Pitt athletes benefit from trip to Haiti

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When 22 Pitt athletes volunteered to help teach and work with orphaned children in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, many of them thought it would be their job to make an impact on the kids they were about to meet.

At the end of their week there, the college kids realized the relationships they built with the children and each other touched them far more than they could have imagined.

David Durham, a defensive lineman and one of eight football players who made the trip, was not sure how much of a difference he could make on his first visit to Haiti -- so much so that he almost decided to not join the group, which is organized by Mark Steffey and Kelly Cooke of the Coalition for Christian Outreach athlete ministry at Pitt.

But befriending a 10-year-old girl named Ruthzar made the trip memorable for Durham.

"I was really kind of skeptical; I was talking to Mark before going down about how much of an impact I could make in just one week," Durham said.

"[Ruthzar] didn't say much, but I could tell that she had a good heart. And by the end of the week, she had written me a nice note. I saw God's unconditional love through her. I went down there to impact other people and she ended up impacting me."

For the third year in a row, the Pitt group, which included current and former athletes from a variety of sports, volunteered at the EBAC Orphanage and Christian Academy, run by Baptist missionaries Kathy Gouker and Alice Wise since 1978. They also worked at the IDADEE Orphanage, a program started in 2010 by former EBAC orphans, and the New Visions Children's Home, founded by former EBAC orphan Jean Claude and Monica Compere.

The group would pile in the back of a flatbed truck after being woken up by roosters in the morning and head out to the orphanages, where they would play, teach, tutor, feed and talk with the kids.

While the memories of the trip were mostly positive for the athletes, there was no hiding the images of depravity and desperation they witnessed. Defensive lineman Khaynin Mosley-Smith recalled the culture shock he felt seeing Haitian poverty in person for the first time.

"A lot of things surprised me," Mosley-Smith said. "You see third-world countries on TV, but to actually be there and to see kids taking baths in puddles of water and washing clothes and the miles you have to walk to get to a well for water, it's a culture shock."

For receiver Dontez Ford, the hardest experience of the trip was saying goodbye to a boy named Kembly with whom he bonded. Ford still connects with Kembly through Facebook and plans to make the trip again next year.

"He saw a picture of my brother, I have a brother that passed when I was a little kid, and he asked me why the picture was in black and white and I explained to him what happened," Ford said. "He told me he lost his brother, too, and he said we can be brothers. That was so amazing to me."

The biggest sentiment echoed by all the athletes after returning from the program was the newfound appreciation for their relationships with family and friends. For linebacker Bam Bradley, this experience has motivated him to live his life a little bit differently.

"A piece of Haiti is still with me all the time," Bradley said.

"Since I've been back, I've gone home to Ohio every weekend, just because I want to be with my mom and my family so much. Because being over there and seeing that they are not able to be with their families as much as I can, makes me feel totally different than when I left."

Alex Nieves: anieves@post-gazette.com and Twitter @alexdnieves5.

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