samedi 18 août 2012

The Haiti trip

FRIDAY, 17 AUGUST 2012 23:37 WRITTEN BY SHELLY ANDERSON We spent some time this evening talking to members of a group that just got back from a mission trip to Haiti. From hearing about how Penguins winger Matt Cooke's 19-year-old daughter, Gabby, cried from emotion the final night as everyone sat around and talked about their trip, to tales of sadness, endurance and great spirit, it was enlightening. If their experience doesn't get to you on some kind of emotional level, you're not paying attention. We did a similar story two years ago that you might remember when then-Penguins Max Talbot and Mike Rupp went to that country. You can go back and read that here. As for this week's trip, here is a preview of the story that will appear in the Saturday Post-Gazette: Getting to Cap-Haitien, Haiti, was the easy part. Esmark donated a private jet for a group with Penguins and Pittsburgh ties. Then reality hit.
"Nothing prepares you for what you witness," Penguins center Joe Vitale said Friday, a day after their three-day mission. "Traveling from the airport, we were in the back of a truck. We were very quiet. The filth, kids running around, sewage, the trash in the ocean..." "You've seen pictures, but when you're smelling it, seeing it, that's when it's real," said Michelle Cooke, wife of Penguins winger Matt Cooke. Then another abrupt shift when the group arrived at EBAC, an orphanage run for decades by Western Pennsylvania natives Alice Wise and Kathy Gouker. "All that matters to those little kids is that they hold your hand and get affection that they don't really get from adults," Matt Cooke said. The visiting group also included former Penguins center Jordan Staal and his wife, Heather; trip organizer Brad Henderson, Penguins and Pirates chaplain and president of Pittsburgh Kids Foundation; Ian Rosenberger, CEO of Pittsburgh-based Thread Corp.; and Gabby Cooke, 19. With the heat and humidity of a Caribbean island and sporadic power and running water, it wasn't exactly a trip that would seem to appeal to all women. "It's not about perfect makeup and perfect hair," Matt Cooke said. "We went because we want to help, be hands-on," Michelle Cooke said. Besides, Vitale said, it would be difficult to complain about anything after visiting those children and playing sports with them, thanks to donated soccer equipment from Wilson, and donated street hockey gear and T-shirts – many of them Jordan Staal No. 11s, which became available after he was traded to Carolina in June – from the Penguins and Reebok. "I'd call what we played dirt hockey because it was on fields with rocks the size of your fist and shards of glass, and they're running around barefoot, laughing," said Vitale, whose wife, Brianna, stayed home because she is expecting their second child, a son. "Kids were getting bonked in the head, rocks flying everywhere. Their overall toughness was incredible." And, at times, heartbreaking. Vitale asked one boy about his family. The boy said he once had a sister. "What happened?" Vitale asked. "She died," the boy said. "How?" "I don't know."
Vitale was shaken. "Death down there is an everyday occurrence," he said. "Pain, they tolerate it so well -- which was really kind of hard for me to hear." Vitale has plans to start a charitable foundation to help the Haitians. Cooke's family has a foundation and wants to do the same. The visitors also spent time at a newer, smaller orphanage that got finished in part because of money raised through charitable work done by former Penguins winger Max Talbot, who along with former Penguins winger Mike Rupp made a trip with Henderson two years ago. Staal was supposed to make the trip in 2010 but a foot infection nixed that. Henderson said Staal quietly has raised money to help feed the Haitian orphans for four years. "For all these guys, I think they see it as a life-changing trip," Henderson said. "Unless you've really experienced that kind of poverty and seen it first hand, you really can't comprehend it. It leaves a lasting impression." The visitors hope to help raise funds to add another floor to the newer orphanage, which is home to babies and very young children, two of whom had a story that touched Matt Cooke. "They were brought in because they were so far gone that they thought they were going to pass, and they thought it would be better if it happened in someone's arms," he said. "But they made it." The group also got to help out at Cap-Haitien's first recycling center, which opened a week ago and is expected to help in many ways. The center was created by Pittsburgh Kids Foundation, Thread and Executives Without Borders. The city, roughly the size of Pittsburgh, has no refuse collection or management, so this gets recyclables off the street. The plant provides some much-needed jobs. And anyone can collect and redeem items – it takes about 25 bottles to fetch one Haitian dollar. Until a processing plant can be added, Rosenberger and Thread will ship the recycled material to Pittsburgh, use it to make fabric and eventually return goods made of that fabric to Haiti. "It's going to be a huge success," Matt Cooke said. http://plus.sites.post-gazette.com/index.php/pro-sports/penguins-plus/117672-the-haiti-trip

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