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Pieces of Eight

ECU’s Elaine Briley accepts a gift from a Myanmar orphan in gratitude for her visit. Briley’s group provided a Christmas party with gifts and clothing to several orphanages in the area. (Contributed photo)

Briley Discovers Rewards in Reaching Out to Others

In coordination with the Recognition and Rewards Committee of the ECU Staff Senate, the Pieces of Eight series honoring exceptional ECU staff recognizes Elaine Briley.

By Judy Currin

Elaine Briley acknowledges she’s probably not in the most popular office on campus. “Parking passes, central motor pool reservations and the inevitable ticketing issues, don’t always inspire smiles,” Briley, administrator with ECU’s Department of Parking and Transportation, said.

But when she’s on a mission trip to aid the orphaned children of Ecuador or Nicaragua, broad grins, warm hearts and small dirty hands welcome her.

Briley made her first mission trip to Ambato, Ecuador in 1991. Her husband, Frankie, a courier for business affairs at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine, was invited to travel with a group called Men of Action originating from Cleveland, Tenn. That same year the group, known for its international building efforts, invited women to participate.

“The non-profit group, renamed Men and Women of Action, asked me to become part of their team,” Briley said. Men and Women of Action are responsible for their own transportation, room and board. Briley said sites and materials are donated by outside businesses or private individuals. Once the projects are completed, the organization seeks local volunteers to keep the orphanages going.

“In 1991, Ambato had not been visited by a lot of outsiders coming to do building projects or giving support to those who lived so meagerly,” Briley said. The mission was to build an orphanage for the homeless Quichua Indian children. Of the 27 adults coming together from all over the U.S., Briley and six women spent seven days sifting sand for mortar, sanding and assembling pre-cut beds for the small orphanage which would house 21 street children. Briley said the children would come in on a volunteer basis for a hot meal, consisting of soup, bread and eggs, and a place to sleep.

“On my first day there,” Briley said, “I was touched by the sight of so many children who came to the work site to see what we were doing.”

The building team completes 85 percent of the construction, inviting and encouraging the native adults to work with them to learn the skills necessary to bring the project to completion.

Before leaving the work site each day, the mission group would offer candy to the children.

“Within minutes the crowd grew,” Briley said. “Children of all ages with dirty little hands, faces and bare feet wanted candy.”

MWOA teams were housed in a small hotel in the business district of Ambato. To insure their safety, windows and doors were barred each night. Running water, most often cold, was limited.

“One night a small mouse scampered across the floor of our bedroom,” Briley said. Frightened and repulsed, she screamed. Moments later, reflecting on the plight of the homeless children, Briley began to cry.

“Sleeping in boxes on the streets the orphans had no protection from creatures roaming about in the night,” Briley said. “I was ashamed of my reaction to the appearance of one small mouse.”

In December of 1999, five days after burying her mother, Briley, still grieving her loss, went on a mission trip to Managua, Nicaragua. The goal of the nine-member team was to bring Christmas gift packages and articles of clothing to the orphanages.

“Of the many people living in squatter camps along the river in Managua, one area in particular is referred to as the “ditch kids” camp,” Briley said. Without homes, food or parents, children take care of children. Late afternoon and at night Briley said they would come up from a ravine area, begging, hands reaching out taking anything offered.

“It’s a humbling experience,” Briley said.

Returning home from this trip, Briley realized more than ever not to take even the smallest things in life for granted.

“As an American I am truly blessed,” she said. “Giving to others is one of the greatest rewards in life.”

A mother of two, grandmother of three, with another grandchild on the way, Briley’s philosophy is simple.

“If you’re content with the way you live and don’t want to be changed physically, mentally and spiritually, becoming involved in mission work is not for you,” Briley said. “The first trip will change your life forever.”



This page originally appeared in the Nov. 3, 2006 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at