Robyn Regehr has returned from one of those trips of a lifetime -- a week in Mozambique in southern Africa visiting children in Right to Play programs.
"There are memories that will last a lifetime," said Regehr, who was joined on the trip by fellow Right to Play Ambassador and Boston Bruin defenceman Zdeno Chara.
The two players visited and played with children in and around Mozambique’s capital city of Maputo from June 24 – 28. The pair observed first hand how Right To Play uses sport and play as a tool for basic education and child development, health promotion and disease prevention, conflict resolution and peace education, and community development. Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony affected heavily over the past two decades by war, famine and disease, is one of 23 countries in which Right To Play works across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Seeing the Right to Play program up close and personal, was one of the highlights of the trip for Regehr.
"When we talked to the coaches they said they were making positive changes," noted Regehr. "They were noticing that attendance at school was going up when there were Right to Play days and that the kids marks were better. They were telling us that the program is working and to keep it up. It really showed you that the program is worthwhile."
And, of course, there are the kids -- often at a disadvantage because of war and disease.
"The highlight was getting to play with the kids and getting to know them and the program," said Regehr, whose group made trips in and around the capital city of Maputo and visited an estimated 2,500 kids. "It was awesome. They were having a lot of fun. We were right in there playing all these games with them. It was great. A lot of them don't have opportunity. They don't always have a chance to get the right education. This is one way to help."
While few of the kids knew the game of hockey, they certainly weren't lacking in toughness. In fact during a game of elephant ball, where you put your hands and arms together like an elephant truck and bat a soccer ball around a circle, a number of the children impressed Regehr and Chara.
"The ball would hit them right in the face, hard. We were amazed at how tough these kids were. Not one of them would cry or complain when the ball would hit them in the face."
Chara and Regehr are two of a growing list of Right To Play Athlete Ambassadors from the NHL. Last summer, Andrew Ference of the Bruins and Steve Montador of the Florida Panthers, both former teammates of Regehr’s in Calgary, visited Right To Play project locations in Tanzania. That trip was chronicled in a one-hour documentary shown on TSN in Canada and throughout the 2007-08 NHL season on the NHL Network. Earlier this year, 10 NHL players including Regehr and fellow Right To Play Athlete Ambassadors Alexander Ovechkin, Daniel Alfredsson, Joe Thornton, Henrik Lundqvist and others all made donations to Right To Play based on minutes played in one game. Right To Play Athlete Ambassadors from more than 40 countries provide inspiration for children, are role models for healthy lifestyle choices and help raise awareness and funding for Right To Play projects.
Regehr had spoken with both Ference and Montador about the Right to Play program and made the decision to join the group during the 2007-08 season. He had planned on making the trip with his wife, Christina. However, because of her pregnancy -- due in October -- she was unable to get some of the medical shots required for the trip and decided to stay home.
"It was an interesting experience. There were some real highlights and some things that went wrong that we couldn't control," said Regehr.
The one thing that went wrong for Regehr and the Right to Play crew happened upon arrival in Maputo. The television production crew were not permitted to bring their equipment into the country. Despite talking with the immigration and customs officials for more than two hours, the team wasn't able to get the equipment released.
"They said it was worth too much money and they were afraid they guys would sell it. It was an ongoing saga throughout the whole trip. We never ended up getting the camera equipment."
But the team was able to reach out to the kids and bring home memories for a lifetime.
Right To Play is an international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills, and foster peace for children and communities in the most disadvantaged areas of the world. Right To Play builds local capacity by training community leaders as Coaches to deliver its programs in more than 20 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Right To Play is supported by an international team of top athletes who inspire children, are role models for healthy lifestyle choices and help raise awareness and funding for Right To Play projects.
Founded in 2003, Right To Play is headquartered in Toronto, Canada and has national offices in Canada, Norway, The Netherlands, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The national offices raise funds, build awareness for Right To Play programs and advocate for sport for development.
Visit the Right to Play website by clicking here