Being like Brit: Reflections on finding hope in Haiti

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Editor’s note: Sun contributor Danielle Cutillo is travelling to Haiti this week on a volunteer mission for the Be Like Brit organization, which operates an orphanage for more than 60 children in memory of Britney Gengel, a missionary who died in a devastating 2010 earthquake there. Here, Danielle, 23, a Holy Name graduate and lifelong Worcester resident, reflects on her first trip last year while preparing for her second journey, which began yesterday. Once she’s back, Danielle will tell us about her most recent experience with another column, more photos and video. Check back next week.

About a year ago my life was changed when I traveled to Grand-Goave, Haiti, to volunteer with the nonprofit organization, Be Like Brit.

Danielle in Haiti last year with one of the Be Like Brit kids.

Courtesy Danielle Cutillo

Danielle in Haiti last year with one of the Be Like Brit kids.

During her sophomore year of college, 19-year-old Britney Gengel of Rutland had signed up for a three-week mission trip to Haiti with a group from Florida-based Lynn University. A few days into her trip, Jan. 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, leaving an estimated 1.5 million people initially homeless.

Hundreds of thousands perished, including Britney and five others in her group.

Not long before the earthquake hit, Britney had sent a text message to her mother: “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.”

This text is what soon would change the lives of many people like me.

Britney’s parents, Cherylann and Len, wanted to make Britney’s last wish come true. They decided to build an orphanage in Grand-Goave to honor their daughter.

The organization, Be Like Brit, is now home to 33 boys and 33 girls, in remembrance of the 33 days Britney’s body was missing after the earthquake.

Danielle and a friend were "Britsionaries" last year.

Courtesy Danielle Cutillo

Danielle and a friend were “Britsionaries” last year.

Each month “Britsionaries,” the name given to their volunteers, travel down to the orphanage to visit with the children and help build a home for a local family. That’s why I’m here. Again.

I arrived yesterday and will stay through July 23, marking my second trip as a Britsionary with a few of my best friends. As a Britsionary, you are able to stay in the orphanage, bond with all of the kids, and build a small home for a local family. I can’t wait to do it all again!

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