From March 10 to 14, NFL wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Roddy White accompanied Oxfam America, a non-profit organization, on a 5-day trip to Senegal, in Africa. The players helped with humanitarian efforts and raised awareness for the region by actively participating in rehabilitating farm land and visiting decimated mining villages. They also highlighted the tumultuous history of Senegal by visiting a former exit port for slaves.
ESPN was granted exclusive, all-access to document their journey, and this is their blog from the trip.
Roddy White, Day 1: Dakar, Senegal
In my first trip to West Africa, I wasn't sure what to expect as I was getting off the plane. I was walking across the street to the car that was there to take me to the hotel when I heard someone yell my name in a non-American accent.
I looked up and saw a group of young Senegalese men smiling and running toward me. I was completely shocked that they recognized me, let alone they knew my name.
The tallest one got to me first and said, "I football player, like you football player."
He continued to tell me, in the little English he knew, that he was a big fan of American football. I gave them a few high-fives and was able to have small conversation to show my appreciation before it was time to leave. It was a different and exciting experience for me to have in the first few minutes of being in Dakar, Senegal.
I found it absolutely amazing to see that the people here follow and care about American football.
Larry Fitzgerald, Day 2: Samecouta, Senegal
After finally arriving in Dakar, Senegal, around 6 a.m. on the morning of March 12, I was excited to get this trip started. I am close friends with Anquan Boldin and Roddy White, who joined me, and I had a blast working with Oxfam last year in Ethiopia, so it was great to see them all again.
After a quick rundown of our schedule for the day, I was back on a plane headed to Kedougou, Senegal. Within an hour we arrived and began driving to a village called Samecouta.
When we arrived I was completely blown away by how many people showed up to meet and work with us. When we got off the bus, we were greeted by singing and dancing from all the locals in the village that came out to work. Eventually they got us all into a line and everyone had their time to shine.
Anquan, who is usually a little more laid-back, even got out there. It was fun to see him swallow his pride and dance with the ladies.
When it was time to get to work, the women in the village led us down to the banks of the river. They had some fencing there that needed to be rebuilt to help keep the animals, mainly hippos, from getting into their gardens and eating their crop. Anquan, Roddy and myself each carried some fencing and immediately got to work with the locals. It didn't take long for our competitive nature to come out and we began seeing who could wrap up the most sections and finish the quickest. As long as the work is being done right, I think it's fun and healthy to have a little friendly competition.
To end the day, a water fight broke out while we were helping water the crops in their gardens. I can neither confirm nor deny that I started it, but people did get wet!
Before leaving we presented them with some gardening tools, in hopes to help make their lives a little easier and to serve as small tokens of our appreciation. There was nothing but pure joy and thankfulness on their faces as the president of the women's association in the village thanked us and expressed some concerns that the village still faces.
I really enjoyed the teamwork that was displayed today. I am used to being in a team setting and I know that when it is working as effectively as it was today, great results will come. To be here and see people who do not have all the worldly riches, but still be sincerely happy and so fulfilled with life, puts life in perspective for me.
People want to live their lives. They have their own humanity, their own hopes and dreams and they want to be able to express that in their own unique way. This is something that I believe we can help them accomplish in very simple ways. Oxfam does a terrific job of this, in terms of providing those in need, with information and tools to help them provide a better living for themselves.
It was a humbling experience and I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.
Anquan Boldin, Days 3 and 4, Sabodala, Senegal
On Wednesday, we visited a village that is severely affected by gold mining called Sabodala. It was a two-hour bus ride from the hotel in Kédougou, and based on the experience I had when I was in Ethiopia with Oxfam last year, I expected it to be a bumpy ride. The roads that we had to take weren't paved so you could feel every bump and every dip.
When we got to Sabodala, we learned about some of the programs Oxfam has put into place and how gold-mining corporations have affected the villages. Afterwards, we were able to go see the mining techniques that the local villages use to find gold.
The mining process starts with crushing rocks and then finishes with filtering and washing out the remains to search for gold. Roddy, Fitz and I had a chance to crush some of the rocks. The three of us were each given sticks and the goal was to create a steady rhythm that would allow us to crush the rocks together. I clearly was the best at crushing the rocks. Fitz didn't have any rhythm, so Roddy and I had to take over and kick Fitz out the group. When we finished, they showed us that there was some gold found in the rocks that we crushed, which was pretty cool.
Day 4, which was our last day in Senegal, we went to visit Gorée Island. On the ferry headed there I was excited to get the chance to witness history.
Once we got there and started to see the island and learn more about it, all kinds of emotions ran through me. Walking through the slave castle and seeing all the cells separating men, women and children as well as the cells that were used for punishment, was very disheartening. What really hit home for me was seeing the "door of no return." This was the door slaves walked through to board ships, never to see their land again. We were told some of the slaves tried to jump off the boat to avoid going wherever they were being sent. People were willing to die rather than be torn away from their families, and that was tough to hear.
Once we left Gorée Island we headed to a rugby center that was created for kids in Dakar. When we got there we met all the kids, received a quick lesson about rugby and started a game of pickup. Roddy and I were on one team and Fitz was on the other.
Our goal was to make sure we kept Fitz out of the end zone, which we were successful at doing. Roddy and I both scored as we helped lead our team to victory. It was a lot of fun and you could tell the kids were having a great time. After leaving the heavy emotions of Gorée Island, it was a great way to end the day and the trip all together.
This trip has been an unbelievable experience. The biggest thing I learned is to be appreciative of the small things. Everyone we came across was very appreciative of small things such as building a fence. A fence in the U.S. may not be a big deal, but here it was life-changing.
You're reminded of what's important in life and for me; it's the small things that I plan to be much more appreciative of.