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Rupp, Talbot Touched By Visit To Haiti

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguins forwards Mike Rupp and Maxime Talbot were members of a contingent which took a short trip to Haiti this past weekend to visit an orphanage run in part through the work of Penguins team chaplain Brad Henderson. To say that the trip was an eye-opening experience for the duo would be an understatement.

Penguins forwards Maxime Talbot and Mike Rupp pose with children from the Haiti orphanage they visited last weekend. Credit - Maxime Talbot/Pittsburgh Penguins
Rupp and Talbot, whose group also included former Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Sean Casey, spent just three days in Haiti, but the memories they have brought back to the United State will be long-lasting.

“It was a life-changing experience and a great trip,” Talbot said. “When you go down there you don’t know what to expect. It was nice to see what was going on down there.”

When Rupp and Talbot arrived in Haiti, they were surprised at just how tough the living conditions were for the Haitians.

The roads, which were dirt and filled with large pot holes, were littered with mounds of garbage on the side. People were running chaotically throughout the streets while the rivers and streams gave off a rotten odor. Quick glances into grocery stores and markets revealed the lack of electricity.

However, instead of the Haitian children allowing the gloom and doom which exists bring them down, both Rupp and Talbot spoke about how the kids radiated a healthy exuberance for life – something neither expected prior to the trip.

“I was expecting to get a sense of despair from all the people, but instead they are a group that has a lot of joy,” Rupp said. “They live with a purpose – maybe they don’t have anything to compare it to – but I was surprised at that. They were always happy and smiling despite what they are lacking at the orphanage.”

“The best moment of my trip occurred when we pulled into the orphanage and got out of the truck,” Talbot said. “Within seconds, 20-25 kids came running towards us wanting to give us big hugs, hold our hands and give affection. They just wanted love. That’s one of the things that I thought was really special.”

Rupp was blown away by the giving nature of the children. Even though all of them were severely lacking most of the living essentials such as food, water and hygiene products that we take for granted here in the U.S., these kids were eager to share whatever the hockey players offered.

“Max had a power bar and he gave it to one of the kids,” Rupp described. “This is a country that is faced with malnutrition, but the boy quickly broke the bar into six smaller pieces and passed them out to the other kids around him.

“You would think in that situation there would be a dog-eat-dog mentality, but it’s not. The older kids really look after the younger kids.”

Talbot noticed that same generosity when he passed out the t-shirts, hats and street hockey equipment Reebok provided.

“As soon as we started pulling that stuff out they started playing, so we played with them,” Talbot said. “We also gave them baseball bats, t-shirts and some hats – all the fun things you could give them. They all said ‘thank you’ and let you know they appreciated receiving it. That really made you feel good.”

I was expecting to get a sense of despair from all the people, but instead they are a group that has a lot of joy. They live with a purpose – maybe they don’t have anything to compare it to – but I was surprised at that. They were always happy and smiling despite what they are lacking at the orphanage. - Mike Rupp
Some of the older kids at the orphanage were able to speak a little English, which allowed them to share their dreams and aspirations with Rupp and Talbot. When Rupp asked a couple young boys who dreamt of being pharmacists and doctors if they planned to relocate to the United States, he was surprised at the answers they provided.

“They looked at me like I was crazy,” Rupp said. “They all told me ‘I want to come back to Haiti and help my family.’

“One kid told me, ‘I’m not trying to be a doctor to make money. I’m trying to be a doctor to make a difference and help what is going on here.’ I thought that was pretty cool.”

Unfortunately due to size and the amount of workers (there are just five to seven workers), only about 90 kids can live at the orphanage, leaving a large number of kids who would benefit by living there left to starve to death.

Because of that fact, a second orphanage is currently under construction. The hope is that it will be built up enough by the winter to house about 50 children, with another 50 arriving when construction is compete next summer.

Both players insisted they want to do anything they can to help Henderson ensure the project gets completed.

“All of us as a group would like to be a part of helping to get the second orphanage completed,” Rupp said. “We’ve exchanged email and contact information with some of the older kids there. Everyone has their own connections with the kids. It will be interesting to see what happens.”

“I am starting my own foundation and the first event that I will hold is going to benefit Haiti because I really feel like I am a part of them now,” Talbot said. “I really want to be able to help them out more. Hopefully they can finish the second orphanage there.”

When that second orphanage is complete, Rupp and Talbot hope to head back to Haiti to see the finished product and once again visit the children who left such an indelible impression thanks to their positive outlooks and strong moral values.

“My wife wants to go next time as well,” Rupp said. “It worked out where I had the opportunity to go this summer, but we both want to go together. I know that Sean Casey said the same thing, so I know we are going to pursue going again. I would like at some point to stay for a longer period. I would also like to get my kids involved. They might be too young right now. It’s something that as a family we definitely want to do.”

“It is something where you don’t know what to expect the first time that you go,” Talbot said. “You are wondering how it is going to be. Once you are there and you see the smiles on their faces and you know what is going on, that’s when you realize that you would like to come back again and continue making an impact. We did make an impact by going down there, but you want to do more.”
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