Jan. 12, 2012
BOSTON — It’s been two years since a devastating magnitude-7 earthquake leveled much of Haiti, leaving over 300,000 dead. One of them was 19-year-old Rutland native Britney Gengel. Her grief-stricken family is working through its loss by picking up where Britney left off.
Britney was a communications major at Lynn University in 2010 when she joined a humanitarian mission trip to Haiti. She was distributing meals to the country’s poverty-stricken children. The experience changed her, something she shared with her parents in a text message:
“They love us so much and everyone is so happy. They love what they have and they work so hard to get nowhere, yet they are all so appreciative. I want to move here and start an orphanage myself.”
Three hours later, a devastating magnitude-7 earthquake leveled much of Haiti.
At first, relief: The family was told Britney had been found alive and was heading back to Florida. They packed their bags and headed down to Florida to meet her. Then, devastation: When they got to Florida, the family learned Britney was still missing.
“We were told our children were safe and rescued,” Britney’s father Len Gengel told reporters at the time. “And now we’re told they’re not.”
Thirty-three days after the earthquake, Britney’s body was pulled from the rubble of the Hotel Montana. She was the last of six Lynn University students and professors to be recovered. The university remembers the students killed in the quake.
In their grief, the Gengels remembered Britney’s text message: “I want to move here and start an orphanage myself.”
In September 2010, the Gengels bought a perch of land overlooking the water for $50,000 in the southwestern town of Grande Goave. Britney was supposed to visit there with her mission group the day after the earthquake. A year after the quake, the family broke ground on a 19,000-square foot orphanage, with a medical clinic and outfitted with solar panels. The best part: The building will be earthquake-proof.
Shaped in the letter “B” for Britney, the building will be home to 33 boys and 33 girls. The number represents the number of days it took for Britney’s body to be recovered. The Gengels say they're not sure yet how those 66 children will be chosen — there are now roughly 2 million orphans in Haiti — but they want the orphanage to house “true” orphans: children who have lost both parents.
The Gengels hope to welcome 66 of them by the three-year anniversary of the earthquake that took their only daughter.
Sign-up for WGBH News updates, WGBH promotions, and previews of what's coming up on WGBH TV.