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CS: UK group received just as much as it gave in life-altering trip to Ethiopia




June 10, 2011

Seven people affiliated with University of Kentucky Athletics - Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart and wife Connie, Head Football Coach Joker Phillips and wife Leslie, Associate AD Jason Schlafer, and football players Stuart Hines and Danny Trevathan - spent a week doing a service trip to Ethiopia.  They visited orphanages, did work projects, distributed food and athletic equipment, etc. 

Barnhart, Phillips, Hines and Trevathan were made available to the media to discuss their experiences.  Here is a transcript of the quotes from the news conference.

Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart

Opening statement ...
"I will be very brief. I just want to say that I appreciate Jason Schlafer putting these details together. It is a massive undertaking to get seven people around the world. I think that we all hear things and we assume that we understand what it looks like to be in need or to be in want but to see it firsthand (is different.) Several of us have had the chance to do it in different parts of the world, but this is a very unique and impactful experience. People say, `Was it good?' And I would say, `It was not good. I would say it was successful and impactful but I wouldn't call it good.' Because what you see is not good. What I was most proud of was the two guys here on the end (Danny Trevathan and Stuart Hines) and the way that they conducted themselves and the way their hearts reached out to a country of people and the things that they did to help. Our goal, as a department, is to educate. We get to play a lot of games and do a lot of things that you guys count in Ws and Ls, but at the end of the day, our job is to educate young people and to expand their horizons and their minds and their hearts. This is part of that process. We did a little bit of that with the God's Pantry project this year and we worked with them and some elementary schools here in town. This is much bigger than that and it's a program that we want to expand and continue to grow, working with our student-athletes to give them an opportunity to understand what the world looks like. It is a pretty big place out there. We took this group and I am so thankful that Joker (Phillips) agreed to participate and get involved in that. But again, my greatest pleasure in the trip, other than participating with the people of Ethiopia, is to watch Danny and Stuart and the interaction they had to the people of Ethiopia and they will speak to that in a minute. It was an amazing seven or eight days. It will change your thought process and the way you look at what you have every day."

On how the people reacted to the players ...
"I will say this about Stuart and Danny. The first village that we went to in Korah, we went into what you can call a tent if you want, but it was not a tent. It was basically four of five poles that were holding up some canvases. They asked us to come inside where there were probably 20-30 people inside this small tent about two or three times the size of this table and they all lived in this tent, if you call it that. They asked Danny to come over and come see this woman. At that point, they think she took her last breath and passed away. Danny came out and said, `I think she just died.' She was 35 years old we estimate. The average life expectancy in that village is 37 and the average life expectancy is 47-48 in the country. It is obviously a very difficult place to live. I saw these two guys do some things in their time over there. Stuart had an unbelievable ability because of his size or whatever that kids were attracted to him. He would play ball with them and we took a bunch of Nike balls and footballs and they played and not knowing the language it (playing ball) was a universal language. It was fun to watch them play. Danny has a way with little babies and children like you can't understand. He has a great heart for that. He was in nursery doing stuff and holding them in his arms and rocking them and playing with them and sitting on the floor with them. You never knew he could be that kind (laughing). I'm kidding. He was amazing. You saw what they could do with young people and kids and you saw the hearts of two guys. It was fabulous to watch and a really, really, really special time. Like Joker said, between the village sitting on the landfill or the orphanage out in the middle of this place where the school was we visited where 20 villages' kids are going to school, it is difficult. They have no shoes. There were a couple of folks that were playing ball that Joker wanted to know if we could get letters of intent with. Let me tell you, there are some people that are very gifted athletes that will never see the opportunities that these two guys have. Incredible, incredible people that can do some special, special things and they will never have what these two guys have. They will never see it."

On how important it is for incoming athletes to understand Kentucky is more than on-the-field winning ...
"This was not a recruiting piece for us. This was an opportunity where if people (student-athletes) come here we are going to try to expand these experiences. I saw the way it impacted these two guys and I think that is what we are suppose to do here. That is part of what we are called to do. Are we perfect in everything we do here? No, we are not. But I will tell you that we have a lot of really, really, good young people. We had a young lady named Crissy Cannon a couple of years back that took an entire year off to work in Africa and no one really knew that. She was a gymnast for us and then came back to complete her eligibility. She is an amazing young woman that understands what these two guys have seen. I am not saying that you have to go around the world to get these experiences but sometimes it takes that to open your eyes to what you have or don't have. We want to make sure that it is the total experience here and when they come here we are going to try to provide that and give them that opportunity to expand their horizons and understand what the world looks like."

On how people can help if they want to get involved ...
"I think that there are a lot of ways. I talked to Jason when we came back about expanding that program and what it looks like. It is something that clearly we wouldn't have the ability to take 500 kids but we thought about taking 6-8 kids a year. We would figure out how to do that with four men and four women and grow the program out of that. We would have people that are generally interested in that apply for it and then bring it down and take people over there. We talked about going back to the same spot time after time so we can see the impact the University of Kentucky has had on a very specific spot. That is what we are thinking about doing. On how people can help, if they have an interest in doing something like that there are two things. If they want to specifically help the people in need there are ways to do that. Then secondly, if they want to help fund that kind of project that is helpful to us as well."

On the living conditions ...
"Drinking water is a huge issue obviously. Most of these people are just taking water wherever they can find it and reusing it. The place in Korah, they were getting food out of the landfill and they would boil it in bad water. You have no idea if they would try to get water out of that. Like Stuart said, you would be in your room or where we were and there would be no electricity. Things would just be pitch black. They would say it would come back on in a few minutes or a little while and it's just a rolling black out here. I was amazed that Danny and I got up that first morning we were there and I looked at him and said, `Did you hear that last night?' He said, `The donkey?' I said, `Yeah.' There was a donkey out in front of our hotel and it got hit and the owner is trying to get it out of the street and its hopping around. It was one of those crazy experiences. They are selling goats and sheep right across the street from the hotel in the middle of the city. Then they would sell them, open up the trunk, throw them in there and go on. It is what it is. It is a completely different way of life. Joker and Leslie were amazing. He and Leslie were in it every minute and Joker's interaction with the kids was just what you thought it would have been. He was spectacular. Spending time with him was a blessing. He was taking pictures all over the place and that was extremely popular. The one think that he did not like was getting in the van and driving anywhere. The guy that drove us went about 90 miles per hour everywhere and there are cattle, goats and lambs all over the roads and you just shut your eyes and pray. That was all you could do. Two lane highways with kids walking up the side and this guy is passing people and there no such things as passing lanes. It was just hold on. Seatbelts weren't optional because they didn't have them. It was game on. There were some interesting things. This guy had NASCAR, he was good and could handle it."

Football Head Coach Joker Phillips

Opening statement ...
"It was quite an experience, first of all. It was an experience to travel with seven people, like Mitch said. And get all seven of us heading into the right direction through customs. Jason did a great job with that. You learn a lot about other people when you try to move outside your means and you also learn a lot about the people you travel with when you spend time in a different country.  I will tell you some of the things I learned about these guys. Stuart has one great sense of humor and one great personality. He is really funny and likes to have a good time. He is a lot funnier then you guys think and he comes across. With Danny, I learned that he is a hugger, which is probably the reason why he doesn't miss tackles (laughter from audience). The guy is a hugger. Both of them are huggers but I learned that Danny is a big-time hugger. Everyone that came within reach he was giving hugs and that was impressive watching that. What I learned about Mitch Barnhart and his wife Connie is that they don't mind getting their hands dirty. That was the thing that I saw. Those guys were down on their knees and down on their hands, planting flowers or digging ditches. Those two are troupers and I really appreciate the time that we got to spend together. It was overall an unbelievable experience. You can't go over there and if you have any heart or anything in your soul and not change your life. It was definitely a life-changing experience for myself."

On what were some of the things they did over there ...
"We delivered food to a city called Korah that people lived right on a landfill and they sift through the garbage every day to find food and they sift through the garbage to find tradable goods. We were able to go to deliver food to 48 families for 15 days. The first family was really an eye opener for me. We went up towards the garbage and went to the first house and it was about as big as this table. They had two kids, a mom, and the dad was probably at the landfill, sifting through to find food. That was a huge eye opener for me. What Stuart was talking about was a group of about six or seven leaders in that village that helped us deliver the food at lunchtime and they haven't had a chance to sift through the landfill themselves to find lunch. We had a chance to take those guys to lunch and how appreciate they were to be able to take them to lunch. They ate probably about 12 pizzas I think. That was one of the things we did. We went to a couple of orphanages and widow homes where we got a chance to visit with people. We planted some gardens and planted some trees. We painted what we call an outhouse, it was their bathrooms. We got to do a lot of things. I don't know which of you guys said it, but they thought it made a little impact on them the things we were able to do but it made a huge impact on us, I can tell you that."

On how people first started reacting to Stuart's size ...
"They thought he was a circus animal (laughter). He was a circus act. And Danny they thought he was a billboard with all his tattoos and everything."

On the food ...
"The food was good for the most part. The one thing that we didn't do was lack for food. We ate three meals a day and I had some of the best French toast and fried eggs I have ever, ever had. I have probably in the last 10 years drunk 20 Cokes and I think all 20 of them were over there in Ethiopia. It was a great experience, just the overall experience and understanding of the culture over there. We got a chance to go to the Ethiopian restaurant and experience the food and found out it wasn't the same type of experience we were looking for in the food. We got a chance to see Stuart dance, we got a chance to see Danny dance, we got a chance to see Mitch dance and they got a chance to see me dance, which wasn't very good. It was overall good time and we worked hard during the day and laughed and joked and had a good time together. That was the biggest experience I got in bringing back with these guys."

On some of the people having HIV ...
"There were some kids that were affected by HIV, but we didn't see the symptoms that you saw. These guys didn't flinch. I can tell you that. That was not a concern of any of ours. Everybody we came in contact with, like I said, Danny hugged them and didn't flinch. Stuart played with every kid and hugged them. I wish I could show you the video of Stuart just tickling them and one kid seeing it and the rest of them joining. All they wanted was just some kind of interaction. Also, there weren't mirrors in some of the places that we went to. Many of them have never seen themselves and didn't know what they looked like. When we would take a picture of them and watch how excited they were to see themselves was an experience that we take for granted and it wasn't just the kids but the grownups. There was a 70-year-old woman that wanted to marry Danny. Danny said `Where was she 20 years ago?' (laughter) It was a great experience overall."

On seeing his athletes become more well rounded with trips like this ...
"That is what we are about here. When we introduced Operation Win and those three pillars of our program, it was to make sure that kids have the overall experience and make sure they are prepared. We had 16 seniors that walked on Senior Day and all 16 of those guys I feel comfortable that they are prepared for whatever comes in front of them the rest of their lives. I feel that we are doing the same thing with these upcoming seniors when we turn them over to the real world. That is all a part of the experience we give here."

#22, Danny Trevathan, LB, SR

Opening statement ...
"Overall, this trip was an eye opener and a reality check for maybe all of us, but me in general. You cannot really go over there with the mindset that you are really not going to be affected by the people over there. People over there are so happy for what they get and they have so little. They appreciate you for a lot of things that we take for granted like water and necessary stuff that they need but we really don't need we just take for granted. The think about it is their energy over there. They really reflect it back at me about our football team and our unity and how we have to be together even when there are hard times. I learned a lot about the people that I went with and I have a different relationship with them now. I found out that they are into it for all the right reasons. I think that is the thing that really helped me and will continue to help me while I am here at Kentucky and for the rest of my life."

On how he sees things of the world now compared to before they left ...
"Like Stuart said, the things that jumps out to me is taking stuff for granted. Going over there and being out of my zone, really made me get more out of my zone and better myself and better those around me. I just try to bring a different attitude to different things in my life like family and friends and even your enemies that you play. You have to know them just as well as the people that are close to you. I just take every day and live it correctly and making the most out of everything in your life."

On their first instinct when they were asked about going on the trip ...
"When I was first told, I was just shocked. At first, I thought he was playing so I called my mom to ask her and she already knew about it somehow and someway. She confirmed that and I called Coach Joker back and said thank you. My expectation of the trip was so much different. I didn't expect to be impacted as much but I am thankful for the trip and I am looking forward to taking it with me every day."

On the woman they believed passed away in front of them and that experience ...
"At first I didn't know what was happening. We had a man with us that was our guide and his name was Jeff. He asked me to help carry some food to this place because it was kind of heavy. I followed her to the back and she took me behind some curtains and I pushed them out of my way. When I looked to my left, I saw some woman and she was 35 but she looked really old. I looked over there and I saw her kind of shaking and I felt like something was wrong right then and there. At first, I was taken back and then I looked up and she looked right at me and looked like she wanted my hand. I gave her my hand and she squeezed it and said thank you. After that, I turned around and shook my head and was walking back and someone told me that they thought that was her last breath. I mean, she found time to say thank you for me with her last breath and that is what touched me the most. We live good everyday and sometimes we can't find the time to say thank you but she did."

On what he learned about Joker and Mitch ...
"About coach Joker, I learned that he could eat anything. He would keep spare peanuts and stuff in his pockets just in case but he tried everything. He would try everything on the plate. Over there, you share everything, they just reach in your food. Over here he doesn't really work like that but over there you just have to shake your head. About Mitch, I learned that he is well rounded and really laid back kind of guy. He is really cool and everybody liked him and the kids loved him. (Mitch) and Miss Connie (Barnhart) just function so well together. They are like tic and tac. She is really cool and he is really cool. They really loved those kids and the kids loved them right back. I saw one little girl, he remembered her name, she was attached to them. It was just phenomenal. It showed that anyone can make an impact."

On the story of Stuart and the interaction with the military ...
"It was day one. We hadn't even sat down at the hotel yet and we are on our way to school to give them supplies and hang out with the kids. On our way there we were taking pictures and they said it was fine we did that but there were some things you can't take pictures of. When we drove by the US Embassy, Stuart took a picture of it. I don't think he knew he couldn't take a picture of the US Embassy. I saw out of the corner of my eye, something that was pointing at us. But we got lost and had to turn around and I knew they were going to get us this time. As soon as we got ready to get in the right direction and turned back around I knew it was going to make it obvious and this guy was going to go off on us. He turned and pointed at the van and he was talking with some guy on a walkie-talkie and they come out with guns and I was just pointing at Stuart. I am just trying to get by. I didn't have a passport on me and they might be faster than me. They then took Stuart's passport and they were looking at us and our driver was getting cussed out. I know Stuart felt bad but I was glad it wasn't me."

#70, Stuart Hines, OL, SR

Opening statement ...
"The thing that I took away from it was getting to see the different places that we went. It was something that I tried to take away from it things that I could apply to football and my life back here was the leadership of the people and everywhere we went there was somewhere that had people that were leaders, who always brought the rest of the people along. We went to one town and they had a group of leaders who were there and instead of spending their day going to get food or whatever, they had to drop everything to come out with us and help us distribute food to the people of their village. People in the orphanages took kids out of the wilderness of Africa and saved their life pretty much. There were amazing people that we worked with that were able to teach us something. We went over there to serve all those people and we really got a lot more from it than they did I am sure." 

On how he sees things of the world now compared to before they left ...
"I don't know really, but you just don't take stuff for granted. We are here playing football and on scholarship. We have our school paid for and we have a roof over our head and food provided for us. Just to realize how it is not like that at all some places. Some places, there are 500,000 kids that live on the street in Ethiopia. That could have easily been one of us that ended up in a life like that. But we are blessed enough to have the opportunities that we have had."

On their first instinct when they were asked about going on the trip ...
"Well, at first, I was kind of like, `Are you kidding me?' I wondered if he was for real about this or if he was just joking around. He asked me if I wanted to go to his homeland, and I thought he was talking about Franklin, Ky. I wasn't sure. I started an internship this summer so I wasn't for sure if I was going to be able to get away from that. Obviously, the guy who was in charge didn't care at all. He was like, `Yes, go. That is so much more important than what can be done here.' At first I was just really surprised at this opportunity that he was going to take us halfway around the world. It was an amazing opportunity."

On how the people reacted to them ...
"They really took to us well. One thing was that I didn't know how they would react of if they would resent us because we were Americans and we have it way better than they do. They were completely open to us coming over there and everybody was extremely friendly. The language part was a hard part to get past, but what we could understand of them or what they could understand of us we seemed to get along well. They were just grateful that we were there, even more than the fact that we were delivering food. They were grateful to have someone there that was willing to help us out. The guy that kind of led us there told us the one thing the Ethiopians are really big on is relationships. He said the relationships that we would build with the people of Ethiopia would really mean just as much as bringing shoes or food or whatever."

On what the kids were like ...
"The kids were awesome. They just loved us being there, especially when he was talking about us getting out the balls and it being a universal language. First of all, football is not the universal language. Soccer was the universal language. We gave them the football and they didn't know what to do with it. It took a little while to teach them how to throw the ball and stuff and I don't think anyone got the spiral down. That is when all the kids really opened up though and wanted to come play with us and stuff like that. In general, we were at the orphanages and little babies loved having us there, playing with them and picking them up and stuff like that."

On if it was hard to interact with the people or if there was a comfort zone they had to get out of ...
"Yeah, definitely. Begin here we have never really been around kids that you have no idea when the last time they bathed or something like that was. You had no idea if they had some type of disease of whatever. There were definitely some issues that might come up in your head. But, the thing was, that we were there for them and we didn't let that get in our way. We wouldn't have got the full experience if we were closed mind at all about something like that. Going in with an open mind and just saying I am going to be here for the full experience and every way possible I can really made the experience what it was. Even in the main cities, there could be professionals that didn't shower. I mean, you could have hot water one minute and cold water the next. You could have electricity one minute and no electricity the next. Some people don't even have water. It wasn't just the poor communities were the issue."

On what he learned about Joker and Mitch ...
"One story that showed what kind of people they are. We were at Korah and there was a lady who had AIDS. She had a child, but the child didn't have AIDS. She had to choose whether to feed the child and risk giving it AIDS or not feed it at all because she didn't have money for formula or anything like that. Coach Phillips and Mr. Barnhart just threw in together and said get this lady some formula. We can't leave here without knowing that she has formula and food to provide for her child. That in a nutshell shows you what kind of people they are and what it was like to be around them. They are extremely caring and generous. To make the trip happen in general was great. They took a week out of their lives, which I am sure they are busy, to do something like that shows who they are."

On him getting in trouble for taking a photo of the US Embassy ...
"I was just worried about getting my passport back for one. They were doing a background check and making sure I was clean or whatever. They made me show them the picture and deleted it and gave my camera back to me. We ended up picking it up on our way back later in the day. We didn't get retained or anything like that."


 

 

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