In the middle of Tanzania, Steve Montador held the world’s greatest gift.
The hand of a child.
“We were at a school one day and a young girl grabbed my hand and just started walking with me,” recalled the Panther defenseman. “To be in Africa, consumed by the culture, to have these children around you, and for this one little girl to just take my hand and start walking with me was an incredible experience.”Montador's Trip Photo Gallery: Click HereFor more information on Right To Play, visit www.righttoplay.com
Montador’s eight-day trip to the east African country was to help serve as an ambassador for Right To Play, an athlete-driven humanitarian organization that uses sport and play to promote basic education, child development and disease prevention throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Montador, who traveled to Africa with fellow NHL defenseman Andrew Ference, spent his time in Tanzania visiting towns, schools and two orphanages, where 65 percent of the children were effected directly or indirectly by AIDS.
Montador called his trip to Tanzania, where per capita income is approximately $700, “life altering.”
“When Andrew contacted me about the trip I was pretty green (about Tanzania and Right To Play),” Montador said. “But it was truly an incredible journey.”
After flying into Heathrow Airport in London, Montador flew to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and then Mugumu, which borders the Serengeti National Park.
“When we went to the schools we were usually greeted by a large group,” Montador said. “They knew Right To Play and the fact they were getting food and water. At a couple of the places there was dancing and singing to welcome us. At another place there was a big drum with singing and dancing. On the way out a couple of the kids were dancing and Andrew and I joined in.”
With schools and orphanages struggling to raise funds, Montador said it was important to enjoy and have fun with the children they visited.
“The schools and the areas we visited were impoverished,” Montador said. “There was a whole range of kids but, for the most part, it was low income. Some of the kids weren’t wearing shoes. But the whole idea (of Right To Play) is to go grassroots and that no matter what sport you participate in you can bring a voice.”
Right To Play, conceived as Olympic Aid in 1992 by the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee, has hundreds of athletes from 40 countries serving as ambassadors, including hockey stars Wayne Gretzky, Daniel Alfredsson, Joe Thornton and Alexander Ovechkin.
Montador said the trip wasn’t to sell hockey but to promote health, education, disease prevention and community development and participation.
“We showed a group of kids a hockey stick one day,” Montador said. “But trying to make hockey popular was the furthest thing we were trying to do. We were just spending time with the kids.”
Like a little boy at one of the orphanages that Montador met.
“He was a normal kid who was nine or 10 who told us at one point he was living with his family,” Montador recalled. “One day he started following this woman who was walking with some goats. She boarded a boat and he followed, and when he got off the boat he didn’t know where he was and walked something like 500 kilometers, just sort of aimlessly walking, until he wound up at the orphanage.
“I think what was shocking was seeing these kids, seeing what some were surrounded by, and then five minutes later just hanging out with them and playing and laughing. They were so cool, so bright. It just showed me what great leaders these kids could all become if just given the opportunity.”