Fun Facts About My Friends: Jenna Riedl

Jenna Riedl’s first trip to Haiti was the winter of 2018, her junior year of high school. There was a last-minute open seat on the bus, and when asked if she wanted to go, she “made an impulse decision and said yes.” Before telling me any details about the trip, she described it as both “a good choice” and “a really fun time.” However, the trip was way more meaningful than either of those brief descriptions make it out to be.

The program, called “Be Like Brit” was named after a girl named Britney Gengel from Massachusetts. While in college, Britney traveled to Haiti with a group called Food for the Poor. While there, she texted her parents, saying, “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, I want to build an orphanage down here, I want to help these kids.” A few hours later, she was killed in the 2009 earthquake that devastated Haiti, but “to honor her, her parents went down and built an orphanage” and founded Be Like Brit.

Photo Credit: Jenna Riedl

Be Like Brit “brings groups of people down” called “Britsionaries” who “stay for a week at the orphanage and get to know the kids [...] and build a house for a family out in the community.” The community where the orphanage is located is called Grand Goâve, and it’s about two hours away from the capital of Haiti on a good day, or “five hours if there’s a herd of goats or something.” 

Going into the trip, Jenna “had no idea what to expect.” She described the trip as “fun and rewarding,” and explained that it made her realize, “wow, I have a lot in the United States, I’m very lucky, maybe I should appreciate that a little more and not stress a lot about the little things.”

Photo Credit: Jenna Riedl 

In total, Jenna has been to Haiti three times and is already looking to return. She described her first trip as “kind of overwhelming at first,” but also mentioned how nice it was to be going to somewhere warm in the middle of a Massachusetts winter. It was overwhelming to see such a poor country firsthand; “that’s what you usually see on all the news articles about Haiti, it’s like riots and trash and hurricanes and earthquakes, but it is still a very beautiful country.”

One of her favorite parts about being in Haiti was the people. She explained, “everyone’s so friendly, and everyone says hi to each other,” even the people they don’t know. She described it as a “community,” explaining how different it was from America. She added, “admittedly, they know who we are and that we do good things in the community, but it’s still nice.”

Photo Credit: Jenna Riedl

Jenna’s second trip was May of 2019, in her senior year of high school, and even though it was the week before AP exams, she says she has “no regrets whatsoever.” Her third trip was three months after the second. When asked why she decided to go back, she said, “a lot of it was just because I liked the person that I was when I was down there; it was nice to be there and be around people that didn’t know me. For that reason, that meant that I could kind of choose who I wanted to be, and in that environment, you can’t help but be a good person.” She’s trying to schedule a return trip as soon as possible, though no one has been able to return in the past few months because of riots.

Photo Credit: Jenna Riedl ​

On each trip, they build a house for a family in the community. Each trip is unique because they build in a different area; for example, her second was near a beach and the third was in the mountains. Each time, they work with a new family and a new “amazing team of Haitian workers.”

The kids range from age seven to about 19. Most of them go to school at the orphanage as of now, because many Haitian schools are currently shut down due to riots and strikes. She described them as “a fun bunch.” She described playing soccer with the kids, who won every time, despite there being a significant number of adults on the volunteers’ team.

Photo Credit: Jenna Riedl

She ended her explanation of the trip with one of her favorite stories. For every house they build, they also buy a goat for the family. On her second trip there, “Frankie [...] was tasked with buying a goat.” When he brought the goat back, they noticed that “its knees looked very odd, and it [couldn’t] walk, and when it tried to walk its knees bent awkwardly inward. So we were like, ‘is that normal?’ and we asked someone, and they said it was fine.” 

This goat could not move or walk at all; he tried to move by jumping but failed. Right before they were supposed to bring the goat to the family, they were told that this goat was absolutely not normal, “so in 45 minutes Frankie had to go find a new goat.” She also stated that Frankie is never going to live this down, because when she went back three months later, the story was brought up again.

Overall, Jenna described her trips to Haiti as rewarding, fulfilling, and eye-opening. She is excited about returning in the future and can’t wait to be able to plan her next adventure.

 

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