After New Orleans defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove(notes) limped off the field from the Super Bowl, his left foot suffering from a severe case of turf toe, he smiled broadly in the afterglow of victory and declared where he was headed soon.
"I'm going to Swaziland," he said.
For the geographically challenged, it's not a new ride at Disneyland. Swaziland is a country in the southeastern region of Africa. In fact, it's about as far from the Magic Kingdom as possible, figuratively as well as literally.
Swaziland is not only poor, it is a land of the diseased, a nation ravaged by HIV and AIDS. According to statistics compiled by the United Nations, it has the highest infection rate in the world. As of 2009, 26.1 percent of the nation's adults were infected by HIV. That includes 50 percent of adults in their 20s.
"I was told that only one in 10 kids makes it to age 30," said Phil Williams, Hargrove's agent. Williams arranged the trip for approximately a dozen friends and family, Hargrove and fellow NFL players Cornell Green(notes) and George Foster(notes). The group leaves Saturday and will be there for 10 days.
"They say that in 40 years the country won't even exist, that's how bad things are there … the first time I went, when I came back, I just stared at the walls for a few days. I was speechless. You can't get it by watching on TV," said Williams, whose group will work with a Christian missionary group organized by Adventures.org. The formal name is Adventures in Missions and can be reached at (800) 881-2461 for anyone interested in participating or donating.
"To go to Africa and possibly see some life-changing things, I'm really excited about this," said Foster, a former first-round pick by Denver whose wife Chanita has visited Swaziland. "I'm kind of a clean slate to receive everything. I'm sure there are going to be some things hard to fathom and take, but I'm a compassionate person and I want to help."
Hargrove, one of the great comeback stories in the NFL as he went from living in a drug rehab center in Miami to helping the Saints win the Super Bowl in less than a year, is also eager to visit Africa.
"I have no idea what to expect," said Hargrove, who will be limited to moving around in a walking boot because of his injury. "I'm just going there with an open mind and heart, doing whatever I can do."
That's Williams' attitude as well.
"We're going there to observe, mostly, try to figure out what we can do. You walk away from that and you say, 'What is God saying to us?' " Williams said.
The group will help build a fence around one of the many "Care Points" in the country where children come to get food when it's available.
The group hopes to organize a day of sports activities with children. The group will take a few days to go on safari and finish the trip in Johannesburg, South Africa. They will work with other missionaries trying to speed racial reconciliation between whites and blacks. Apartheid in South Africa ended in 1994, but scars still exist.
"Just think about it this way," Williams said. "In , the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery. That doesn't mean that 20 years later everybody was OK with each other. Apartheid ended less than 20 years ago there, but it's still very bad there between the races."
Williams' group will include both whites and blacks, and they hope to be an example of how people can get along.
"I'm sure it's going to have a profound impact on all of us who are going," Foster said. "I don't have a grasp, per se, of what to expect … for us, we can't relate to what's going on over there."