PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (WSVN) — A South Florida man who lost his daughter in the devastating 2010 earthquake that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in Haiti said the orphanage opened in her honor continues her legacy of helping those less fortunate.
7News cameras captured Len Gengel as he listened to the children of Brit’s House sing “Hallelujah,” Friday.
For the 66 children who live in the B-shaped building on a hilltop in Gran Goaves, they know Gengel as “Papi Len,” the father they never had.
In each of these 33 boys and 33 girls, Gengel said, he sees the spirit of his daughter Britney.
“She was a terrific kid, and I know every parent says that about their child,” he said, “but she really was — she had been searching.”
Gengel said Britney found what she was looking for in Haiti.
The 19-year-old Lynn University student traveled to the island nation in January 2010, just two days before the earthquake that leveled hundreds of buildings and took about 300,000 lives.
“Three hours before the earthquake, she sent her mom a text saying how much she loved the kids and how much she wanted to move here and start an orphanage herself,” said Gengel.
But Britney would not live to accomplish that goal. She was killed in the natural disaster, along with three of her classmates and two faculty members.
Ten years later, 66 children ages 7 to 19 called Brit’s House, located a two-hour drive from Port-au-Prince, their home.
Gengel and Britney’s mother, Cheryl Ann, raised the money for this orphanage and continue to raise money for it.
The children go to class, eat three meals a day and play.
Some have lost both parents. Others were brought there by a struggling parent or relative.
Even public school in Haiti costs money, and hundreds of thousands of children simply don’t go.
“After my mother was dead, I was living with my sisters,” said I was living with my mother; it was hard. She can pay for school for us,” said.
“After my mother dead I live with my sisters,” said 15-year-old Venitte Miselin, who said he also was unable to go to school
Now, Miselin said, she’s the “President” of the students, and she has big dreams.
“What I would like to become in the future, I will start my school,” she said.
When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, she replied, “I would like to be a diplomat.”
“They’re just good kids, getting an opportunity of a lifetime,” said M. Love Pun, the director of Brit’s Home. “They’re loved, and they know it.”
Gengel said his mission is to create something none of the aid pouring in after the earthquake could not: a middle class.
“My vision for our kids is, they can work on a global level and put dollars back into the economy,” he said. “It’s that basic.”
Devastating loss led to the creation of Brit’s House. Doors bear the names of the Lynn University victims.
But a new family was born.
“I was going to retire to New Hampshire, and well, now I have a beautiful home in the Caribbean with these beautiful children who just give my life purpose,” said Gengel.
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