Three football players and four female students from Wake Forest University, plus four filmmaking students from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, joined forces in the summer of 2008 to make a difference to grandmothers and their orphans in Tanzania. They were joined by 12 other volunteers and headed for Dar Es Salaam.
A grant from the Blessings Project Foundation made it possible for the three players – Kevin Patterson, Chantz McClinic and Alphonso Smith, now an NBA pro player with the Detroit Lions – to go to Tanzania and help build a house for three elderly grandmothers and their families. All of the players said their journey to Africa had changed them and that they were determined to make it better for others back home.
“They completely ignored the women,” said Patterson about his time in Africa. “That’s not right.”
“The women had no voice in anything,” said McClinic. Both players chose nonprofit work after they graduated. Patterson is a coordinator with Big Brothers and Big Sisters. McClinic is the Director of Programs at the Rome, Ga., YMCA after working for a nonprofit in D.C. that taught sports to under-privilged children.
For the last several seasons, Smith plays pro football in Detroit and says his two daughters will grow up knowing that their father respects them and that all other men should treat all women that way. “They will not be forgotten like the women in Africa. I want them to succeed and do anything they want. I want them to have a voice. I’ll never forget what I saw in Kawe village.”
Four filmmaking students from the UNC School of the Arts said the trip made them realize the extent that poverty can devastate lives. (Please see a video of their film about our work below.)
In Kawe village, the older women lived in the remains of a house that had, literally, fallen to the ground around them. Only one room was accessible and neighbors shunned the old women. “They bring shame to our neighborhood,” said one resident of Kawe.
The old women sat, forlorn, against the one existing wall of their home, day after day, and no one would speak to them. They were old, lonely, and said they had just about given up hope.
Over 10 days, however, TNP players, students and volunteers decided to make it better for the old women and went to work. They tore down the existing walls and roof, and every night when they left the house, they put the old wooden beams and tin in a yard behind the house. Every morning when they returned, the old materials had already been shaped into a new fence, a gate – within hours, every bit of the old had been recycled into new fixtures that served the entire community.
Today, the grandmothers live in a brand new home along with their grandchildren and grown daughters and sons – three rooms with windows were added, and when TNP volunteers visited their home six months later, they hardly recognized the women. They had gained weight, and they smiled.
“No one forgets us anymore,” they said. “Now we are like a part of the community again. Asante sana. Thank you very much.”