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Pittsburgh Steelers WR David Nelson on Breaking The Orphan Cycle in Haiti

David Nelson
Photo Courtesy of http://www.theplayerstribune.com

David, Daniel, and Patrick Nelson took a trip to Haiti in 2012 that would forever change their lives. Since then, thousands of people have rallied together in partnership with i’m ME to tell the stories and change the lives of orphaned children in Haiti.

i’mME is a non profit organization who exists to End the Orphan Cycle through care, prevention, and partnerships. Since beginning its efforts in Haiti during the summer of 2014, i’mME has provided over 22,000 meals, educated 250 children, rescued 11 orphans, created 37 jobs, and prevented close to 200 children from being abandoned. They are currently in the beginning phases of expanding their efforts to a couple of new countries

In a recent interview with The Players Tribune, Nelson discuss his i’mME organization and what sparked his interest in Haiti a few years ago and why he wants to break the orphan cycle in Haiti.

Excerpts from  the The Players Tribune article,

I won’t lie to you. When I took this trip to Haiti in 2012, I didn’t expect some kind of life-changing experience. I had just finished my second season with the Buffalo Bills. I was a football player. That was my entire identity. My entire self-worth hinged on how I played in the most recent game. In order to be loved, I thought I had to perform for it. Sure, I went to church and tried to be a stand-up person, but mostly, it was all talk.

Honestly, I didn’t know much about Haiti. I knew there was a devastating earthquake. I knew it was the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. But I was pretty naïve. This story started like a lot of stories start: “I was dating a girl at the time … ”  She thought it would be a good experience for us to go and do some charity work. Her sister had traveled there with an NGO and it had made a profound impact on her. But if I’m being honest, I figured I’d go and hammer some nails, hand out some food, take some photos and feel good about what I’d done.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I loved the kids right away. The kids are everywhere — most of them orphans. Literally everywhere. People are so poor that they leave children on the doorsteps of orphanages. There’s no TV. No internet. No hot showers. There’s only power for half the day, if it comes on at all. Despite it all, if you toss a soccer ball into the middle of 40 kids, they will play 20 vs. 20 and be the happiest kids in the entire world.

They have nothing, and yet they have more joy and hope in their pinky finger than I have in my entire body. It’s one thing to read this and another to experience the warmth. I’m sure you have read this a hundred times before. I didn’t get it either. In fact, when the time came to head home, I was ready to go. By the end of the trip, I was heartbroken. I was thinking, Look at all this devastation, years after the earthquake. There’s no infrastructure. No local economy. There’s no hope here. How can I possibly help? 

There are a lot of depressing numbers I could throw at you. Did you know that there are more than 63 million orphans in the world? Did you know that the numbers are actually going up, not down? You can Google more. But it’s easy to tune it out. Here’s the only one that mattered to me: Of the 600,000 Haitian orphans, 80 percent have at least one parent who is alive somewhere. There are currently 15,000 NGOs and more than 750 orphanages in Haiti. The problem isn’t necessarily a lack of aid or compassion. The root issue, as I’ve learned, is poverty and education.

Most of these children are not merely abandoned. They’re given up because their parents were abandoned as well. It’s what we call the orphan cycle, and you see it all around the world, not just in Haiti.  When I got back to the States, I started researching and traveling and reaching out to people much smarter about these issues than me. I kept hearing some variation of the same thing: “The mistake most people make is they try to impose their American perspective and values on Haiti. They think throwing money at the problem will fix everything.”

So I enlisted my two brothers in the cause (I have seven siblings, so I had a few to spare), and we traveled back to Haiti to get our hands dirty. We bought a house to set up a base camp, and I got my first Naïve American 101 lesson. Why aren’t there more business here? Why can’t there be tech startups like in Asia? Then I got my first WiFi bill, and I got my answer. It was 400 dollars a month.

Naïve American Lesson No. 2: It turns out that Haitian education is barebones. There’s no music. No art. No sports. No theater. The kids get out of school at 11:30 a.m. every day. My mind flashed to my own youth, and I thought, Okay that’s way, way too much free time — and all that free time gives room for trouble and bad decisions. At that moment, I had my first realization. We didn’t need to build more orphanages. We needed to build more effective schools. We had to harness the amazing energy and passion of these kids into something great.   – Continue Reading Here

Photo courtesy of http://www.theplayerstribune.com/david-nelson-nfl-haiti-orphans/
David Nelson
Photo courtesy of http://www.theplayerstribune.com/david-nelson-nfl-haiti-orphans/

To learn more, visit imME.org. Right now, i’mME is in the middle of their “Raise Your Voice” November campaign for Orphan Awareness Month. You can use your voice to save the lives of Orphans in Haiti by visiting imME.org/November.

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