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! 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Big Changes in the Making!

We've had another busy week here in Haiti as we gear up for the Christmas and New Year Holidays, as well as all that comes with the end of the year running an organization. I've been busy meeting with our lawyer, visiting various government entities, and preparing to have a hundred or so contracts signed by year-end! Love and Len have been busy this past week with Operations - namely building and renovation projects both inside and around Brit's Home! We're particularly excited about the renovation project happening in what was first Gama and his family's apartment, and then became mine.

As we grow and evolve as family first and as an organization second, we have to keep up with the needs of our growing children, too! The challenges we face in raising 66 children are in no way limited, and so it seems that we adjust and adapt policy and rules often, making every effort to keep ahead of the curve so to speak in an effort to bring the best care and education we can for our children. One of our biggest challenges since our earliest days is maintaining a balance in terms of allowing our Britsionarys and Child Sponsors to bring or send gifts to Haiti, and figuring out how to disperse the overwhelming amounts of gifts we have received at our Operations Center.

In our earliest days, this wasn't problematic, as we had few sponsors and fewer Britsionarys. Over the course of the past almost 4 years, our Britsionary Family has grown to include upwards of 700 people, and our sponsor and donor base has expanded, too. Our struggle was this: How can we teach our children things like responsibility for personal items - how to take care of your own belongings while a flood of those belongings just kept coming and coming? When I first realized that our children were careless with things like toys, books, bikes, etc., I recognized that in part this was because when and if something invariably broke, another group of Britsionarys would likely be soon behind the last, and would be coming with gifts in hand. Thus, the idea for a store of sorts was born, and today we're making that happen.

Once this space is finalized, it will house both our Program's office space, specific to the leadership staff who works with the children directly, as well as our own store/market of sorts. We've asked one of our ovenight caregivers, Madame Mirtha, to head up this initiative, as Mirtha runs her own market here in Grand Goave. We think she will be a great choice to teach our children how to run a
small business, and how to manage money! We plan to build in marketing strategies, too, and feature items in the store that have been donated to BLB.

What's even more beneficial is that we'll be building the "money" side of this in to our Positive Reinforcement Program, Catch You Being Good, where children will earn tickets and points after accumulating a certain number of "stars" for times when a caregiver or even another child notices someone going above and beyond what is expected of them. We also plan to work in a corresponding allowance program for those children who are tasked with regular chores around the house, so that they can learn about how to manage money, budgeting, and more. We're very excited!!!

Madame Love spent some extra special time with a group of our girls this weekend, hosting a slumber party of sorts on Friday and then last night, traveling to Port au Prince to bring the girls to a Holiday ballet recital at the school of one of her friends. Our girls were so excited to go, and have not stopped talking about it since they got back! Some of them even think they are ballerinas now, too! We'll have to work on that a bit, but what a special treat for those girls who worked so hard and deserved this new first!

With everything going on, we know it's going to be a busy few weeks! We look forward to our Christmas Britsionary Group arriving later this month to help with all of the activities that will be going on! Be sure to stay tuned to our social media pages for all of the updates!

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

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Where We're Supposed to Be

Often, it takes the gentle reminder of strangers to sort of "reset" yourself. Such is the case here in Haiti, for sure, as with hundreds of visitors each year, it's usually through their eyes and their reflection that I'm reminded of all that is good in the world; especially when it can be hard to see that good amidst the fog of it all...

For me, it was our most recent Britsionary Group who reminded me of that - perhaps in the most unassuming of ways. It's always such a pleasure to host groups, and while we love our returning friends, I particularly enjoy getting to know the newbies - the first-timers who have felt compelled to travel to Haiti and give of themselves for a week in the spirit of humanitarianism and selflessness that is so much a part of our immediate and extended family. Reflections on the roof are indeed often  my most favorite of experiences, and this group especially reminded me of my blessings last night.

The group reflected largely on the impact that one can make. How it's really quite simple to make a difference, and how it doesn't require a momentous, huge outpouring of effort or support or money to make it happen. Indeed, Britney Gengel's life, in just 19 short years, has had a lasting and permanent effect on the lives of thousands here in Haiti and in the USA - even without her knowing. As our new friend Amy remarked, most people don't manage to affect things on this level over the course of a lifetime. Britney was able to do it with a simple text message, unbeknownst to her at the time - that would resonate for years to come, and for thousands to witness...

It was wonderful to have good friends and colleagues here this week, like Charlie, our incredible volunteer who gives so much of himself and helped me remember the privilege of being able to serve - of helping those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Wendy, who works for us part-time at the OC in Worcester is such a gracious soul, and spending some time with her this week was definitely therapeutic. Our friend Michael, who volunteers with us as a grant writer was here, too, and he and Cherylann and I got to spend some quality time together talking about future projects and initiatives. We have our sights aimed very high, and we're so grateful for all of the support along the way.

As we grow as an organization, we are constantly looking to improve. Len's motto, CANEI (Constant and Never Ending Improvement) is indeed the words we live by here at Be Like Brit. As we plan for 2017, we have great endeavors on the horizon. I am confident that through the support of friends and strangers alike, we'll make great strides in achieving those goals...

Having Cherylann here is always such a gift, and the children just love it when Manmi Cherylann is in town! The group made the "big haul", having brought in most of the Christmas presents that all of you have so generously sent to us at our Operations Center. Our children are truly blessed, and we're grateful to be able to extend those blessings along to our precious 66 children.

The week was especially productive as our friend and Board Member Eileen was on hand, too! Eileen handles most of our human resources issues and is an all around friend and confident. She is my voice of reason in times where I doubt myself - or anything else, for that matter. She is a true gift, and this week more than ever I am reminded of just how many gifts I have in my life.

In this holiday season, this time of thanks and of things near and dear, let us all be reminded of those blessings we take for granted, of just how fortunate we are to have so much in a world where so many have so little. It is through this work, through my friends here in Haiti, and through the hardships of others that I am reminded of just how lucky I am, as Charlie put it, to be able to serve others. 

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

Sunday, November 27, 2016


I sometimes feel like a broken record. As I sit to write a weekly update from Be Like Brit in Haiti, I so often talk about the overwhelming support of friends that we have here - how none of this would be possible without the generosity of others. That remains true, and that truth is reinforced on a daily basis here in Haiti. We have so much to be grateful and thankful for.

This past week, as our friends in the USA celebrated the Thanksgiving Holiday, Haitians by and large, I think, breathed a collective sigh of relief, as the November 20, 2016 Presidential Elections came and went without much fanfare in terms of violence or fallout. Elections which have been delayed on more than one occasion, results contested, with threats of and actual violence have happened. We're patiently waiting for official results which should come any day now.

Many of you may recall in the days following Hurricane Matthew that here at BLB, we set up outside of our gate and allowed people to come to us to sign up for assistance in the damages or losses that they may have received as a result of the storm. In just one morning, we received requests for assistance from more than 100 households. Of course, not unlike anywhere else where poverty and circumstances push otherwise good and honest people to do dishonest things, we did find some instances where people were not reporting accurately the damages they suffered. In many cases, people would prefer to have a cash payout vs. a repair to a home, or the replacement of contents. 

In order to best address these discrepancies, we sent our Britsionary Team Leaders Francky and Madona out to visit each and every home that was signed up on that list. This is no easy task, as those of you who have been here know, the area around Brit's Home in Haiti is mountainous, and the sun, unforgiving. Francky and Madona exuded a tremendous amount of work in conducting these visits and assessments, and we are grateful for their commitment. BLB now has a long list of repairs - confirmed need, in an effort to ensure that the relief dollars so many of you donated are spent in the most appropriate way possible. 

The photos above are just two examples of the all-too-common reality of our neighbors and friends. This is why we are so grateful to all of you who donated to our Hurricane Relief efforts. The homes that we are able to repair and replace, as necessary, will protect against the loss of property and protect lives ahead of the next challenge to our resolve...

We were so proud this past week when our children brought home their report cards!!! Another subtle reminder of why we are thankful. The gifts of sponsorship allow us to send our children to the best two schools in the region with Mission of Hope International and St. Francois. Together with our home schooling program for five of our boys, we truly believe we are raising the next generation of leaders in Haiti. 

Between all of the wonderful things happening here in Haiti and the awesome work that our Team in the USA, along with our selfless volunteers, we know how fortunate and blessed we are. No matter what the cause, no matter what the need, it seems that there is no end to the blessings we find ourselves on the receiving end of. 

Just last week, we shipped our container out of the Port in Boston to make its way to Haiti with more than 16,000 pounds of supplies on board. Dozens of volunteers showed up at the Operations Center with just one request that we posted on our Facebook page, asking for some hands to help us with some important items we had in our USA office. We hope that you all are confident that in those blessings 
and in this abundance - in this time of thanks - we are both humbled and honored in the faith you put in us each and every day with all of your efforts, your time, and your support!

We have big news coming your way soon out of South Florida, but we will make you wait for that! Be sure to stay tuned to our social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) for more information!!!

Thank you for helping us raise the children of Haiti at Be Like Brit!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Be Like Brit Star.

For those of you who have followed us over the years, you know how fortunate we are to be surrounded by so many incredible individuals who have offered their time, their talents, and their resources to help us help the children at Be Like Brit. Last weekend, we recognized one of our most dedicated and generous ambassadors for Be Like Brit, in the awarding of the Star Award to the Reverend Dr. Debra Pallatto-Fontaine. Debbie is a powerhouse in so many ways. We've benefited from her expertise from our earliest days, as Debbie served as a member of our Program Committee back during the construction phase of our work, and now serves in a much more expansive role.

After receiving the Star Award at our Gala last Saturday, Debbie flew back to Haiti with me on Monday of last week to deliver her quarterly professional development staff and teacher trainings to all of our caregivers. Debbie provides this professional level workshops at least 4 times per year, and the benefits of having her perspective and insights in areas of faith, child development, psychology, curriculum development, and early childhood education are invaluable to us. Our staff has grown by leaps and bounds, and they absolutely love it when Madame Debbie visits!

As a Reverend with the United Church of Christ, we look to Debbie (along with our own Father Madden) for guidance when conflict arrives as a result of faith - or, more specifically, differences of faith. While the Be Like Brit Foundation is not specifically a faith-based organization, the Gengels are Catholic, and faith was a huge part of Brit's life, as it is for the family still. As some of our children are from a Catholic background and others a Christian (Protestant) background, we're noticing as they get older that sometimes the perceived or actual differences between the two faiths can cause problems and conflict to arise between not only our children, but our children and our visitors, too.

Debbie was supposed to have traveled to BLB the first week of October, until Hurricane Matthew hit, forcing us to reschedule her trip. When we figured out that we could get Debbie here when I flew back from the Gala, we took the opportunity of asking Debbie to incorporate some kind of service in to her week, where she could talk to the children and to the staff about what it means to be an ecumenical organization here, but more importantly, how we're all created in God's image and every human being is deserving of mutual respect and civility. The values of tolerance and diversity are very important to the Be Like Brit Foundation, and we hope that we can raise our children to hold these same beliefs. Debbie's service, sharing in the body and the blood of Christ together, regardless of formal faith or ideology, was a great lesson for our children. Like she always does, Debbie found a way to work the children in to the service, with a choir, faith dancers, and helpers up on the altar, too!

We are thrilled that at last week's Gala, we were able to announce officially that, through the Yunus Centre for Social Business at Becker College, Debbie has launched what is called the "DREAMS Program: Educating the Future of Haiti This is a 6 module, 15 week hybrid course, focusing on topics around social and emotional intelligence, child development, and intensive English language instruction. We've started out with our first cohort of 11 Be Like Brit employees, who, upon completion of the course, will receive official course completion certificate from Becker College! The group is loving the program so far, and we are excited to see how it may develop and grow over time! What do you think about their Becker gear?!

It is these kinds of initiatives and partnerships that truly do allow us to bring a whole new level of care and professionalism to our children, our program, and of course the organization. We want people to know that when we say we're working to raise the next generation of leaders in Haiti, we mean it, and these types of programs are what set us apart from the rest! We're proud of our work, and especially grateful to Madame Debbie - our Star!!!

It was a joy to have spent the last few days working with Debbie, and talking about other ways that we can deepen this relationship! We have an exciting trip for Becker in early 2017, where we will be meeting with the Country Director of the Yunus Social Business in Haiti and visiting some of their projects in the country. We look forward to a long relationship with Debbie and with Becker! 

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