Today, happy smiling faces fill the “Be Like Brit” orphanage in Haiti, but five years ago the island was decimated by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake.
The island’s infrastructure was destroyed and more than 100,000 people were killed,
One of those people was Britney Gengel, a 19-year-old Lynn University student from Massachusetts who was on a Journey of Hope with her classmates.
At first her parents got word that she was alive, but that soon changed and 33 days later they finally found her body in the rubble.
“It is every parent’s worst nightmare to lose a child, but to lose your daughter twice in 48 hours is unfathomable,” Britney’s dad Len said.
Britney’s parents were sustained by the last text she sent to them, just hours before she was killed.
“She was heartbroken by what she saw and so the text message said ‘they love us so much and everyone is so happy. They love what they have and they work so hard to get nowhere, yet they are all so appreciative. I want to move here and start an orphanage myself,” Britney’s mom Cherylann recalls.
To honor her last wish Britney’s parents devoted their lives to fulfilling a dream. They take no salary, use their own money, donations and volunteers who they call ‘Brishionaries’ to run the orphanage.
“I never really thought we would build an orphanage in Haiti ever,” Cherylann said.
The couple said they feel like they are now the parents of 66 children.
The orphanage houses 33 girls and 33 boys. It is designed in the shape of the letter B to honor Britney.
The number of children represent the number of days Britney was missing.
“Seventy percent of our children are true orphans, both of their parents have passed away.” Cherylann said. “And the other 30 percent came from horrific situations, where they were abused neglected or starving to death.”
The Gengels said the children are thriving in their new environment.
Their work and the orphanage are keeping Britney’s spirit alive while giving the children a life they could have never imagined.
Britney’s mom said sometimes it feels like their daughter has only been gone a minute; and other times it feels like they’ve been without her for an eternity.
Britney’s parents raised $2 million in donations to build the orphanage, which costs about $75 thousand a month to run.
In case you were wondering the children at the orphanage are not up for adoption because the Gengels want to make sure those children grow up in Haiti and become leaders there.