The Huddle For Haiti team (pictured above) of CFL players, people from WestJet and Oxfam and media types touched down in the country Saturday and started their work. Around the one-year anniversary of last year's devastating Jan. 12 earthquake, the people involved are travelling around the area to examine the local conditions, help with reconstruction projects and run sporting activities for local children. They've also already run into some pretty staggering stuff, as TSN's Dave Naylor describes:
Naylor goes on to describe the shocking amount of visible damage that remains (some of which is pictured at right), and he calls the odour "the most foul smell I've ever experienced". It's not just his perception, either, as Rob Vanstone, covering the trip for The Regina Leader-Post and Postmedia News, wrote "I have never seen, or smelled, such a mess."
For nearly two hours our van rumbled through the broken streets of Port-au-Prince, surrounded by 360 degrees of desperation.
Tent cities on both sides of the road, thousands packed into dense space without the benefit of plumbing or electricity.
Raw sewage flowed onto the streets, piles of garbage stacked on top of curbs, all adjacent to where vendors were selling their wares.
"It was the worst thing I've ever seen in my life," said Winnipeg Blue Bomber Chris Cvetkovic, one of seven CFL players on this trip to mark the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. "It was a two-hour car ride that didn't feel like two hours. I was just in awe. It made you feel guilty for everything you have."
It's pretty amazing to think of such horrible conditions only a short trip away and still remaining in place so long after the initial disaster, but that perhaps illustrates the importance of this trip. The earthquake last year drew tons of media coverage from around the world, but much of that understandably went away as time passed. Some organizations, like The Globe and Mail, have kept reporters on the ground to cover the rebuilding efforts, but the Haitian disaster has largely passed out of sight and mind for many thanks to more recent tragedies around the world.This project's a great way for the CFL players involved to not only accomplish things on the ground (like the reconstruction project the Eskimos' Graeme Bell is pictured observing at right in one of Naylor's photos), but use their own profiles to raise awareness of what conditions remain like in Haiti. In a way, it reminds me of the impact Tony Proudfoot made by taking his fight against ALS public. By doing so, he used his profile as a CFL legend to raise over $500,000 for research into the disease and alert many people to its dangers. Similarly, plenty of people have gone to Haiti to help with the reconstruction efforts, but few of them have the profile of CFL players; that's why it's great to see the players' association on board with this and so many of their members taking part. What they accomplish on the ground will certainly be valuable, but the most important part might be what their trip does to raise awareness of the struggles the country still faces.
It also says something about this league's players that they're choosing to do this during their offseason break instead of lounging by the pool, and it's perhaps notable that all the guys involved are blockers to some extent. The group of seven CFL players involved includes fullbacks Rolly Lumbala (B.C.) and Yvenson Bernard (Winnipeg), long-snapper Cvetkovic (Winnipeg) and offensive linemen Jason Jimenez (Hamilton), Kelly Bates, Aaron Fiacconi and Bell (all from Edmonton). They're used to doing the dirty work in the trenches on the gridiron to help others out, and that's exactly what they're doing this offseason as well.