Reflect And Rejoice

As the plane flies over the western side of Hispaniola, you see the majestic mountain range as far as the eye can see. You would think that you were flying in a painting, the views are so heavenly seen from above. The plane approaches Haiti’s National Airport, lands smoothly with applause from passengers. While going through customs you pay a fee, even if you are here to help the people and the children. Patiently you wait for your bag to come out, praying that it wasn’t opened nor anything removed. You walk through the heat of Haiti as you approach the van and then the real ride begins. You look out the window and see metal shacks, crumbled buildings, small tents, piles of garbage, malnourished animals, donated merchandise and people smiling full of joy walking the streets. The ride at first is overwhelming, you try to process what has been seen, but it will take months. As you finally get out of the capital city you begin to see the green beauty of the fields and mountains so close you feel that you can reach out and touch. A little over an hour goes by and you see a building shaped in the letter “B” up on a hill, the locals say, it’s a beacon of hope. The steep road up the hill, you look behind you to see the view, you approach the wall and the gates open, you begin to walk towards the building. After a long day of traveling and witnessing archaic oppression, you are welcomed by a group of children, singing their hearts out. All life’s troubles and worries are lifted away and at the end of their chorus, they run towards you, arms wide open. The hugs, are the antidote to all suffering, you try not to cry and you most certainly smile.


When Brit set off on her first humanitarian mission, I had no idea where Haiti was and wasn’t entirely sure why Brit was going there. One of her classmates camera was recovered from the hotel and when you look at the photos taken, over 200, you can see that Brit had a life changing experience full of love and joy.  As we know towards the end of her second day being in Haiti, the devastating earthquake struck, hundreds of thousands of innocent humans died, including my19 year old sister, she was missing for 33 days and was found on my 18th birthday. The only way to describe what you feel when someone you have loved your whole life has gone missing for unexplainable reasons, you ask yourself endless amount of questions and you enter into the deepest and darkest level of limbo; a form of shock, depression, and fear - you remain hopeful, you remain faithful, you prepare for the worst and pray for the best. But the gift that Brit left was in the form of a text, she sent just hours before the earthquake and expressed her love and commitment to the children and how they inspired her to come back to build an orphanage someday. A beautiful girl from a small town in Massachusetts, who was very popular in high school, was always willing to lend a helping hand and was the voice for those who didn’t have one, sends a text that happens to become her last wish and unknowingly plants a seed of hope. With the help from the United States Government, US Army’s Southern Command and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Britney came home to be buried in her beloved city of Worcester. Shortly after, we decided to start the Be Like Brit Foundation, and the journey that some thought ended, was just beginning.


When we first started Be Like Brit I was heavily involved, it was my way of coping with the tragedy. The first thing I contributed was our Logo - even though I’m not a graphic designer by trade. In August of 2010 me and my mother flew into Haiti in search of land, then in September, me and my father flew into Haiti to Grand Goave, and decided this was the land were we should build the orphanage. Around this time I started to attend Suffolk University in downtown Boston, 50% of my time was dedicated to my studies and the other 50% was dedicated to helping Be Like Brit. Since a child I’ve been a  computer enthusiast, the hobby grew in high school, I started to develop static and dynamic websites. While attending Suffolk, I built Be Like Brit 3 websites, traveled to Haiti during my breaks off, over a dozen times and attended as many events and meetings as possible. Once I graduated from Suffolk University with a degree in Entrepreneurship this past December, the first thing I did was found an opportunity for Be Like Brit, I called it “Operation Mango”. Most small business and non-profits suffer with to many emails and because we are a international non-profit, we didn’t have a central area suitable for our growth. Operation Mango, which was launched a couple of months ago, allows Be Like Brit’s staff and volunteers to collaborate internally in a secure digital environment. This is the first step for Be Like Brit to utilize the “Virtual World”. The next platform I plan on building is for Child Sponsors to platonically communicate with and receive updates of the children they support. If you have any ideas please consider emailing me at berniegengel@gmail.com

I arrived in Haiti a little over a week ago, the children are the antidote to my suffering. As Uncle Bernie, I do my best to show the children love and teach them as much I know. I must say, you can see Brit when you look at the children, especially when they smile. This past week has been full of surprises thanks to Weenshy, our Haiti Operations Director, I tried sugar cane and coconut water straight from the coconut, it was unbelievable and actually I’m slightly addicted now! I’m in shock how much the children have grown and how well they are speaking english. I’d like to specially thank Maddam Amanda for teaching our children, Kid Orange Tech and ABC Mouse for providing the education software to our children. It amazes me how committed the staff are here, you never hear a complaint and they are always willing to do more.  The last time I was in Haiti, my dear friend and roommate from college Sandro “T-Micky” Martelly, the President of Haiti’s son, made a special visit to the orphanage and sang with the children. Sandro is a great entertainer and the children absolutely loved singing songs with him. Sandro to the children and the staff can be perceived as a form of royalty, but he’s completely down to earth, he hugged every child and every staff member, he gave out autographs and was compassionate to anyone who spoke to him. He’s such a great man and I’m glad we became friends a few years ago in Boston. Since his visit, almost every day one of the children ask, “When is T-Micky coming back?” I chuckle and tell them I don’t know but we can listen to his music online. 

As I sit up on the second floor of the orphanage writing this, I look out to the mango tree with the ocean in the background, I conclude that Haiti is truly the land of hope. The people and children who I thought I was going to help, have helped me more than I ever expected. The old beaten path I first walked up in September of 2010 to purchase the land is now a road with dozens of homes along the way. Where brush and wild animals once stood now stands an earthquake proof non-adoptive orphanage, home to 66 beautiful, resilient, loving children. We call this building an orphanage to fulfill Brit’s last wish, but really we are  much more than meets the eye. We are a community center that embraces the community by employing and training locals, thousands of gallons of nano-filtered water are given to those who are thirsty inside and outside the walls, dozens of homes being built for those who didn’t have shelter and the use of technology such as solar panels and software to sustain and improve the way of life for all associated with Be Like Brit. The past five years have been full of transition, I’m absolutely speechless when I see the progress that has been made. What the future holds, I don’t know, I hope that it may be full of opportunities and continuous improvement: for those who are suffering, may they find peace; for those who are hungry, may we feed them; for those who want to improve, may we teach them; for those who are homeless, may we build for them; and for those who are lost, may we find them and fill them with love. For what the future holds, I only know it will be bright, with the continuous support from you and the raising of these children to be compassionate leaders, just like their Mother Britney, I know that the future here in Haiti and in the States will forever be changed for the better. Thank you for everything you have done to keep my sister's memory alive, there are not enough words to express my gratitude. In closing, I’d like to end with one of Brit’s Facebook Posts: “Love is like an earthquake - unpredictable, a little scary, but when the hard part is over you realize how lucky you truly are.” 

All my love,
Uncle Bernie