Pitt athletes’ mission: Haiti
By Jerry DiPaola
Published: Saturday, May 19, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
Updated: Saturday, May 19, 2012
Trash lay stagnant on the streets while barefoot Haitian children — many without a place to stay at night — searched through bags of garbage for food. Some even licked out the remains of old jars of spaghetti sauce.
“It was really like a scene from a movie,” Pitt wrestler Tyler Wilps said. “It's that poor. But it's not a scene from a movie because you are there.”
Wilps, a Chartiers Valley High School graduate, was one of 16 Pitt athletes who spent six days at an orphanage in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, from April 28-May 3, bonding with and helping impoverished natives.
The trip was organized and co-sponsored by Pitt's Coalition for Christian Outreach and the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation. Mark Steffey, who ministers to Pitt athletes, accompanied the group, along with Vince Burens, chief operating officer of CCO.
Steffey's message: “Let's go somewhere and do something significant.”
He had to turn away nearly as many people as he accepted.
The group spent nearly every waking minute with 90 children from the EBAC orphanage run by missionaries Alice Wise and Kathy Gouker, formerly of Dunbar, Fayette County. Enduring daily power outages of between five to seven hours and fighting through the Creole language barrier, the students played video games, basketball and soccer with the children.
More importantly, they laid concrete for a dormitory, painted a cafeteria and chopped down a tree using machetes to make charcoal for cooking.
They also made a lot of friends and left with a feeling of fulfillment.
“The impact we can have on their lives is kind of miniscule,” said football player Andrew Taglianetti, a Central Catholic graduate. “The impact on us will last a lifetime.”
Seeing the hungry children made a difference in Taglianetti's life: He said he has stopped eating in restaurants.
“Just because I don't want to spend that money,” he said. “That is money that can be spent better elsewhere.”
Football player Mark Giubilato said he didn't want to leave when it was time to go home. But on the day they left — in an unpressurized World War II cargo plane — their suitcases were empty. Everyone gave their clothes and shoes to the natives.
Football player Hubie Graham said he gave his Nikes to a 14-year-old boy, who gave them to his father.
“His father never had shoes,” Graham said.
The students paid for the trip on their own, with many collecting donations from friends and churches. Football team physician Freddie Fu and local radio personality Mark Madden also helped, Taglianetti said.
Throughout the week, the group was surprised at the natives' selflessness.
Soccer player Danielle Benner went outside the orphanage one day with two plates of oatmeal, thinking the street children would fight over it.
“They each had a spoon and they would take a bite and pass it, take a bite and pass it,” she said. “Not once did they fight. Not once did they argue. It was the most incredible thing I have ever seen.
“These kids who have nothing are so willing to share with each other.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com 412-320-7997.
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