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A few years ago, Tony Sanneh -- St. Paul native, a candidate this year for the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame and Founder and CEO of the Sanneh Foundation -- went to Haiti on a humanitarian mission and was gracious enough to blog about it for us. Sanneh and his crew have returned, and once again he is sharing his thoughts. Here we go, including an intro via his foundation:
In 2010 an earthquake tore through the country of Haiti, inspiring The Sanneh Foundation and Los Angeles Galaxy to come together in a humanitarian effort to provide clothes, food and soccer clinics to the kids and families dealing with the devastation. Over 850 youth were served on that trip. The Sanneh Foundation subsequently sponsored a team to come back to Minnesota for the Schwan’s USA Cup, officially launching The Haitian Initiative and Exchange Program. Today the effort continues in the form of a children’s league in Cite Soleil started by the Foundation. Sanneh and the staff are so committed to its success that nearly all of them are back in Haiti over two weeks to lead, evaluate and provide additional aid. They will spend a majority of time in Cite Soleil, hit hard by the hurricane three years ago and regarded as one of the roughest and most dangerous areas in Port-au-Prince with 300,000 residents, and mostly children or young adults, living in extreme poverty. They will also be working at other locations, including Grace Village and other orphanages. If you are interested in donating or raising money for The Haitian Initiative or to host a Haitian Exchange participant during the USA Cup, please contact Sarah at email@example.com.
First of all, I couldn’t be more proud of my staff and supporters, who are so passionate about these kids and our cause that they are willing to pay their own way out here. They started raising money last year through individual fundraisers and making pleas to families and friends. In January, we held Kick-it-Back equipment drives across Minnesota to collect gently-used cleats and uniforms for the kids. A lot of them don’t even have shoes let alone the other equipment needed to play soccer to their full ability, so we are here to provide that.
Today, a week into the trip, I’m tired. I had to get up early to get our first shift of staff and crew on a plane from Haiti and greet our second wave. My fatigue goes away though when I get on the field with those kids. The league we started here, which also provides food, water and equipment, has grown to 250 participants and every one of them is happy to see us. It’s so amazing to be greeted by these grateful children, singing songs with huge smiles on their faces. They started a repetitive chant that goes, “We get food at ‘H’ and ‘I’ and we get leadership at ‘H’ and ‘I” referencing the logo for Haitian Initiative. We have come a long way from three years ago when after the earthquake it was hard to smile thanks to partners like Latitude, which provided $20,000 toward the effort, as well as Southwest High School and Healing Haiti, which provided additional resources.
Every day I try to get online and post pictures to our Facebook and Twitter pages so family and friends can see the effect of their support. I also like to communicate with the folks back home and keep up on, among other things, the U.S. Soccer teams and the NCAA tournament. Everyone wants to know what I thought of the snow game against Costa Rica and US-Mexico tie, and the reality is that I was too busy to catch the matches. I do see the reactions on social media and my advice to U.S. Soccer fans is the same advice I would give the team – relax, be patient and stay even tempered. They should realize they are a good team and what happened in Mexico is evidence they can play with anyone, but this coach and this team are still figuring things out and still experimenting. They have to stick with it. I think I read somewhere that Klinsmann has only had the same lineup twice or something in two years. We may lose another game we aren’t supposed to and win a surprise, which is usually what happens. Don’t overreact like fans did after the loss in Honduras, which has a good team and is a very tough place to play. The same thing happened to us in 2002, only we lost at home to Honduras and people freaked out. Fans forget, that year we had to go to Barbados in the final match of an earlier round and get a win just to advance. This year the U.S. most definitely should qualify for the World Cup as we are one of the better teams. How well we do in Brazil will depend a lot on what group we are in.