A yellow orphanage shaped like the letter “B” opened in Grand Goâve, Haiti, last Saturday. Built with $1.8 million in donated funds, the orphanage is dedicated to the memory of 19-year-old Britney Gengel, who died in the 2010 earthquake that Haiti officials estimate killed more 300,000 people. The three-year anniversary of the disaster is Jan. 12.
Gengel had traveled to Haiti early in 2010 to help a charitable organization distribute meals. “[The Haitian orphans] love us so much and everyone is so happy,” she wrote to her family in a text message soon after arriving. “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, the 7.0-magnitude quake hit, collapsing the Hotel Montana where Gengel was staying, killing her along with three students and two professors from her school, Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Gengel’s parents, Leonard and Cherylann of Rutland, Mass., resolved to carry out their daughter’s last wish. They founded the nonprofit organization Be Like Brit, raised money, and spent three years building the orphanage in her name.
The orphanage is painted pastel yellow and blue, matching the color theme of a photo of Gengel surrounded by orphans, taken hours before she died. Inside the building’s earthquake-resistant walls are children’s rooms with bunk beds painted red, green, and blue. They’ll house 33 boys and 33 girls, corresponding to the number of days that passed before Gengel’s death from the earthquake was confirmed. Besides housing orphans, the building has a dedicated water purification system that will distribute clean drinking water to the surrounding community.
Two Roman Catholic priests led an ecumenical dedication ceremony last Saturday, and Leonard and Cherylann Gengel swayed and clapped along with a Haitian choir that sang, gospel style, “Oh, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.” On Jan. 12, the Gengels will release a book about their experience following their daughter’s death, Heartache and Hope in Haiti.