Many awaited word from Cap-Haitien school


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A report from Pittsburgh Kids Foundation yesterday morning indicated the school and orphanage in Cap-Haitien was undamaged by the strong aftershock that hit west of Port-au-Prince Tuesday night. Volunteers from the foundation sent e-mail yesterday morning reporting they and the other people named in this story were safe, although the situation remained desperate.

A few minutes made the difference between life and death for some residents of a missionary school in Haiti supported by many residents of the North Hills.

The EBAC Christian Academy and Orphanage, in Cap-Haitien, was undamaged during last week's devastating earthquake, according to Pam Ross, a teacher at North Allegheny's Marshall Middle School. She has been in contact with two teachers at the school, who told her that several of their students had brushes with death in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital. That city suffered terrible damage and huge loss of life in the earthquake that struck the afternoon of Jan. 12.

"All the children are fine," Mrs. Ross said in a phone interview Tuesday. "Our initial concern was for about 10 older 'orphans' who were in Port-au-Prince. Every single one is safe."

Cap-Haitien is on the other side of the island from Port-au-Prince, about 80 miles to the north.

Mrs. Ross began raising money for the academy and orphanage about a year ago. She had learned about the institution through her daughter-in-law, Shannon Ross, who has been a longtime supporter. The two women traveled there in March on a mission trip.

Mrs. Ross is a gifted-education teacher at Marshall Middle School, and her students adopted the academy as a class project.

The two American teachers who work at the academy had just returned to Haiti hours before the earthquake struck. Kathy Gouker and Alice Wise have lived in the Caribbean nation for many years.

"It was about 4:30 p.m. when the quake hit, and Kathy said things started to rumble," Mrs. Ross said. "They were worried about aftershocks and tidal waves but there was no damage to EBAC."

The next few days were nerve-racking as they awaited word about their students who were in Port-au-Prince.

Ms. Gouker sent out an e-mail reporting that everyone had survived with nothing more serious than cuts and bruises.

One boy, named Wislyn, was living on the third floor of a building in Port-au-Prince when the ground started to shake. He and another student ran down one flight of stairs but found themselves trapped on the second floor and had to slide down the side of the shattered building, Mrs. Ross said.

Another student, named Vilbrun, left class for a restroom break. "When he went to return, the classroom building was collapsing right in front of him," she said.

While spared the widespread death and destruction following the quake, Cap-Haitien faces flooding, resulting from heavy rains, and a gasoline shortage. Gasoline is needed to run generators that help provide electricity for the school.

EBAC Christian Academy and Orphanage is a compound of old buildings surrounded by a concrete-block wall. About 95 children and young adults live and study there.

The playground and soccer field are more dirt than grass, Mrs. Ross said. Six to eight students share a "room," which often is separated from other rooms by only a cloth curtain.

Electricity and water service is spotty, she said. Older boys and girls help care for the younger children.

The academy and orphanage get support from Western Pennsylvania organizations, including the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation, Orchard Hill Church and Hearts for the Hungry.

Busloads of refugees from quake-damaged areas to the south have been dropped off in Cap-Haitien, said Beth Henderson, director of ministry for Pittsburgh Kids Foundation. "The people who live there don't have much, so there is a big need for outside aid," she said.

All three are raising funds for earthquake aid on their Web sites and are sending relief supplies. The addresses are pittsburghkidsfoundation.org, www.orchardhillchurch.com and www.heartsforthehungry.org.

The Pittsburgh Kids Foundation is planning a communitywide fundraising "can-ation" effort for Feb. 6-7, with volunteers seeking donations outside local businesses.


Len Barcousky can be reached at lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184. First Published January 21, 2010 5:00 AM


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