George Laraque and Dan Hamhuis were a big hit with the kids in Haiti. (NHLPA)
The NHL Players’ Association continued its history of good deeds done without much fanfare when it sent a delegation to Haiti in June to help with the earthquake relief efforts in the country.
Recently minted Vancouver Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis was one of the player representatives. I had a chance to talk to the soft-spoken 27-year-old about his experiences in the devastated nation.
“The country in general, it doesn’t look like they’ve done a whole lot since January, and that’s not because the people are lazy, it’s because of a lack of equipment to move stuff around,” said Hamhuis of the war zone-like capital, Port-au-Prince.
Hamhuis, Haitian-Canadian tough guy Georges Laraque and NHLPA executives Devin Smith and Jonathan Weatherdon made the trip to raise awareness about the union’s joint venture with World Vision Canada called Hockey for Haiti, which raised money to help rebuild Grace Children’s Hospital in Port-au-Prince.
What began with an initial donation of $100,000 by the NHLPA’s Goals & Dreams Fund was matched by the NHL and grew to more than $1 million through private donations and proceeds from the union’s auction of Olympic jerseys and memorabilia.
“When we were there, they had just started to remove the rubble out of the hospital area,” Hamhuis said. “The temporary hospital was just benches in the courtyard with tarps kind of strung up. You’d see moms bringing babies in to get weighed and stuff.
“It was an outdoor facility with bi-folding tables and all the moms were sitting around waiting for their turn. It’s so hard to comprehend compared to what we’re used to.”
On his way to Haiti, Hamhuis expected the worst: a lot of destruction and a depressed populace beaten down by tragedy and horrible living conditions. But, following the trip, he said he was most impressed by Haitians’ pride, strength of character and willingness to put on a brave face during such dire times.
“They all looked happy and not feeling sorry for themselves, even though they have absolutely nothing, especially compared to North American standards,” he said. “They’re all just going about their business and working.”
Hamhuis spoke of getting out of the capital with World Vision to learn more and interact with Haitians themselves as the best day of his short, three-day trip. And he readily admitted that Laraque, who spearheaded Hockey for Haiti, quickly became a celebrity
“It was neat because there was more interaction with the locals and kids,” Hamhuis said of his visit to Cap Haitien in northern Haiti. “They’re just so appreciative of anything you do – just a smile, a soccer ball or a Frisbee.”
Not surprisingly, no one knew there were NHL players about, but people did figure there was some kind of celebrity tour happening and they took some interest.
“And once Georges started speaking Creole, they got really excited,” Hamhuis said of Laraque, before adding he had people in stitches the entire trip. “I think he made quite a few friends there.”
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Jan. 12, killing 250,000 to 300,000 people, leaving up to a million homeless and bringing the country to a standstill. After an initial outreach by the global community, Haitian relief efforts have lost momentum; for many the strife there has gone from front-page news to back-of-mind happenings.
The first-hand perspective Hamhuis gained reiterated how much more work needs to be done for Haiti to dig out and re-build. That’s the message he hopes the Hockey for Haiti initiative gets out to people: that Haiti and its people still need a lot of assistance, and not just in Port-au-Prince, where the quake’s epicenter was.
“There’s no real good area of Haiti to rely on, where the economy is good…the whole country is in tough shape,” he said. “It’s a country that needs a lot of help for a lot of years yet.”
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