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ast June, when our group of six Middlesex students and staff left for a
week long Service Experience in Haiti, we never expected to learn as much
about ourselves as we did about life in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. But
that's what happened.
Thanks to a 2013 Annual Fund grant from the Middlesex Community College
Foundation, we spent a week in Grand Goave, volunteering with the Be Like
Brit (BLB) Foundation. Len and CherylAnn Gengel, founders of BLB, were MCC's
2013 Commencement speakers. Their moving talk about their daughter, Britney,
and her dedication to helping the children of Haiti inspired our trip.
Be Like Brit has built and runs an orphanage in memory of Britney, the
Rutland teenager who was killed while on a college mission trip during
Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake. The BLB Orphanage can house up to
66 kids. When we visited, 45 children, ages 2 to 12, were living there. BLB
also organizes regular service trips to Grand Goave for volunteers,
called "Britsionarys."
As soon as we landed in Port-au-Prince and on the three-hour drive to Grand
Goave our heads were filled with sights, sounds and smells that were totally
foreign to us. One image I will never forget is seeing all the BLB kids lined up
at the orphanage entrance singing, "We Are the World" in English, to welcome
us. Afterwards, they ran up and gave us all hugs. We immediately discovered
that although the children speak Creole, when it comes to play, language is not
a barrier.
Each afternoon throughout the week, there was time set aside for us to engage
with the kids coloring and playing games, creating memory books or organiz-
ing sing-alongs. On Sunday, we spent the afternoon with them at a local park.
Like most Britsionarys, our mornings were spent building a simple 10- by- 12-
foot wooden house for a local family, in this case a single mother and three
children. With the assistance of a few local carpenters, we dug footings,
framed the walls, sided and roofed the house.
This part of our trip was not without struggle, as we were working in full sun,
during Haiti's hottest month. But, our "motivation" 6-year-old Marie Noel, the
little girl who would soon live in the house worked right alongside us.
At the end of the week, we dedicated the home to Marie Noel's family, and
included enough food to feed them for three months. Their words (and hugs)
of gratitude will stay with us for some time.
The final portion of our program consisted of daily excursions around the
local area. These included a hike through the mountains behind the orphanage,
a tour of the children's school, a visit to a Voodoo temple, and a trip to a
fishing village.
On Sunday, we attended services at the local Christian church with the children,
and visited the homes of BLB caretakers, grounds keepers and security staff.
This helped us understand more about the daily life and culture of the people in
Grand Goave. Everyone we met greeted us with open arms and open hearts.
Volunteering in Haiti is not easy. Members of our group struggled with the
heat, the intense physicality of the construction project, and the often-over-
whelming emotions associated with visiting one of the poorest countries in
the world. But each evening, as we gathered on the rooftop of the orphanage
to reflect on the day's activities, we helped each other overcome physical and
mental struggles and learned invaluable lessons about ourselves.
Marci Barnes
Global Education
Building Connections
and a House in Haiti
Global Education
Volunteers Marci Barnes (left) and Melissa Chandonnet with neighborhood children in Grand Goave, Haiti; constructing the house; and celebrating with Be Like Brit
representatives and new homeowners in front of the finished house.