PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Christian Examiner) – Many of the Haitian children had never seen an American football before four San Francisco 49ers visited their school. In the grass field where the NFL players later dug a basketball court, the kids and the professional athletes played catch and keep-away.
Tight ends Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, and Derek Carrier—as well as defensive lineman Tank Carradine and the team pastor Earl Smith—traveled to Haiti as part of a 3-day field team to serve the children of one of the world's poorest countries.
"We went there thinking we were going to be the ones helping them," said McDonald, the player who first expressed a desire for an international service opportunity. "But they helped us way more than they'll ever understand."
At McDonald, Celek, and Carrier's request, Smith arranged the trip through Convoy of Hope, an organization whose field work in Haiti has intensified since the 7.0 earthquake devastated the capital city in 2010.
Matt Wilkie, field teams director for Convoy of Hope, said the players did not travel to Haiti to sightsee or to spectate, but to work hard. "They came wanting to have their eyes opened to another culture in the developing world," Wilkie told PE News.
"But more than that, they wanted to do something about it and work to leave a lasting impact from their time there," he said.
$120 FEEDS A CHILD FOR A YEAR
In addition to building a basketball court, the four players saw the effects of hunger firsthand. They served a hot meal to schoolchildren, some of whom hid their portions and circled back through the line three or four times.
When your next meal will be lunch tomorrow at school, you ration the food you receive.
"What you see with the kids, it's hurtful," Carradine said. "Seeing them live like that, it hit me hard."
The defensive lineman was moved by the spontaneous affection that the children showed, not because of his fame but because of his service.
"Sometimes you need to see something to know it's true," Carradine said. "And what I've seen is incredible. But once you've seen it, what are you going to do about it?"
The 49ers also spent a morning at work at Mission of Hope Haiti, a warehouse where imported and locally grown meals are packaged for distribution to the hungry. They portioned rice and beans into the sealed packages that might be a child's only meal that day.
Mission of Hope, a nonprofit partner of Convoy of Hope, contains the 35,000-square foot warehouse. According to the Convoy of Hope blog, 70,000 meals depart in trucks to feed children in Haitian schools every day.
Convoy of Hope president Hal Donaldson said, "Thanks to the many individuals and partners who have supported our efforts over the last five years, we've saved lives and brought hope to tens of thousands of hurting people."
Wilkie told the professional athletes that it takes only $120 to feed one child for an entire year.
Carradine challenged himself and his teammates to provide aid for the hungry orphans and schoolchildren they met.
"Are you going to talk to your friends? Are you actually going to do something about it?" Carradine asked. "How are you going to make an impact? Ask yourself what you can do to help."
The 49ers players and families committed to raise $120,000 to feed 1,000 children for a year. They plan to return to Haiti next year, bringing more teammates with them.
DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT
At an orphanage, the 49ers wanted to tell the children why they have come to spend the afternoon with them playing with balls, dominoes, and kites.
Through a translator, the pastor addressed the children. "Our hearts are blessed to be with you," he said. "We hope you've enjoyed us as we've enjoyed you. We care about you, and we will tell everyone about you."
The field work and time spent with the children motivated McDonald, Celek, Carrier, and Carradine to speak out about the continued need for relief in Haiti, in part by chronicling their trip on a 49ers website.
"These guys are awesome guys," Wilkie said. "They could care less about cameras or media—they just wanted to help people."
The ones who served have plans to return. "We're going to have a Convoy of Hope team," the team pastor said. "I think four people, plus four people, plus four people, can have a big impact. The big thing isn't what you've done, it's what you're going to do."