Sunday, February 12, 2017

Big Happenings for Be Like Brit!!!

There is always so much going on with Be Like Brit, not just in Haiti, but in both our Worcester and our Delray Beach offices in the USA, too! Add Melissa in London to the mix, who handles all of our Britsionary applications, background checks, scheduling, and flight purchases, and we're truly growing in to an international NGO!!!

As we welcomed the Britsionary Group on Saturday last week, a group from Pilgrim Congregational Church, who worked hard all week to build another house for a family in need (we're up well over 80 homes now!), we also welcomed our friend Judy Bloomberg for a two week stay at Brit's Home to help us formally evaluate the progress of the Be Like Brit Academy, and to offer her feedback and suggestions around how we could improve the program and the curriculum. Judy was previously with us here at BLB last year with her husband Mark, a physician, who spent a month with us working on similar educational goals, and on developing a strategic plan for the expansion of our clinic and medical services to the community. Judy's feedback and skills have been an excellent addition for us, and invoking the train the trainer model, we believe we're building the capacity of our Haitian staff and teachers in the most culturally appropriate and effective way!!!

We also welcomed back to BLB a previous Medical Britsionary, Jeff, who traveled to Haiti from Pennsylvania to work with other community clinics in Grand Goave and who traveled to the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation Hospital with a van full of children and staff and neighbors who needed consultation. While we do employ our own full-time nurse, Mirlaine, it's always good to have a strong, well-informed advocate on your side when dealing with anything medical in Haiti. So much of the population is uninformed, and at times, providers may not be as thorough or as detailed in explanations as they might otherwise be. This is no fault of their own, of course, with a system overwhelmed and overloaded with need.

We're so fortunate to have incredible care from St. Boniface Haiti Foundation, and our needs are always met thanks to our great ally in Dr. Pierre, the Medical Director there. Thanks to Jeff for being those extra eyes and ears on the ground, (as well as hands!) this past week in Haiti! He even got to take some time out from the clinic to travel to various outings with our group!

We were thrilled to welcome Cherylann and Bernie back to BLB this past week, too! Bernie spent a lot of his time this week in obtaining new images and video of Be Like Brit and of our grounds, and also of the projects we work on on a regular basis. The images that Bernie was able to capture with his drone are absolutely incredible! If you visit our Youtube page, you can watch them all, too! Look for them to post to Facebook this week, too!

With Cherylann here, she and I, along with Gina our staff social worker were able to really go through our programming goals for 2017, and discuss problems and issues challenging us and some of our children to work together towards a resolution. Cherylann, along with the other members of the Program Committee, spent two years developing our Program Manual, including our Guiding Principles and our Guides to Speech and Action, directives on how we would (and do) respond to issues here at Brit's Home. Her insights as a mother are always invaluable, and talking through these issues is reassuring to all of us! She also of course worked hard on the job site too, alongside our group!!!

Of course, many of you saw that Peterson safely arrived in the United States last week! He's going to be working alongside Len at our Delray Beach office, training under Boss Len to help build the skills and learn more about our plans for the Be Like Brit Foundation moving forward! We're excited to have this exchange in place, and know that he, Len, and Pastor Deb in South Florida will be doing great, great things! This week, they spoke at Lynn University! Keep your eyes on South Florida, for there are great things coming out of there very soon!!!

Our children are thriving! Did you know that almost every week, we take all of our children down to Taino Beach for a day by the ocean? Not only have they all learned how to swim, but now, we're working on teaching the values and importance of social responsibility. This past Saturday, the children and staff worked to clean up a large section of the beach, to preserve this beautiful landscape. Haiti truly has some of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen, and we're committed to making ours in Haiti one of the natural beauties of this country!!!

Behind the scenes, there is a lot going on, too! This past week, I met with the Country Director for Heifer International in Haiti, to discuss how we might be able to introduce a farming program at BLB to serve our own internal needs and to somehow help in the community, too! We're looking at educational initiatives and projects including goats, chickens, and more!!! This would have a major impact on our sustainability and I am excited to see how this progresses as we discuss more our needs and the needs of our community!!!

As always, thank you for helping us help the children of Haiti at Be Like Brit!!!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

"And Then There Were Seven" - Looking back, and forward, at Be Like Brit!!!

Happy Sunday, friends! We hope that you've all enjoyed a good week and restful weekend. I hear that there's some kind of big football match on today in the US - is that the case? At any rate, I am sure my Facebook feed will keep me updated with how that all pans out!

Last week, we announced how excited we were to be hosting our first Florida-based group at Be Like Brit as Britsionarys from Jupiter First Church worked hard in Haiti and were able to build two homes for two families in need. Thanks to our Director of Florida Outreach, Deb Kaiser Cross, we're starting to make great contacts in South Florida and we're so eager to see those relationships develop over time! We were equally excited to have Father Tri from Holy Family Church in Port St. Lucie with us last week, traveling in to Haiti with one of Len's best friends of more than 30 years, Benny. Both Father Tri and Benny are passionate about service work and Haiti, and we were thrilled that while only here for two days, these two, along with our Haitian laborers, were able to complete a home for another family in need!

Father Tri and Benny ended a brief but productive stay with a visit to the Hotel Montana, the site where Britney and dozens more perished that fateful day in January, 2010. For Benny, this was an extremely powerful and emotional way to end his visit to Haiti, and we were so appreciative that Father Tri was on hand to say a few words at the memorial site.

How fortunate for Benny and Father Tri to have visited BLB during the rare time that Melissa would be here for a visit! As most of you know, Melissa, our USA Coordinator, is studying at King's College in London, working on her master's degree, and actually traveled back to Haiti to conduct some research with medical and healthcare providers in rural Haiti. While she was here, we were able to get some work done around our Britsionary program in general, and have exciting discussions about future possibilities for BLB moving forward. Melissa is a breath of fresh air, and her positive outlook on everything and her energy are in general a motivating force to be reckoned with! 

Many of you may have seen on Facebook this past week that our own Peterson is in South Florida!!! Peterson is working alongside Papi Len as a part of our Professional Development and Training at our Delray Beach office! We believe that strong leaders build strong teams, and we know that Peterson will benefit greatly from the opportunity to learn alongside Len and Deb while visiting South Florida. This is a pilot program of sorts, and we're hopeful that with good results, we'll be able to send more of our leadership staff to the USA for training and workshops to help them better equip our children with the skills they need to become the next generation of leaders in Haiti!!!

As you can see, Madame Love is in the USA this weekend, too, and our employee Jameson is also visiting family in Florida this week! How great to have them all together at our BLB Delray Beach office!!!

Last night, a group of new friends from Pilgrim Congregational Church arrived at Brit's Home in Haiti, along with Cherylann and Bernie, our Director of Florida Outreach Deb, our friend Judy (who was here last year working on educational initiatives with our staff) and our returning Medical Britsionary Jeff from PA! We've got quite the week or two ahead of us with a full-house and lots of exciting new things on the horizon. Be sure to keep up with our social media this week to stay informed!!!

A good friend of ours, Lisa Birch, shared with me this past week one of the first blogs I ever wrote for Be Like Brit. This particular blog reflected on the changes that had occurred in just the first month of our operating as a home for children - and the feelings I had at that time. I thought I would link you to that blog today as a reminder of how far we've come, how much we've grown, and all of the incredible things that are happening at Brit's Home in Haiti because of the support of people like you. We are indeed changing lives every day, and we can't thank you enough for helping us help the children of Haiti at Be Like Brit!!!

"And Then There Were Seven" from February 2013.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Jupiter First and A Children's Clinic!

What a week! Sometimes when I sit down to write this blog, I have to scroll back through our facebook posts just to remember everything that went on in the past 7 days. It seems like so much gets done and in the chaos of all that is happening, it's so easy to forget if something happened this week or perhaps another week - or even perhaps in a dream, and didn't happen at all! (Yes, I have a funny story about an email I sent to Cherylann, apologizing for not doing something she asked of me - she had no idea what I was talking about!) It surely must have been a dream!

As we mentioned last week, this week we hosted our first full, Florida-based group from Jupiter First Church out of Jupiter, FL. Thanks to the great leadership of our friend and Director of Florida Outreach, Dr. Reverend Deb Kaiser Cross, we were able to bring this first-time group to Haiti to experience all that there is to offer, and most importantly, to provide a home to a family in need. The group was more than motivated, and when on the first night they expressed their desire to build not one but two homes in Haiti this past week, I knew we had a great group of Britsionarys with us!

That's just what they did, too! While typically we aren't able to be quite that responsive in terms of securing a home-build site and the materials needed to build one quite as quickly as we did this past week, we happened to have excess materials on hand, and so the group divided up in to two smaller groups and set off in a friendly, spirited competition! The amount of work they were able to get done in just the first two days alone was impressive, and we decided to bring the group together to finish each house as a full and complete group - just to be sure everyone had a chance to work together! What a blessing to be able to provide two families with safe shelter after a hard working week.

While our group was busy building their two homes, we were so fortunate to have on hand two medical Britsionarys. Kathleen and Yvonne didn't know each other ahead of the trip, but after working closely for a week providing care to some of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, I think these two have forged a great friendship. Early on in the week, Kathleen and Yvonne were able to work two morning community clinics over at the Haiti Arise clinic in Grand Goave. This experience gives great perspective I think on the challenges every day Haitians face, and the challenge that health care providers face, too. We are so grateful to be able to help the community members who come in seek of assistance!

The highlight of the week for me, at least in terms of medical, was on this past Wednesday, when we hosted a pediatric clinic right here at Be Like Brit! As I work closely with Cherylann on the strategic planning of the scaling up of our medical services, we're collecting information to develop a comprehensive needs assessment. These types of pilot project days can offer a lot of insight in to what our needs may be. As we gather this data over time, we're hopeful for the future when we can offer these services on a regular basis.

We were able to see 30 children in just 4 hours - some of them quite sick, and successfully refer them to other hospitals who can assist. It's a helpless and frustrating feeling when you know what's wrong with a child and you think you know how to help, only to find doors closed at every turn. This is why we have to start taking on more and more responsibility for our own neighbors, as we know the state system simply does not have the capacity to respond or exist in any consequential way.

We had a very exciting visitor arrive at Brit's Home in Haiti just yesterday afternoon! Our very own Melissa flew back across the pond from London to be with us for a week while she conducts research on barriers to medical care for children in rural Haiti. We're thrilled she was able to partner up with several community sites who are working in this area, and that the contacts she's made over time in Haiti were so willing to be helpful in this area! We also can't wait for her findings to be compiled, as they will also be a tool that helps us develop our own program. Let's welcome Melissa back to BLB!!!

We have a very busy year ahead of us with many, many groups (medical and other) planned. As we roll in to February this week, may we all be mindful of the limitations which constrain us, and the effects we might have on others in life through our own direct or indirect efforts.

As always, thank you for helping us help the children of Haiti at Be Like Brit!!!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Solidarity: Go Blue for Brit!!!

Happy Sunday! It's been another busy week here in Haiti, and with lots going on back in the USA and around the world this past week, I'm just now sitting down to write today's blog! I typically try to do these ahead of time, but time didn't allow for that!

Yesterday, we welcomed our first Florida-based Britsionary trip to Be Like Brit!!! Thanks to Pastor Deb Kaiser Cross, a group of Britsionarys from Jupiter First Church in Jupiter, FL arrived at Brit's Home last night after a quick flight from Fort Lauderdale. The group is eager to get started on their home build, and even offered to build TWO homes this week! We shall see what comes of that, but either way we are thrilled to welcome new friends from Florida - all first-timers to Haiti and to BLB! The compassion of Britney Gengel is continued in another new place!!!

As we marked Brit's 27th Birthday yesterday, we were overwhelmed with the show of solidarity from our friends from all over the USA and Canada! "Go Blue for Brit" was an idea that started out small and has since taken on a whole new meaning. School groups, church groups, friends, neighbors - even dogs have sported our Britney Blue colors, many of them raising money in the process - all marking Brit's birthday! At a time when things seem to be especially divisive in our world, it is so nice to see people coming together for a cause. We can't thank you enough!

This past week, we were excited to successfully complete the renewal process for our licensure as a Children's Home with the IBESR offices in Port au Prince. Our social worker Gina and I spent a full day in Port this past Thursday working on the documents and requirements needed to submit that renewal. With less than 10% of orphanages in Haiti being licensed with the government, we are proud of our legal status as an entity in Haiti.

Our container has landed in Port au Prince and I am still working hard to get that out and delivered to us so that we can deliver the much needed assistance that our friends and neighbors here in Haiti so desperately need! The process, like most things in Haiti, is never straight forward, and varies from day to day depending on who is working that day when you arrive in government offices to complete paperwork. What was to be one trip to the Ministry of Commerce has turned in to four, with another full day planned this week! Wish us luck, keep your fingers crossed, and pray for us as we try to navigate this!!!

Be sure to stay tuned for the progress of the Jupiter First Church Britsionary group who is here with us in Haiti this week! As always, thank you for helping us help the children of Haiti at Be Like Brit!!!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Reality of Haiti: Reminders

This past week, the College of the Holy Cross was here at Be Like Brit, building a home for yet another family who was living in absolute squalor - quite literally sleeping under the cap for the bed of a pickup truck placed on the ground with a piece of foam and cardboard inside for a mattress. It doesn't get much worse than that when it comes to living situations here. Aside from those who quite literally have no shelter, or for those who are still reeling from the destruction of Hurricane Matthew (recently, an organization found a group of about 100 Haitians living in a cave - yes, a cave), this family of four was so excited to receive a safe, solid structure to call home. Our friends from College of the Holy Cross were fabulous in their efforts and truly moved by the work they did this past week.

Our Medical Britsionarys this week included Ophthalmologist Dr. Vicki Kvedar, her daughter Julie, and Dr. Olga Smulders-Meyer, who, it would end up, we would be so fortunate to have on hand this particular week even more so than usual. While Vicki and Julie conducted eye examinations for all of our children, many of our staff, and dozens of people from the community, Twenty-one of our children were fitted for glasses this past week! Vicki and Julie were also able to respond to a local eye-emergency when a friend of one of our employees suffered an injury to the eye when a piece of concrete lodged itself in and, as Vicki explained, as an alkali, effectively this patient was suffering a chemical burn in the eye and would have gone blind if not treated. Talk about timing...

Olga worked alongside our own staff nurse, Madame Mirlaine, with all of the typical needs we see in a home with 66 children and a large staff. Olga and Mirlaine, along with the help of a few College of the Holy Cross students also did a full, detailed inventory of all of the items we have in our clinic, noting items that we still need, items that we perhaps do not need, and making lists of items that perhaps could best be used by other organizations or clinics. We'll be posting a Wish List for Medical Items soon, and I'm already working with other clinics to see what items we have that we won't use that could be helpful to them.

Selfishly, I need to use this week's blog as an opportunity to vent about an experience a good friend of mine went through this week in Haiti. I hope you will forgive me.

Last week, on Sunday January 8, 2017, at around 11:00am, an accident involving a vehicle which was traveling from the northern city of Port de Paix, en route for Port au Prince. As is common in Haiti, this vehicle was some sort of combination of a bus/truck, overloaded with both cargo and people. For those who can't afford the typical transportation of what is called a papadap (a 12-seater van - with actual seat belts), catching a ride on top of this bus/truck, often sitting on bags of charcoal and rice, is a free and reasonable option. This day, however, the vehicle would for some reason turn over on its side while en route. The carnage that ensued, as evidenced by the many videos and photographs from the scene that I have watched on Haitian Facebook Pages, was nothing short of horrific.

It turns out that upwards of 30 people were killed in that accident. Numbers, of course, range from 18 to 30, but either way, needlessly, a significant loss of life occurred arguably as an effect of - the result of - poverty. One of those who was seriously injured also happened to be a good friend - a man I've known for over a year - whose brother is the guardian at my apartment building in Port au Prince. He's the father of three young children, and his wife died last year for reasons unknown. To say he's struggled is an understatement, and I've always done my best to try to help out when I can. This past Christmas, for example, I was able to enroll his two school-aged children in school formally. Small things like that make such a big difference, and I'm fortunate in life to be able to do that.

At any rate, what followed after the accident is nothing short of a travesty. I took to Facebook to air my frustrations and report the events as they unfolded. Here's how that all went down:

It's somewhat graphic but I think terribly important for people to see. Imagine getting in to a serious accident in which upwards of 30 people are killed. Decapitated. Limbs ripped from their bodies. Not an ambulance in sight.

Imagine when you go after your brother or sister or family loved one, hoping to find them in the hands of those who want to help, instead you find you have to put your Passport up as collateral to get a ride in the back of an open pickup truck. You travel three hours over bumpy roads with every jolt sending screaming pain through your broken body. You arrive at a hospital only to find it refused you because it is overrun with victims, and despite your serious injuries, sorry, but they aren't "bad enough".
You are then lucky enough to find someone from which to borrow 150 USD and travel to the next town. Another grueling two hours on unforgiving roads. You're told this hospital has good surgeons. Yet, when you finally arrive, now more than six hours after your life threatening accident, there are no surgeons to be found. No aid in sight. 
The next place they tell you to go is another 2.5 hours away. This time you can't find a ride. It's too late, too dark, too dangerous to travel. Instead, you throw your helpless, lifeless loved one on top of another bus, the same kind of bus that almost killed him earlier that day, to travel to the Capital. Indeed, you think, there must be hope in the Capital...
But there isn't. You sit on the side of the road waiting for a connection to come through. This hospital won't take him because he's suffered trauma; the next one won't take him because they say he hasn't suffered trauma. They only accept those who are suffering from what their specialty is.
"We can treat for the head injuries but he's got the broken leg. We can treat for the broken leg, but he's got head injuries."
"We can treat it all but not without paying us first."
So you go to the next place they tell you. And the next. And the next, until finally you just give up and quite literally take your loved one home to die on a friend's bed in his weekend apartment...

You wake up and find to your surprise that your loved one is still alive. You call your connections. They call theirs. Finally some progress. You get a CAT Scan some 30 hours after you've suffered this accident, yet you know you have only been lucky enough to get this diagnostic test because of the connections that your non-Haitian friend has. You haven't had so much as a Tylenol for your pain or even a drop of fluids. Your friends worry you could go in to kidney failure before any real help arrives.
Finally this gigantic, complex, disjointed and ineffective system sends you on your way with the results of your CAT Scan in hand. Nobody has told you or your family anything. You still have received no treatment for your wounds; nothing to alleviate your pain. Not a drop of water in over a day.
You then find yourself dropped off by one hospital in front of the government hospital in your Capital city. Your Walter Reed or your Mass General, although it goes without saying this hospital doesn't even come close to that comparison. It matters little, anyway. It's closed. They're on strike. And even though you realize that when you get there, you sit in an empty waiting room anyway, because nobody knows what to do...
Then, you're me. Or, you're you. Privileged. Access to emergency evacuations by helicopter and private flights to Miami at even the slighted discomfort in the chest; even a hint of a heart attack or even for anxiety. And you try to help. And you feel so helpless. And you feel so guilty. And you feel like, well, shit. 
And so you use what you have and go after that friend to bring him yourself to a place where you know you can get away with demanding for his care; for demanding to be seen; for demanding to be listened to and talked to; for demanding for the decency of a sheet to sprawl out on the floor in the hallway of your last hope. You bring your friend back to a place that is probably a eight hour drive in total from where your accident occurred and you are lucky enough that your friend happens to work for an organization which has a small clinic and happens to have two American doctors on site for the week. They've offered to at least deliver first-aid, start IV fluids, and interpret the results of the CAT Scan you had earlier - a diagnostic test whose results nobody has even considered looking at until now.

On a week marking the 7th Anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake, and experiencing the frustration and helplessness I felt for my friend when I was not able to use my contacts and pull strings to find care for him in a country whose healthcare network is not only ineffective but in many cases simply nonexistent, I was forced to contemplate what the world must have been like for those injured and lost in the rubble, waiting for a cavalry to come which arguably never came. Or, even if it did, if it didn't come for you, the fact that it came really was irrelevant.
Our bubbles of privilege are just that - they keep us isolated from the real and true suffering in the world. As someone who has experienced Haiti for more than four years now, I always felt like I had a decent understanding of the challenges people face. As a social worker, I am wired to be an advocate for those in need - a voice for the voiceless - and perhaps in my successes in the past in terms of access to quality medical care, I forgot how much of what provided me that access was simple privilege, and that perhaps the advocacy part was really just me thinking I was being effective. 
Either way, because of my privilege and my resources, I was able to admit Emmanuel to a private hospital where he is recovering well. My friends and family have been overwhelmingly supportive, and we've raised enough money to pay those bills and ensure proper after care. Without those resources, this story would have ended very differently. Thanks to the program at Be Like Brit, we had doctors on hand who could help. Thanks to the network of NGOs and missionaries, I was able to secure a CAT Scan for Emmanuel, in a country where at any given time there may be only one or two or three functioning for a population of 10 million.
Britney's dream and final wish saved another life this week. 
This week, we remember the some 300,000 people who perished in the 2010 earthquake here in Haiti. We remember the millions of people who were displaced. The countless individuals whose bodies were broken, who lost limbs, who suffered unimaginable injury. We remember them in all that we do, and their lives - particularly those lives that were lost - motivate us to continue to work towards an end that continues the compassion, brings healing to the sick, and comfort to those in distress. 

Thank you for helping us help the children of Haiti at Be Like Brit.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

2017: What's Ahead for Be Like Brit?

Happy New Year to all of our dedicated friends and followers! This week, as we will recognize the 7th Anniversary of the earthquake, we thought we would share with you all our plans and our vision for the coming year! Since our Dedication in January of 2013, we've grown and changed in ways we never could have imagined. Just look at one of our first staff meetings we ever held! My, how we've grown!!!

We are very excited to be hosting our first Britsionary Group of 2017, a group from the College of the Holy Cross, along with our medical Team Dr. Vicki Kvedar, her daughter Julie, and Dr. Olga Smulders Meyer. Vicki and Julie have been coming to Be Like Brit each January since we opened, conducting eye exams and fitting our children, staff, and others from the community with eyeglasses! What a gift to be able to restore someone's sight!  Olga's specialty as an OB-GYN is especially valuable for the women on our staff, and surrounding community, as it is especially difficult to find qualified physicians in our area of Haiti in areas of women's health. We are so grateful for their bringing this quality of care to Be Like Brit, and even more grateful we're able to share this with our community!!! Our Britsionarys will be building a home this week, too!

We have many new exciting Goals on the horizon for 2017 in Worcester, Delray Beach, and here in Haiti! One of the more exciting programs we're implementing here in Haiti is the creation of a small store/boutique (we're still taking suggestions for names) in which our children can participate in buying/selling of items donated, using points or Haitian Gourdes earned through our "Catch You Being Good" Program, a positive reinforcement program designed to recognize and reward children for going above and beyond what is expected of them. Thanks to our good friend Dr. Debra Pallatto-Fontaine, we have clear criteria and guidelines on how to implement this program, and we're already seeing the children motivated to do better!

One of our overnight caregivers, Madame Mirtha, will be running the store, as she is also a market keeper at the open market in Grand Goave. She'll be teaching our children how to engage in commerce locally in her own market as well as here at Brit's Boutique!!! She's very excited, and we think this truly creates a win-win-win situation for all of those involved!

We're currently working on establishing a fully-functional South Florida office, too! As we work to establish and develop this office, we will be able to do more and more for the people of Haiti!!! With the addition of Dr. Reverend Deb Kaiser Cross to our Team, we know that the Compassion of Britney Gengel and the news of our work will be brought to areas previously untouched! We are very excited for this expansion and know that great things will be coming from South Florida! Be sure to stay tuned for exciting news on the South Florida front!!! As many of you know, Brit went to school at Lynn University in Boca Raton, and loved spending time in Delray Beach! We will always honor and remember Brit in everything we do, and this is another symbolic way in which we can do that!!!

We are also busy behind the scenes working to finalize details with potential medical partners, in order to expand the scope of our reach in terms of health and wellness. We believe strongly that education is the key factor missing from the equation, and that educated people make educated decisions. So often, we see people coming to us for assistance with an issue they have been previously diagnosed with, but have a total lack of understanding as to how they may have become ill. 

Cultural beliefs attribute causation, in many instances, to supernatural - good, bad, or indifferent. We have seen instances where people believe that suffering is a test from God, and that doing something to alleviate it is to shirk a responsibility placed on you. We have seen instances where people believe that they do not suffer from a medical problem, but instead, one of mystique or magic. I've personally met people with an HIV positive diagnosis who have no understanding of their disease. Areas around health, in particular preventative health, are so vitally important. We have been blessed to work with UMASS Medical, Beth Israel, and more over the years. We hope to be able to bring you great news regarding our medical initiatives soon! 

We are always looking at ways in which we can be more sustainable, and one of those ways might just be through the introduction of a farm! We are hoping to develop relationships here in Haiti through contacts and friends in the United States that will allow us to create a program including the development of a livestock and agricultural program that will not only be a training ground for our children (and who knows who else) but also might be a future source of food for Brit's Home and for the feeding program we're hoping to develop in tandem with this project. We are considering ways in which we can invest and participate in the local economy more and more, and if we have livestock to raise and sell, a source of food coming from our gardens and livestock, we believe we can create jobs and contribute to the local economy more and more. Be sure to stay tuned for updates on this exciting addition, too!

With the construction of our cistern complete, we're now just working to secure funding to finish the project! We have more than an acre of gardens and trees planted around BLB and they require regular watering. In a place where water scarcity can be the norm, being able to move water from the cistern to our garden is an important piece of the puzzle. This year we will be completing this project with a full irrigation and sprinkler system installation.

Stateside, we're working to develop our Britsionary Program to include a more diverse set of options and choices for people who want to travel to Haiti but who may not be able to commit to a full week, and for those who may have other skill sets outside of our house building program who want to contribute, too! In 2016, we started to develop some alternative options, and one of our goals for 2017 is to host themed weeks, like Team Bonding Weeks for corporations, father/son, mother/daughter, etc.

We are especially excited to be hosting a Becker College group this year, who will be the first of our full-week Britsionarys who don't actually build a house, but instead come as a part of a learning component to Becker's Global Citizenship Program in cooperation with the Yunus Centre for Social Business at Becker College. We look forward to bringing an academic-focused intercultural exchange group here to our home in Haiti and share with them the rich history and culture that so often gets ignored when people think of this beautiful country.

There are many more exciting things which we'll be announcing as the year goes on, but we wanted to share with you some of our bigger goals for 2017! All of this is possible only because of the hard work, dedication, and compassion of people like you! As always, thank you for helping us Help the Children of Haiti at Be Like Brit!!!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Family Christmas Reflection

Happy New Year! Each year at Christmas,we hold a huge employee appreciation party for our staff and their families. Since Len started the tradition, it's been the big day of the year that everyone looks forward to. As we grew from a construction site in to a home with 66 children, we shifted a bit more towards having the children work the event as much as possible so that our staff could enjoy it! This has been made possible by the inclusion of a Britsionary Group over the Christmas week. A week designated only for returning Britsionarys, it's become our most popular week of the year by far! 

This year, the incredible Britsionary Group built a home for a single mother of 4 children, who had sadly just buried her youngest just a day before we started work on her home. The experience, we believe, truly represents what giving back should look like, and we're so proud of our Britsionarys for taking on this task - building a home in just 3 days - and then jumping on board to help with Christmas at Be Like Brit!

We asked our friends, the Rezuke Family, if they would consider offering a reflection on their experience. The Rezukes have all been to Haiti and BLB separately several times. Mike and Len actually are old childhood best friends (Grafton Hill), and have been wonderful to BLB. Read about their experience here! 



Before we left for Haiti, we were excited to find out we were going to build a house during the Christmas trip.  The fact that we even arrived in Haiti is a story in itself, which included holding two planes, arriving early in Miami to only sit on the runway for an hour and 15 minutes, 11 adults in yellow shirts running through the airport, some faster than others, and of course Len speaking or “threatening” the highest level of authority that would speak to him to hold the already boarded plane so we could continue our journey to Haiti!  When we did finally arrive, we heard about the family we would be building a house for; a homeless mother with, at the time we thought, two small children. We were saddened to hear and learn that she had already lost one child and recently lost her youngest child the day before Christmas Eve, which only increased our passion to build her a safe home. 

Working along with the local Haitian workers, we worked hard the next three days to build the house.  Many of us still have the blue paint on our bodies to prove it.  We then went out to the marketplace to purchase a mattress and various items for the house, including somehow bags of Cheetos, an American staple!  So on the day before Christmas Eve, we met the family and dedicated the house.  To our surprise, there was a mom and four small children!  For each of us in the group, it was a very rewarding experience, and with the help of BLB and its mission, to give this family a home at this very special time of the year.  For many of us who have made their way to Haiti through BLB, we are blessed and have much.  
The spirit of Christmas is about giving and there’s nothing better than giving to people who could use a helping hand.  Our lives are a journey that we somewhat control and shape, filled with a collection of experiences and events, both good and bad.  Some things we remember more than others.  For me, our family trip to Brit’s Home in Haiti during Christmas week in 2016, is an everlasting memory that I will always be thankful for.  


As the song goes, “All You Need Is Love.”  We found this to be true when we walked through the doors at Be Like Brit. It is the foundation of the building and home of the 66 beautiful children and phenomenal staff.  It permeates through the walls and land of this wonderful place in Grand Goave.  You are wrapped in love as soon as you arrive.   As we know, it started with a parent’s love for their daughter and their desire to fulfill her last wish. Through God’s mercy and grace, it has grown into a place of hope, laughter and futures being dreamed by children who, not long ago, lived day to day.  God’s love is evident everywhere you look.  

Smiles and singing abound. Homes are being built while friendships are growing and hope is being spread through the community.  The world needs love like this.  John 15:12 proclaims the greatest commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  This verse is one that we’ve heard time and again, but do we heed it? Do we really live it?  If we could harness the love at BLB, and send it out into the world, wars and strife would cease and peace would reign.  Jesus’s love for us and our love for each other would be a treasure found and one to keep close to our hearts.  Britney is wrapped in the love of the Lord.  She has already found it.  


Breaking from a routine or a tradition is hard as we are after all creatures of habit. Going to Haiti to Brit’s Home instead of keeping with my family’s normal tradition was different, but it wasn’t a difficult decision to make. When I think about all of the traditions the Gengels have had to change because of Brit’s death in order to create such a loving and safe home for 66 children and over 100 staff members, the opportunity was welcomed. We all have our rituals of traveling to this person’s house, eating this food, traveling again, opening presents we probably don’t need. In retrospect, before learning about Be Like Brit, this all was fine to me. It was the way we celebrated holidays. 

My family is blessed and we already have so much. Now knowing how much joy and fulfillment I can have from stringing lights up with the kids, separating out 66 presents, and throwing a party for a very well deserved staff, shows me that this is the kind of Christmas that I want to have and the new tradition I want to start. In Brit’s Home there is a verse that reads “To whom much is given, much is expected” from Luke 12:48. My family and I lived this verse this past week, and we will continue to live it, as Brit did. 


A part of growing up is losing the magic that one has in their holidays. Although when blatantly said, it’s sad, but it’s natural. One learns more and grows older to believe in new things. When putting the religious implications of holidays aside, children begin to lose their belief in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. So what then? The Christmas holiday shifts to children receiving presents from their family members. Nothing wrong with that, but after a while I began to ask myself what’s the point? Where’s the meaning? Is it just something that we do like asking someone about the weather when stuck in an elevator together. A habitual human action year after year. 

The magic comes back alive when the children grow into adults and have kids of their own giving them the happiness of seeing their children experiencing the magic of Christmas. But what about the in between? While spending Christmas with the 66 beautiful children at Brit’s home in Haiti, I found the meaning of Christmas for me. As a child, you grow up running down the stairs to get all your presents. You are only focused on receiving, but everyone’s heard the phrase “it’s better to give than to receive,” however it’s easy to forget. That’s what Christmas should be about. Giving. Not necessarily a physical present, but one’s time, one’s energy, one’s presence. The kids in Brit’s home reminded me of this. When giving the presents, the children were ecstatic to receive their gift, and I was just as overjoyed to be giving them. They were even happy to give toys to the children beyond the walls of their home.  

Christmas is the day and season for giving. It’s easy to forget that with all the holiday advertisements, Christmas deals, and pressure to purchase the right gift. Make your present your presence. 


This trip with my family has been amazing and looking back at it makes me wish I did more. The goal with every Britsionary trip is to “make a difference,” and six days isn't enough to have an effect.  We aim to change the lives of the people in Haiti for the better; however, what the children and staff do without knowing it, is change our lives even more. One part of the trip that I enjoyed was on Christmas day, outside the walls of Brit’s Home. The children are asked to gather their toys that they have already enjoyed and give them to the children surrounding the orphanage. They would then grab a toy, run into someone's home, give it to a child and scream Merry Christmas in their face. It sounds weird but it was very thoughtful. The neighborhood families were so appreciative of the toys they received, and the children were more than happy to give it away. 

Everyone was laughing and smiling during the Advent excursion. It was their way of giving back to the community that made them what they are. I believe that the this week that I have spent in Haiti has made me more humble, grateful, compassionate, and I hope that others can see this in me. Like the children with their community, we should give back to the people who make us who we are. That's why I am honored to be raising money and participating in the 2017 Boston Marathon with Britsionary Jennifer Foley to give back to Brit’s Home and the ones who live in it.  


Of course, we would be remiss if we didn't thank Charlie, Molly, Cassie, Courtney, Haley, and Francesca for their giving of themselves over this week, too. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to spend the Holiday with this amazing group, and we're so grateful for their sacrifice! 

Bon fet Nwel ak Bon Ane!