It was poignant to land in Port Au Prince on January 12, the anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that shook the place to the ground, causing so much death and destruction. Walking onto the field at Park Izmery and seeing all that has changed over 7 years makes my HotFutbol heart jump out of my chest with warmth and pride. The tents are long gone, and there’s no more wailing in the middle of the night. Smiles greet us, and the sense of desperation is absent. Children run and play soccer while our work crew constructs the new basketball court. That’s why we’re here.
Ricardo, HotFutbol’s Country Director, managed to collect all of us at the airport in Port Au Prince, where he has expertly coordinated all activities for the next several days. Twelve Americans who have just met will stay at our house and walk to the park every day for five days to work with the Haitian crew to mix and pour concrete for the court. They’re from Building Bridges Worldwide, and they have raised over $20,000 and are backing that up with their own labor – what a gift! And what sweet irony that on the anniversary of all that concrete falling to the ground 7 years ago, we are now tamping down the rubble of the "tremblement de terre " and encasing it in new concrete.
The folks who’ve come to help are led by three Holy Cross alums who graduated 25 years after I did. All 3 were part of the JVC (Jesuit Volunteer Corps) and spent some time after college volunteering in the developing world. They started a nonprofit called Building Bridges Worldwide and go somewhere each year to complete a single project. This year it’s HotFutbol in Haiti, and we are thrilled. Steve Ribaudo, the trip leader, has come with his dad, Tom Ribaudo who also graduated with David and I back in 1974. I haven’t seen him in 40 years, and it’s been great to reconnect. We are 10 men and 2 women, all cramped in the second floor of the house with Claudette, our cook and marvelous caretaker, watching over us. Great food, conversation, physical challenge, cultural exposure, and a tremendous sense of accomplishment. What a trip!
Each day the players exercise before starting soccer practice. The children jog, stretch, jump and sprint. Now thanks to discarded unused IV TUBING, there are jump ropes for all!!!
The HOTFUTBOL 13×13 CHALLENGE GRID is painted on the wall at the soccer field at Park Izmery. The kids in the program, as well as the adults know just how important this fundraiser is. Without the funding their Park will no longer be available, and their soccer program and everything that goes with it will disappear. So every morning, first thing, they come to Park Izmery to see which numbers have been covered since the day before. Word spreads, numbers big and small are covered. The anticipation and excitement are real because the Park, the program, and most of all the kids are the center point of life in the community. The kids know that there are 169 numbers and 169 kids in the program and they come every morning to make sure that each of them counts.
There’s a certain magic in the late afternoon in Haiti, and what better place for it to present itself than at Park Izmery. Some of the older guys who played in the HotFutbol After School Program for the past three years formed a 15-16 year old team and entered the Park Izmery Championship Tournament this year. As the players walked out onto the field, the Haitian National Anthem played, the red and blue flag of Haiti waved in the late day breeze, and a perfectly timed rainbow arched over the Park. The beauty and power of the natural world has deep meaning for Haitians, and this moment captures so much of what is special about the Haiti, Park Izmery, the kids, and the game.
Help keep the magic of Park Izmery alive and vibrant by donating today.
Gabe is a rising eighth grader at Berkshire Country Day School, and he just had his Bar Mitzvah a couple weeks ago. Quite a while before that Gabe came to me and told me he wanted to help HotFutbol as his Mitzvah Project. Well, help he did, and I could not be more proud of his hard work. I’ll let Gabe pick it up from here:
“I want to thank everyone who contributed funds and equipment to HotFutbol Haiti for my Mitzvah Project. A Mitzvah project involves doing a “good deed” and I was so happy to be able to do something to help this amazing program, and to work with John Evans. We raised over $1000 and got a lot of equipment including awesome new cleats, shin guards, jerseys, balls, warm ups and soccer socks, plus much more!! It was so cool what was accomplished by reaching out to friends, family and businesses in our community, and I appreciate the incredible generosity! This was an important project for me because I learned that I can set and accomplish goals, and that it takes many people to get it done! I hope to continue my work with HotFutbol and eventually travel to Haiti to volunteer.”
Gabe, I can’t wait till you have the opportunity to to come to Haiti and work with HotFutbol. You bring something special to everything you do.
I’ve heard it a lot, “It’s not the shirt on the player, but the heart of the player inside the shirt that tells the tale.”
There are lots of kids that “hang out” at Park Izmery, but there’s something special about the kids who play soccer in the HotFutbol After School Program. There’s a joy, a pride, and a level of energy and involvement that is special. There’s a chemistry in the group, and a certain magic in the game of soccer that simply seems to bring out the best in kids. It makes all the work worthwhile….
I’ve had a lot of fine trips to Haiti, but there was something very special about this one, and that’s the guys who came down with me. Rowan, Juri, Sam, Isaac, and Will have been teammates at Monument Mt. HS, and it shows. They’re disciplined, hardworking, tough, and loyal to each other in the ways that only true teammates can be. They make tough tasks seem easier through cooperating. They share, and it shows when one saves the last sip of his water for a teammate. They know each other well enough to push each other when a push is needed, and to catch each other when they fall. All Spartans can be proud of these five. I would stand with them anywhere, any time!