiti in 1977, the two women saw the work Rev. Alexis was doing in that community. He'd founded the EBAC Mission -- a Creole acronym for Baptist Church Army of Christ -- in 1971 to "serve the many pastors of northern Haiti who were working hard but finding little
support."

"Any pastors in Haiti are bombarded with need, yet they are usually never paid or encouraged in any way," explained Ms. Wise. "They're basically left to fend for themselves."

Rev. Alexis supports the EBAC pastors through donations to the mission and from the proceeds generated by his natural medicine clinic.

After a three-month stint teaching Bible classes in Haiti for Rev. Alexis, the women returned to the United States ready for their next mission. After several months, and with several assignments falling through, they returned to Haiti.

"We visited the Cap-Haitien area never thinking we would actually stay in Haiti, but a year later that's exactly where we were," said Ms. Gouker. "And that's where we've been ever since."

'Kids are kids'

Rev. Alexis also felt a calling to minister to the many street children he saw in Cap-Haitien. Soon after the women's first visit, he started an orphanage. When Ms. Gouker and Ms. Wise came back to stay, 27 children awaited their care.

As the number of churches in Rev. Alexis' network grew to 168, the two women served as mothers, teachers and caregivers to more than 300 children who passed through the EBAC orphanage.

The harsh realities of life in Haiti make it hard for parents to adequately care for their children. Many in the orphanage have living parents who are simply too poor to meet their basic needs. Ms. Wise and Ms. Gouker give as much as they can to provide a better life for those children.

"They are like mothers to the kids. They treat them even better than a Haitian can treat them," Rev. Alexis said. "They get better care than our own people will ever give to them."

When the women arrived at the EBAC mission in January 1978, there were only a few mud huts on the property. Since then the mission has grown to include a group of dorms for children, and a school, medical clinic and church.

The courtyard of the compound looks vastly different than the street only a few hundred feet away. Girls in clean dresses tie bows and braids in each others' hair. Boys laugh and tease as they play soccer. Girls play with dolls. Children are easily drawn to singing.

"In the United States, I feel like kids grow up too fast, but in Haiti you can see a girl who's 12 years old still playing with a doll. You'll see boys playing with marbles, at 12, 13 years old," Ms. Gouker said.

"So kids are kids, and they have fun being kids."

All of the children attend school at the EBAC Christian Academy. Ms. Wise and Ms. Gouker are the primary teachers at the school, along with several adult orphans. They use a Christian curriculum and teach the students in English.

For many of these children, the EBAC orphanage was their last hope.

Guislene, a former resident at EBAC whose last name is unknown, was found by Rev. Alexis lying on her mother's grave in 1977. No one ever learned how her mother died.

Just 3 years old, the toddler was a spiritless body who showed no emotion. Under the care of Ms. Wise and Ms. Gouker, she slowly warmed to the close-knit family at the orphanage and began to smile and laugh. As a teenager, she felt secure enough to return to live in her hometown.

Ramey Fils Aimee, 42, also grew up at the orphanage. When he left, he developed a successful air-conditioning repair business in Port-au-Prince. Later, Mr. Fils Aimee proposed starting a new orphanage here that will be run by former EBAC residents who have grown up and moved on to successful lives.

That new orphanage, which will be independent of EBAC, is under construction and scheduled to open by the end of the year. The building will house up to 60 children, many of them newly orphaned as a consequence of the earthquake.

"It has always been our dream that the orphans would become missionaries wherever the Lord puts them," Ms. Wise said. "And so when some of them are, we are very happy."

Help from home

In the aftermath of January's earthquake, Haiti's need for missionary assistance has never been greater.

EBAC is coordinating a locally organized food campaign to meet the needs of the ever-growing population of Cap-Haitien, which before the earthquake was roughly 180,000 people. In addition, the orphanage prepares hot meals for a local hospital that serves earthquake victims.

Although Cap-Haitien did not suffer as much from the devastating earthquake as did Port-au-Prince, 90 miles to the south, the large number of refugees who have fled to the city have overwhelmed its already strained resources.

Ms. Gouker and Ms. Wise, who now care for more than 80 orphans, rely primarily on contributions from churches and individuals in the United States.

Their home church, Dunbar Baptist Church, has supported them since they arrived in Haiti, and they return to Fayette County each year to visit family and friends there.

Several other churches in Western Pennsylvania also contribute to the work at EBAC. Orchard Hill Church in Franklin Park and Northbridge Community Church in Cranberry have sent short-term volunteer teams to the orphanage.

The Pittsburgh Kids Foundation, a North Side-based organization that works with local churches and youth workers, also has pledged financial help to EBAC and the new orphanage under construction.

The women are realistic about the scope of Haiti's ongoing earthquake crisis and the institutional hardships that define life in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

But they remain committed to continuing their work there -- unless God calls them elsewhere.

"It's always staggering, I think if we just thought of the need of Haiti, we would just pack our bags and leave, because any little bit that you do is just a drop in the ocean," Ms. Gouker said.

"We don't have to think that we have to solve [all] the problems of Haiti We just have to do what we can do."

What they do is offer love and hope each day to the children in their care, as they've done for hundreds of others over the years.

For them, that is enough to hold them here in the country that gave birth to their children.

Andrew Rush:   Contributed by Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette - One of the now 100 orphans that are under the care of Kathy Gouker and Alice Wise at the EBAC orphanage in Cap-Haitien, Haiti.

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EBAC Orphanage Photo By Andrew Rush Kathy Gouker, at the keyboard, and Alice Wise lead children's church in a pavilion at the EBAC orphanage in Cap-Haitien, Haiti

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Andrew Rush – Pittsburgh Post Alfred Mulate washes his clothes outside his housing complex on the grounds of the EBAC orphanage in Cap-Haitien, Haiti.
 

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