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UK football's Ethiopia service trip: Seeing lives change up close

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For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

Today, Foster writes about meeting a husband and wife who are changing lives.


Our day began with the arrival of our fellow UK athletes from the swimming and diving team, Maclin Simpson and Lindsay Hill. They got right into the action and hopped on the bus as we set off to visit Abraham and his wife, Salem. Abraham visits UK every January and is very close to Coach Rock Oliver, and his wife runs an organization that makes and sells handmade items such as hats, baskets, jewelry, scarves and tablecloths. They hire most of their employees from the poorest area in Ethiopia, the city that we visited on Friday.

Not only do these people have exceptional talents of making these items, but Abraham and Salem are also helping provide them with work and fair pay. They, being Abraham and Salem, are helping fight poverty and strengthen Ethiopia's economy by creating work for the people who live off of food from the trash dump. Abraham also explained to us that in Ethiopia, men do most of the fabric making.

The products that were made at Salem's business were beautiful enough to receive interest from major American companies. However, they couldn't fulfill the orders due to the substantial quantity ordered as each piece takes a significant amount of time to make. After coffee and tea with Abraham and his wife and a little bit of shopping, Abraham took us to learn firsthand about community initiatives that the business financially supports.

The first was a library. The library was more than just a library, though, as we arrived there right around lunchtime and saw many students filing in to be served lunch. Abraham said that they provide free lunch to any student who can't afford it, so they don't have to continue the rest of the school day being hungry and wondering where their next meal will come. He estimated that 70-80 kids use the library each day.

Not only does the program provide lunch, but it also provides books, computer use and standardized test prep and practice books. Abraham was ecstatic and pleasantly surprised to learn that both Kaleab and Girma, two of our translating friends, had used this program as recently as a few months ago. That just reiterated the importance of the program and how the children really do use and benefit from it.

After leaving the library, we headed to lunch at this pizza place where Bud continued his trend of getting his food last, this time because when he ordered a pizza he told the waitress everything he did NOT want on the pizza, but she thought he said that's what he wanted on the pizza, so they had to make him another one. Also, while at the restaurant we ran into a couple from Louisville, Ky. ... what a small world. After leaving the restaurant, we headed to the Hope Center.

This center was managed by a man by the name of Jeremiah, who is the house dad. He is in charge of "recruiting" kids off of the street by telling them his story and showing them they can change their lives. He then takes them off of the street and into this house, and all Jeremiah and Abraham ask of them is to be open-minded to the change in lifestyle.

Today, all 25-30 of us gathered to introduce ourselves. After each of the old and new teenage members of the house introduced themselves, there was one common denominator: Jeremiah was a wonderful house dad who truly had changed their lives for the better. Jeremiah finished the introductions by telling his touching and emotional story that has many similarities to stories of college and professional football players here in America. He abused alcohol and drugs trying to fulfill himself, but then was ultimately healed by family members and his faith. He provided such detail in the story that made it easy to picture yourself in his situation and completely understand the circumstances he went through.

It was very special to see someone do a 180-degree change in lifestyle and not just stop there, but wanting to provide other kids going through similar situations a way out if they allow him a way in to their lives. Once the seriousness of the life stories concluded, we all wanted to lighten the mood by going outside and kick and throw the Ethiopian and American footballs. As it has been this entire trip, it was so enjoyable trying to teach them how to throw this foreign oblong object.

After throwing the football for a while, I wanted to join them in what they are much more familiar with, as am I: kicking a soccer ball. We had a blast showing each other the moves we know and juggling in a circle, and I even ended the day being compared to Liverpool's Luis Suarez (I don't see it). It was such a wonderful day being able to see how Abraham and his wife's vision has had and continues to have such a powerful and positive effect on kids of all ages.

The lowlight and highlight of the night happened on the way to dinner to Bud and Braylon, respectively. The lowlight was when Bud, once again, was the victim of an attempted pick-pocketing crime. I don't know why in the world they would choose a 6-foot-4, 275-pound man who tackles guys for a living to steal from, but luckily Bud caught them in the act and pushed them away.

The highlight was when Braylon made eye contact with a local Ethiopian who ended up following us all of the way to cupcake and sat down by herself right next to our table and would not take her eyes off of Braylon. It was the topic of conversation at our end of the table for the first 15 minutes of dinner until we realized Braylon wouldn't go sit with her no matter how much we pestered him.

We ended the day having dinner at a restaurant called Cupcake, which to my surprise, had much more than just cupcakes. I had an awesome chicken pesto Panini, with Jason copying my order. And of course, Jason also stole the last piece of red velvet cake they had left, but it's OK...he was just looking after my body composition for Coach Korem.


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