When Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril and three other current and former NFL players, a group that included Marshawn Lynch, visited an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti last month, they discovered that it was nearly out of water.
Avril, Lynch, Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch and Buccaneers tackle Gosder Cherilus were there on a trip organized by Free the Children that would see them help build an elementary school and host a football clinic, but first Avril made sure to arrange a year's supply of water for the orphanage. It was just one of many memorable moments on a humbling and rewarding five-day trip to Haiti for Avril, whose parents both emigrated from Haiti before he was born.
"The trip was very humbling," said Avril, who hadn't been back to Haiti in more than a decade. "You remember things being one way as a child, and then you grow up and have a different perspective on life and different things, so once I got there, it was humbling. But it was great to be back. It just felt great to be back in Haiti seeing the people, just seeing what the country has to offer. Unfortunately the circumstances of the people isn't where it should be, but as far as the country, the island itself, the people, it was great to be back."
Following their visit to the orphanage, which was home to approximately 50 children, many of whom had been displaced by the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, Avril, Lynch, Tulloch and Cherilus traveled more than three hours to Haiti's Central Plateau region where they helped start construction on a new elementary school.
The four football players "actually got our hands dirty" helping lay the foundation for the new school, which will open kindergarten and first grade classrooms this fall with Avril's wife there to represent him. Avril plans to return once a year to oversee the continued expansion of the school, which in time will be a full elementary school.
"I plan on going back every year," Avril said. "I plan on going every year to try to keep doing this. I feel like they need it. To give them a little bit of hope from a Haitian-American guy who can come back and help. I feel like I have to go back every year, at least until the school is done."
The trip also included a health clinic for the kids at the school, with doctors being brought in from Port-au-Prince. One thing Avril learned while facetiming with a member of his PR agency, Jeanette Owusu, who was in Haiti preparing for this trip last fall, was that many children get their only hot meal of the day at school and have to share dishes, so Avril and Owusu also arranged for each child to receive a new bowl they can take to school each day. After returning to Haiti's capital city, the football players hosted a camp with more than 350 children participating.
"It was very humbling, but it was great to be able to do it," Avril said. "It's been so long since I've been back. You hear about it, but when you go and see it with your own two eyes, it's a different ballgame."
Avril also returned home touched by the generosity of his fellow NFL athletes who gave their time.
"All the guys were great," he said. "Gosder, Stephen Tulloch and 'Shawn, they all appreciated the whole process, but it's funny, while we'd be doing these tours of different facilities—they were giving us examples of the type of school we were trying to build—as we were doing these tours, there were kids out there, and the guys, they're not even listening to the director, they're already out there running around, kicking balls with the kids. Those guys were awesome with the kids, it was great to see. Those guys all have big hearts."
Cliff Avril, Marshawn Lynch and other NFL players flew to Haiti to help rebuild an elementary school, host a mobile medical clinic and a football camp, with the help of international charity organization, Free the Children. (Photo credit Manish Gosalia)