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Andrew Ference's African Diary, Day 2

by Andrew Ference / Boston Bruins
Andrew Ference recently traveled to Africa with "Right to Play." The Bruins D-man kept a diary on his journey and you can read his thoughts about the trip in this seven installment series.

[ Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7Photo Gallery ]

Thanks to travel, day one didn't exactly transition easily into day two. In fact, they just became one in the same as we landed here in Dar Es Salaam very early in the morning. 

However, proudly greeting us a half an hour earlier was Tanzania's most recognizable "citizen"-- Mount Kilimanjaro -- displaying its snow-covered peak to an excited audience on the plane. The rainy season that has just ended also created a lush landscape for us to look at as we made our approach into Dar. I was not expecting the tropical atmosphere that stretched to the horizon.

Welcoming us in Dar was Sekela and Leila, both amazing Tanzanian women doing work for "Right to Play."

Leila will be joining us for the entire trip and her value to our experience here is priceless.  A reporter by trade, an activist by passion, she has done everything from work for the President to making controversial documentaries about HIV/AIDS and child abuse which has seen her scorned by her own population. This is not a country where a woman can talk freely, let alone produce documentaries about problems for national television, and she truly is a leader in a culture that desperately needs more of her kind. 

On our first visit of the day we went to the Dogo Dogo youth center where young boys, aged 8-18, have been provided a home and family with the opening of this youth home.  All of these boys are either AIDS orphans or runaways from abusive families who have found shelter in this great project.

Within ten minutes of our arrival, it is already apparent that we are in the company of some amazing young men that have developed their English skills and have escaped the streets for the possibility of a better life.  After singing for us, we were guided through their neighborhood to the soccer pitch for some good old play time.  After a few dirt alleyways, jumping a fair sized drainage ditch and passing by a pig roast, we arrived at the area playground which prompted the removal of the boys shoes for a quick game of every man for himself soccer. 

Some girls bring Andrew and Steve Montador (right) flowers
I was quickly embarrassed by the superior skill of the kids, so I retired to the sidelines to chat with the ever-growing crowd whom took a liking to my tattoos and wanted to show us their rap skills.  Between the rap serenade and the adorable girls whom brought us flowers, it truly was a moment that is hard to describe and I am grateful we had a film crew to document it. 

The one thing that will never cease to impress me was how sharp these boys are and how genuine their character is.  To break into song with the younger boys, and to hold your hand as a friend as you walk through the neighborhood are things I could not experience in North America.

Later, when I downloaded my camera, I was left to "unwrap the gift" of 4GB of Jay-Z and Swahili rap as presented by the 14 year-olds -- surely, a gift not found in any market in this world. 

The second site we went to that day was also a Dogo Dogo center in a different part of the city, this one occupied by older boys, 14-18 years old.  An amazing site set on a plateau, the school is fully built and maintained by the 85 boys that call it home. 

Like the first site, these boys are orphans and runaways.  Many of the kids that greeted us have seen their parents succumb to the AIDS virus at a young age or have garnered the courage to escape abusive homes filled with domestic violence.  This is more of a trade school where the boys are taught different skills that will help them fend for themselves and open up new opportunities when they leave at 18.

Whether it is carpentry, electronic repairs or theatre, they are developing new skills to make a living for themselves.

In one of the most touching and amazing presentations I have ever witnessed, the theatre class put on a show filled with acting, dancing, drums and singing with stories of their experience in war and peace and their witnessing the tragedy of AIDS.  They sang about their family members dying at the hands of the disease and how they cannot sleep with the violence of the wars waging between their neighbors.

It brought tears to Leila's eyes and left the rest of us speechless in respect of their skill and courage to talk about these important issues. 

I got to witness the true power of programs like "Right to Play" today as I met some impressive young men.

With a history that no child should have, these boys have turned to these programs, because without them their home would be the street.  Now, with Dogo Dogo providing an education and life skills, these children can be the next leaders in their communities.

And judging by the character I witnessed today, they will be great leaders.

[ Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7Photo Gallery ]
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