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Renewed push to build a stronger Haiti 10 years after catastrophic earthquake

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Posted at 10:49 PM, Jan 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-10 22:51:54-05

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Sunday will mark ten years since a devastating earthquake hit Haiti claiming roughly 300,000 lives including four students and two professors from Lynn University in Boca Raton.

A shimmering memorial of light, water and stone has become an iconic centerpiece at the heart of the campus.

The Lynn University Remembrance Plaza honors the victims and their commitment towards making a difference.

The plaza is also a place for Len Gengel to reflect on his daughter’s life and legacy.

“She was a voice for those who did not have one,” said Len Gengel.

Gengel’s daughter, Britney, was killed in the catastrophic 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010.

“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to lose a child. It was unfathomable,” Gengel said.

Since then, the Gengel family has been steadfast in making sure Britney’s dream of opening an orphanage became a reality.

“It took us 33 days to recover Brit’s body in the rubble at The Hotel Montana and during those 33 days, we bared our soul to the world. People from all over the world, as far as the Netherlands, sent notes asking us to make her wish come true.”

They established the Be Like Brit Foundation, Inc. and constructed a 19,000 square foot, earthquake-proof, non-adoptive orphanage in Grand Goave, Haiti.

“Over $150,000 were donated to us to help build the orphanage. We felt we had an obligation to build Brit’s home,” Gengel added.

It took two years and nearly 40 trips from their hometown in Massachusetts to construct the ‘B’ shaped complex.

The journey came with an element of surprise.

Len Gengel never realized that following his daughter’s dream would lead him towards an extended family.

The fatherly pride shines through when sharing stories about the 66 students. He calls them his children.

“I’m Papi Len to 33 boys and 33 girls and they’re why we do what we do every day and it’s a blessing. It gives us purpose and that sense of purpose is improving the lives of young kids,” added Gengel.

“Our kids are going to compete on a global level because of technology. They’re going to compete with India, they’re going to compete with the Philippines.”

Rebuilding has been a slow and challenging process for the island nation, however, there’s a renewed push towards sustainability.

That is the premise behind the Solcite 2020 conference in West Palm Beach this weekend.

Several elected leaders from Haiti are collaborating with various utility groups and South Florida officials to build a viable infrastructure for Haiti by 2030.

On Friday, a group of Haitian mayors toured the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County to explore best practices.

“We want to understand each other. What we’re going through and somehow support each other. We want to make sure we prevent such a high rate of death in our cities,” said Kettyna Bellabe,
Deputy Mayor of Port-au-Prince.

“This is something that Haiti is in dear need of. The value of trash is not seen in Haiti. We have too much trash. Coming here and going through this tour let us know we’re not there yet, but we have to work towards it and we need to get it done,” Kettyna Bellabe said.

Gengel is also passionate about strengthening Haiti’s future with his commitment to raising the next generation of leaders.

“We’re actually watching it evolve right now,” Gengel said.

His ten-year journey following the devastating earthquake comes with a strong appreciation for the beauty of humanity.

So many people cared, so many people wanted to help and still do to this day. On this 10-year anniversary, I’m fulfilled knowing that people are good,”

Both Solcite 2020 and Lynn University will commemorate the 10-year- anniversary of the earthquake on Sunday, January 12.