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Andrew Ference's African Diary, Day 7

Sunday, 07.22.2007 / 9:32 AM / Features
By Andrew Ference  - Special Correspondent | BostonBruins.com
Andrew Ference recently traveled to Africa with "Right to Play." The Bruins D-man kept a diary on his journey and you can read his thoughts about the trip in this seven installment series.

[ Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7Photo Gallery ]

Back in Dar we embarked on our final school visit as we traveled down back alleys and washed out roads on the city's outskirts before arriving at Tingale Primary.

Tingale was hosting two other primary schools from nearby in celebration of Africa's "Day of the Child" -- a celebration that they graciously put on hold for a few days in order to accommodate our visit.

Again, dance and soccer held center court and the action was intense.

To make the final school visit even more special was that Steve and I got to participate in the big soccer match.  We were all smiles as we lined up at center field to greet each other and hear the message of peace and sportsmanship from the referee.

But after that it was dead serious.

This was a big game for the kids, as the field was lined by 500 of their classmates chanting and screaming support.  The action was intense and when the final whistle blew it was still a deadlock.

Time for the penalty kicks!

The first shooter from Steve's team buried a goal top shelf to put them out to an early lead.  A serious roar of approval from the crowd followed his goal, along with a scattering of kids rushing to hug him.  The remaining shooters from each team brought the score to a 3-2 lead for my team, and put the pressure squarely on Steve and my own shoulders.

The winning team
I was glad he went first as I didn't know if we should shoot it hard or not... he blasted it right in the corner to the approval of his supporters.  Let me tell you, that was pressure standing there before the ball with my team crossing their fingers and Steve's team taunting me in Swahili.  I stepped up and kicked it perfectly past the goalie and started my victory run with my teammates.  This might be the single greatest celebration I have ever seen in sports, as I looked behind me at 400 screaming children all chasing me and my teammates down the full length of the pitch.

Once again I am grateful for our video crew to catch this moment on tape, as it was an amazing scene to show my friends and family.

The great thing about our time here in Tanzania is that every time we are with the kids our minds don't wander beyond the game we are playing or the dance we are dancing.  Their guard drops as soon as we start interacting and cultural barriers cease to exist.  That is the fun part, the part with no strings attached and it feels like things are just the way they should be. 

Come nighttime when I am laying in bed or out to dinner with the guys, the tough part usually kicks in.  The school we were at today was an orphanage.  Unfortunately, 65% of the kids I was hugging and running with today are either infected by HIV/AIDS or have lost their parents to it -- 7% of the country is infected. 

As I write this, my computer screen blurs from my tears.

It is easy to read these stats and not fully absorb the true meaning of the numbers.

65%.

I don't know which kids had it and which did not; it truly did not matter at the moment.  All I know is that too many of those smiles will fade at too young of an age.

Along with the debt of the African nations, HIV/AIDS is an anchor, which restricts the forward progress of any country not willing to face the crisis head-on. But more than that it is taking away a generation of beautiful, smart and wonderful people who will never get to realize their potential.

The human cost is staggering and nightmarish.

The only "positive" side of the HIV/AIDS problem is the way they are banding together and going after it in a superhuman effort to save a generation. "They" are the kids at schools singing about it and doing plays to teach the truth of the disease. "They" are journalists like Leila exposing the true scope of the disease in print and on television, forcing people to confront it.  And, of course, "They" includes programs like "Right to Play" which uses new techniques to get kids talking about disease and learning how to protect themselves.

So as our trip closes, it is with many emotions that I type.

I know we can make lives better here.  I have seen it in the newly built playgrounds and soccer fields.  I know that "Right to Play" works in many ways, and its impact on communities is tremendous.  Those same communities have had a great impact on us as well -- educating us and engaging us to open up our eyes to a new culture and important social issues. 

I will be a different person because of them, and I am sure I can say the same for everyone else in our group. 

Looking back at that expensive store that I talked about at the beginning of the trip kind of makes me laugh a little.  I know there is nothing in the world you could purchase that could be as valuable as our children…just to see them laugh and play.

Their spirit and potential really are our greatest natural resource and we must protect, nurture and invest in them.

If you have read my story, I thank you for your time. 

If you feel compelled to help "Right to Play," I thank you for your support.

Sincerely,
Andrew Ference

[ Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7Photo Gallery ]

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