By William T. Clew
They gave up Easter at home for a long day of travel, cleared some land, built a small home, met new people, saw new sights, learned a few phrases in a new language and came home tired and ready to go back again.
They are nine students – five seniors and four juniors – at Holy Name Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School who spent their Easter-week vacation in Haiti.
The students are Wayne Macharia, Sarah Barrett, Elizabeth Adam, Caileen Foley and Theresa Loell, all seniors, and Ashley Bauckman, Olivia Brochu, Tristan Laliberte and Jeremiah Bohan-Broderick, all juniors. They were accompanied by Bernard P. Audette, Holy Name principal, and Anne S. Kennedy, assistant principal.
They were up early on Easter morning, April 20, according to Mr. Audette. They left Worcester at about 2:45 a.m. for Bradley Field in Windsor Locks, Conn. From there they flew to Miami and then to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They then boarded a bus for Grand Goave, the town where the Be Like Brit Orphanage is located.
The orphanage is named for Britney Gengel of Rutland, daughter of Leonard and Cherylann Gengel. Britney, 19, was a student at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. She and other Lynn University students were on a mission to bring food to the poor. On Jan. 12, 2010, she and three other Lynn students, along with two faculty members died in an earthquake that devastated much of Haiti, killed an estimated 300,000 people and displaced about a million others. To honor their daughter’s memory Mr. and Mrs. Gengel, with help from family, friends and others, formed the non-profit “Be Like Brit” and reportedly raised an estimated $1.8 million. Under the supervision of Mr. Gengel, a Holden builder, and with the help of others, the orphanage was built in about three years.
The Holy Name group raised money for their trip in a variety of ways, Mr. Audette said. They used the Be Like Brit website to get their message out and ask for help. Their message was on the Sonrise Morning Show, a syndicated national radio show on EWTN. He and some students spoke on Emmanuel Radio, WNEB 1230 AM, Catholic radio in Worcester. There was strong support from Holy Name family, students, faculty, alumni and friends, he said.
And, the group headed for Haiti were able to convince seven Holy Name students that it would be a good idea to take part in a “Senior Boys Pageant,” in which they were asked to appear on stage, do a dance and be interviewed. The show, a comical take on beauty pageants, raised $1,000 through ticket sales and a concession stand. That money had its payoff in Haiti.
The Holy Name group brought with them hockey bags full of items that are in short supply or not available in Haiti, including sheets, pillowcases, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other items.
And they got to work right away, Mr. Audette said. In addition to the orphanage, Mr. Gengel wants to build homes in the area for needy families. The Holy Name students, with help from local construction workers, built a house for a family in the week they were there.
The family owned a small plot of land on the side of a hill. The students cleared the land of brush and crushed rock that had been dumped there. Then they leveled the land by cutting out an area in the hillside and set to work. They sawed and hammered. The more complicated work was done by local craftsmen, but the students did their share.
The house was about 10 by 12 feet, very small by American standards but larger than the 6-by-8 metal-and-wood shacks with dirt floors that many Haitians live in.
The money that was raised at the Boys Pageant enabled the Holy Name group to afford to put in a concrete floor and to buy a bed and mattress. The couple and their small daughter who moved into the house had never slept on a mattress with sheets and pillows, Mr. Audette said.
They also bought two goats for the family. Sarah Bartlett and Elizabeth Adam, using rope leashes, had the task of leading the goats from the town “up the side of a mountain,” as they put it. The goats apparently had other ideas and it was quite an adventure getting them to the new house, they said.
Mrs. Kennedy said the students worked every morning, stopped for lunch, took part in activities with the youngsters at the orphanage, had dinner and spent more time with the youngsters, then finished each day with a period of reflection. They also took excursions on some days to see a bit of Haiti.
They learned a bit of Creole, the language of Haiti, from some of the workers and people at the orphanage. They learned some pretty basic stuff, like “how are you?” “what’s your name?” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.”
Some of the youngsters at the orphanage knew a few English words, but the Holy Name students said they didn’t need to talk in order to communicate. Gestures and smiles apparently did the trick. They played games, including soccer. It was competitive at times, so much so that Jeremiah Bohen-Broderick sprained his ankle badly enough that he wasn’t at school May 5 when the rest of the students talked to The Catholic Free Press.
What did they bring back from their visit?
Wayne Macharia said helping others there has given his life a wider meaning. Sarah Barrett said the trip has given her more confidence and a greater appreciation for her own life.
Elizabeth Adam said it has made her value face-to-face communication. She said she is impressed with how strong the people there are. Ashley Bauckman said the trip was “the best experience of my life” and has given her an appreciation of everything she has.
Tristan Laliberte said he believes the trip changed the Holy Name visitors more than they changed the Haitians. He admired the fact that though they have very little they were willing to help their neighbors. Olivia Brochu said that she “saw humanity.” She said she hopes to study international social justice in college and go back to Haiti.
Caileen Foley said the visit made her feel closer to her family and appreciate the sacrifices they have made for her.
Theresa Loell at first described her impressions as “indescribable.” But she then said she saw so much hope and love in Haiti and it was easy “to bring back the love I found there.” She said she has been thinking about becoming a nurse and, after her visit, she now is sure that is what she wants to be. And, she said, she wants to go back.
In fact, they all said they want to go back.
They left Haiti on April 27. Before they left they met Mr. Gengel, who visits the orphanage regularly, and stopped at the reconstructed Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince where Britney Gengel and her fellow students were staying when the earthquake struck. They also visited the small garden at the hotel which was planted in memory of Britney and her fellow students.