St. Paul native Tony Sanneh, a former U.S. National soccer team member who has played in various professional leagues, left Tuesday for Haiti. We explained his mission in this advance story, but to sum it up: he's running soccer camps and clinics for kids who otherwise have nothing to do in the earthquake-ravaged areas, and he's also helping with a humanitarian effort. We asked Sanneh to provide updates from his trip. This is the first installment, and we have to say it's definitely worth your while. Here are pictures and words from his first two days in Haiti.
Arriving at Haiti's Port-au-Prince airport and getting off the plane was very hectic and no one, I mean no one, is smiling – not the baggage handlers, security, military, airport information people. They all have pain in their eyes and seem to be fighting to just go on. The control tower fell so a makeshift baggage claim terminal was used and hundreds of people are lining the exits looking for work by carrying bags. As we leave the airport, we see that people are all over the streets along with army tents, helicopters, military tanks and trucks. There are no street lights, lots of pot holes and street vendors everywhere because their businesses were destroyed.
We head to the offices of L'Athlétique d'Haiti, the group we are working with, and then go over to the soccer fields. Some of the handful of fields are lined with refuge tents and are co-habited by civilians. The walls of this compound have fallen so they have put up aluminum fences that stand 15 feet high to keep people off the fields and create a safe haven for the kids.
I see and the coaches tell me that soccer is the only thing holding these kids up, and the program they have created is the only structure for them. In normal times it forces the kids to go to school, but now there are no schools, everything is closed. They said the fields are the new classroom, and they want to keep the kids outside so as to save them from the psychological trauma of being inside and remembering the devastation. The scene is extremely sad to say the least, but as the day progresses I am gaining a sense of hope because everywhere we look the kids are playing like they do not see the mess around them and ignoring the fact that many of them are playing barefoot. The power of sport is amazing.
Today I woke up tired, but ready to work. We got to the fields around 8:30 am and they were already full of kids ranging from 6 to 17 years old. The coaches were happy to see me and got me involved right away. The drills were great but it was extremely hot and I actually got sunburned. The coaches kept asking how I was doing and I would say “great” but we both would laugh knowing I was struggling with the heat. We ended with a game, which the kids live for to show what they can do. Despite the devastation, I couldn’t help but maintain hope watching their love for the game and their love for playing with and against me. I taught a six-year old boy how to dribble with a “B” ball and his smile carried me through the day.
The question of the day was, “Can I have your shoes after practice?” I told them I would have shoes for them tomorrow from the “Kick-It-Back” program that my foundation started through MLS, which urges players to donate gear. The next 2 hours were grueling as we went back to the offices to get our donations of soap, tuna, rice, etc. I might have worked harder in this room than at practice, moving around heavy boxes and distributing them to the people. They were in awe at how much equipment and supplies we brought, along with 3000 sticks of deodorant.
After today, I have decided that in order to help and bring real structure to youth soccer in Haiti, The Sanneh Foundation is going to have an ongoing presence by providing gear and supplies. I also want to implement our “For all Youth Training Program,” which helps connect diverse communities through soccer. I need to get these kids to our camps in Minnesota, and get a team to come train down here. But, what I need right now is some sleep …