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dimanche 1 mai 2011

Haiti orphanage proceeds

Gengel family presses forward By Brian
Lee TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF

The Gengels are closer to fulfilling their daughter and sister’s last wish.
In Grand Goave, Haiti, workers last week laid reinforcing steel for an orphanage being built in Britney Gengel’s memory. Concrete will be poured in the coming days.
The 19-year-old student at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., was among more than 300,000 people killed in the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake in Port-au-Prince, the impoverished Caribbean country’s capital city.
Britney, of Rutland, arrived in Haiti the day before the earthquake to work with orphans.
Her mother, Cherylann Gengel, said Be Like Brit, a nonprofit organization the family started, hired local Haitians to dig the facility’s foundation.
The family is also excited that a company installed a water well on the premises, said Mrs. Gengel, who will give an update on the orphanage’s progress at St. Hedwig Parish in Southbridge at 3 p.m. today.
Britney’s father, Len Gengel, a builder, returned from Haiti Thursday night; he goes to the worksite two or three times a month.
“It went very good — for Haiti,” Mr. Gengel said. “Everything takes time and it’s a process.”
Mr. Gengel was there for eight days. It took four days to get the steel and concrete delivered.
“It makes us happy to be able to start construction to honor our daughter and help the children of Haiti,” he said.
Mr. Gengel called this the biggest challenge of his 29-year construction career.
“To build a 19,000-square-foot building in the poorest nation in the western hemisphere — it’s quite a challenge,” he said.
The work is being done under Mission of Hope International, a nongovernmental organization.
The orphanage will be in the shape of the letter B and will house 66 Haitian children — 33 girls and 33 boys, symbolic of the 33 days Britney was missing at the Hotel Montana.
The Gengels, who have since moved to Holden, have an ambitious goal of completing the project by Jan. 12.
Mrs. Gengel says May or June of 2012 is more realistic.
The final price tag, unknown at this time, could reach $1 million. Steel and cement costs doubled since the earthquake.
More than $500,000 has been raised, with 80 percent to 85 percent of the donations $100 or less from individuals.
“That’s the part that blows us away,” Mrs. Gengel said. “Brit’s college friends donating $5 and $10,” she said. “Little girls doing bake sales.”
A book is being written about the Gengels. Proceeds will support the orphanage.
The family plans to endow the orphanage so that it will always be taken care of once children are situated there, Mrs. Gengel said.
Architectural and structural plans were donated by two Boston companies, which helped intensify the pace of the work, she said. Plumbers and electricians have also indicated they want to go.
“We’re thrilled,” Mrs. Gengel said.
As important as that help will be, the Gengels intend to continue to employ local Haitians, so that they can learn American standards of plumbing, electrical and structural work, she said.
Gama Parayson, a former Athol resident, has moved back to his native Haiti to serve as the project’s clerk of the works.
Mrs. Gengel said that by chance, the orphanage is situated near a fishing village Britney was supposed to visit the day after the earthquake.
Mrs. Gengel said Britney went on the trip because she was at a crossroads. Britney’s college roommate had gone to Jamaica with the organization Food for the Poor and told Britney how the experience changed her life.
“She was always a kind kid,” Mrs. Gengel said. “But when she was down there she really just fell in love with the children of Haiti. She just could not believe that the children just literally had nothing.
“She said to me, ‘Mom, you don’t understand. They have a tin roof over their head and dirt on the floor — and they have nothing. But they’re happy. I want to move here and start an orphanage myself.’ ”
Mrs. Gengel said the Haitians with whom they are involved are beautiful, giving people who work extremely hard and want more out of life.
Mrs. Gengel said she hadn’t understood the country’s level of poverty until she saw firsthand. It was like a movie scene out of the 1800s.
“They walk five miles to get water with buckets on their head.”
She said locals have put up tents on both sides of a road the Gengels built to the orphanage.
Anyone who wishes to donate to the project can visit www.belikebrit.org or the organization’s Facebook page created by Britney’s brother, Bernie, a 19-year-old freshman at Suffolk University in Boston.
Contact Brian Lee by email at blee@telegram.com.
http://www.telegram.com/article/20110501/NEWS/105019815/1003/NEWS03

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