He came from the far north with a bag full of toys that brought smiles to the faces of all girls and boys. And even then, Dan Hamhuis received far more than he gave.
It was Christmas in Haiti, and it came last June when the Vancouver Canucks defenceman volunteered to be part of a National Hockey League Players’ Association delegation that delivered relief after that impoverished country’s catastrophic earthquake, where to buy Discount NHL Jerseys? maybe ujersy is a good choice.
The NHLPA’s Goals and Dreams initiative raised more than $ 1 million toward the cost of rebuilding a children’s hospital in the capital of Port-au-Prince.
And just in case the cheque and goodwill weren’t enough, Hamhuis took along a hockey bag stuffed with soccer balls and Frisbees and other small toys to hand out to Haitian children.
“I went to a school and took out three or four soccer balls and the kids were just going crazy,” Hamhuis recalls. “These kids play in their bare feet on a dirt patch, sometimes kicking around a bunch of old socks that have been tied together. It was so neat to give back, to see a $ 1 Frisbee — the best dollar I ever spent in my life — and how much happiness that gave these kids. There was a family with four or five little kids. I showed them how to throw the Frisbee and they just thought it was the best thing ever.”
As you grumble about the lineups at Boxing Day sales for big-screen televisions and contemplate how best to exchange those unwanted gifts you got for something better, consider for a second the children of Haiti.
He has thought often the last six months about that life-changing trip, about three days spent in the chaos, heat and heart-wrenching hardship of the tiny Caribbean nation.
Haiti was already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere before a magnitude 7.0 quake nearly one year ago destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure and rendered homeless as many as a million people.
It was Montreal Canadiens enforcer Georges Laraque, the son of Haitian immigrants, who first called the NHL players’ union asking what it could do. Devin Smith, whose Goals and Dreams organization has helped 50,000 kids in 23 countries obtain hockey equipment that otherwise would have been unattainable, contacted former NHLPA executive Mike Gartner.
Gartner is a director for World Vision, the Christian aid organization dedicated to helping impoverished children and families around the globe.
A Haiti mission was planned. Smith sent a memo to player reps from 30 NHL teams seeking volunteers for a relief trip to one of the worst places on Earth.
“It was a bit of a long shot,” Smith admits. “I don’t think there will ever be a more challenging or devastated area that I will go to in this job. But Dan right away was the guy who answered first. He had talked it over with his wife and he really wanted to go.
“When I talked to him about the trip, it was different than a lot of discussions I’ve had with players. He was asking about the impact we were going to make and how were we going to meet people. Part of these trips is about PR — to get the word out so people will donate. Dan understood that. But he was more interested in how he would be able to give back and get involved with World Vision, if you want to buy New York Islanders #13 jersey, go to ujersy.”
Hamhuis grew up in Smithers, B.C., where his family attended the Christian Reformed Church.
At the time of Smith’s request for volunteers, Hamhuis knew he’d be leaving the Nashville Predators as a free agent. His rights were traded twice before Hamhuis eventually signed with the Canucks on July 1, returning to his home province for a six-year deal worth $ 27 million US.
He and his wife, Sarah, have a baby boy and a 2 1/2-year-old girl.
Hamhuis took a chance travelling to Haiti with Laraque, Smith, NHLPA communications director Jonathan Weatherdon and World Vision senior development adviser Pat Diltz.
Just getting from the tarmac in Port-au-Prince to their cars was an ordeal after Laraque began handing out American dollar bills.
“It got a little out of control,” Hamhuis recalls. “It was pretty overwhelming at first. It was very chaotic. We jumped in the vehicles and drove through the city to where the hospital was. The hospital was pretty much destroyed. There was rubble everywhere. The streets were cut up. People were living in the dirt.
“I had done some research on Haiti. I guess what I wasn’t prepared for was the sounds and the smells and the temperature — all the things that made it so real. You can’t prepare for that. They had huge piles of rubble all over the city. And people were picking up chunks by hand to throw into dump trucks. They had no excavators or anything. The time it was going to take to clean it up . . . there was an estimate it could take 100 years at the rate they were going.”
Across the street from the Grace Children’s Hospital, an eye clinic was still standing and some of the patients had been transferred there.
Smith organized a road hockey game, handing out sticks and jerseys. Most of the kids were HIV positive.
“The kids had no idea what hockey was,” Hamhuis says. “We just said it was like soccer, except you move the ball with your stick. So they caught on to that.”
The next day, World Vision took the NHLPA group to a project-community in the northern part of Haiti, where there was less devastation.
It was here that Hamhuis opened his hockey bag and his heart.
He had gone to the local sporting goods store in Smithers to buy soccer balls for the trip. Naturally, it’s on Main Street. Oscar’s Source for Sports refused Hamhuis’s money and instead donated 20 balls and a couple of pumps.
Hamhuis then visited Canadian Tire and bought a bunch of Spider-Man Frisbees and other small toys, including Velcro paddles to catch tennis balls, until his hockey bag was full.
Hamhuis knew as he unzipped the loot bag that he was where he needed to be, that his instinctive decision to go had been correct and this probably would not be his last mission, only his first.
“My heart has opened up to that — to seeing the need that’s out there,” he says. “These people have absolutely nothing. When the invite came across the email, I just thought maybe this is meant to be. It was something I’ve always wanted to do. This was a great opportunity because it was organized for me and I could get a sense if it was something I’d want to pursue.
“It’s kind of a goal now of mine to go back to one of these developing countries. And being a dad, I really want my kids to experience that and have a perspective on the world that not everybody lives the way we do. There’s a lot of hurting and poor people out there. We need to have a heart for them and help them, Recommend directory: New York Islanders #22 Jersey.”
Hamhuis has volunteered to be a spokesman for World Vision. In the new year, he’ll visit schools in Vancouver to talk about Haiti and World Vision’s “30-hour famine” — a program that last year saw 100,000 Canadian teenagers stop eating for 30 hours to raise money for the world’s hungry.
“Dan is a really strong and mature individual,” Diltz says. “He’s very wise and focused, and blessed with skill and ability and wants to give back. Those are great matches for our organization. My impression is that he was deeply moved emotionally (by the trip), but at the reverse also saw how resilient and hopeful people were.”
Indeed, it’s not the destruction and chaos that Hamhuis remembers most vividly about Haiti — it’s the people and their hopefulness in the face of it.
“They were sitting on the dirt in front of crumpled houses, their city in tatters,” he says. “But everyone was dressed in clean clothes, the men in collared shirts, the ladies in nice dresses. I mean, I was dirty. They just had so much pride and dignity. They weren’t feeling sorry for themselves even though they had every reason to.
“Seeing that, it kind of reminded me that it’s not about what you have that makes you happy. It’s about relationships with other people and how you perceive things. It was an amazing example with those people because I did see hope there. It wasn’t material things that made them happy, it was each other.”