A week ago, I stood at 20th and Tasker, proud to be part of a team that turned a once-dilapidated playground into a safe place for Point Breeze kids to live, learn and grown. That team included city officials, community leaders and members of my own Make The World Better Foundation. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in athletics, it’s that nothing positive happens without great teamwork.
Earlier in my off-season, that lesson really hit home. Each year, I go to Haiti. This year, packing for the annual trip was easier. Sunscreen, check. Flashlight, check. Bug spray, double check. Although I would be spending the next week in the Caribbean, I could leave the linen pants and sandals home. This week was not about rest and relaxation.
The sound of a rooster crowing at the break of dawn, the tropical sun beating down on your back, the smiles of children running through the street; the stimulation on this tiny Caribbean island is endless. It almost makes you forget you are in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The sensory overload can be a lot to handle; but it pales in comparison to the emotional effects. Each waking hour you are pushed from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other. Absolute joy one moment, crushing sadness the next. Immense sympathy for the struggle of those still recovering from the quake of 2010, to anger and frustration at the lack of progress and organization. From feeling inadequate with what you’ve done with your life, to the satisfaction of knowing you put in a good day’s work here. Every hour, it was a conversation with yourself; how you feel versus how you think you should feel.
After taking some time to reflect, the one thing that stands out, is the feeling of inspiration I had as I left Haiti. Inspired to try and help Haiti, inspired to do more in my personal life, inspired to be a better football player, inspired to be a better person.
I have always tried to do my part personally when it comes to sustainability, whether it’s something small like riding my bike to work, or something bigger, like starting the MTWB foundation.
Led by Christine Avots and an all-volunteer team from NRG Energy, I was part of the solar panel installation team at the Medishare maternity clinic in the central plateau and an orphanage in Kenscoff. Solar energy is critical in Haiti. Only 10 percent of the country is connected to the grid. Those connected get three to four hours of electricity a day. This is unimaginable to many of us, yet it’s a reality in Haiti. NRG is working to change that; and now when the sun goes down, a woman will be able to go to the Medishare maternity clinic and deliver her baby in a clean, safe environment with trained medical professionals. In Kenscoff, where 400 kids live and 800 are educated every day, not only will these solar panels keep the facility running at night, but they will reduce the school’s dependence on dirty, diesel-run generators. The money saved can go toward other necessities. NRG has started hiring and training locals to install the solar panels. This created a couple bumps in the road because of the language barrier, but bringing real progress will require empowering Haitians. There needs to be a sustainable model in place that will last long after all the private organizations and missionaries are gone.
It’s an incredible honor to be a part of this project; to have met such an amazing group of passionate and inspiring people. I have always tried to do my part personally when it comes to sustainability, whether it’s something small like riding my bike to work, or something bigger, like starting the MTWB foundation. Experiencing the kind of impact that is possible working with an organization like NRG Energy really shows we can make people’s lives better. We can fix problems that we think are not fixable. I can’t thank everyone at NRG enough for bringing me back to this beautiful island called Haiti. As I get back into football mode the memories and experiences I had will continue to inspire me every day. As I step onto Lincoln Financial Field, it only seems fitting to play in a stadium where NRG has installed more than 11,000 solar panels.
An earlier version of this article appeared on philadelphiaeagles.com.
Header photo: Laura Storck.