Esks players part of Haiti relief effort

GERRY MODDEJONGE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:02 PM ET

It wasn’t the most conventional huddle in Graeme Bell’s life, but he hopes it made a difference in someone else’s.

The veteran CFL fullback was one of three Edmonton Eskimos participating in Huddle for Haiti, a relief effort that sent seven CFL Players Association members to the earthquake-ravaged country.

Bell, Eskimos centre Aaron Fiacconi and offensive guard Kelly Bates returned home last week after spending nine days in Haiti during the one-year anniversary of the disaster, together with Hamilton Tiger-cats offensive tackle Jason Jimenez, B.C. Lions fullback Rolly Lumbala and Winnipeg Blue Bombers long-snapper Chris Cvetkovic and running back Yvenson Bernard.

“That’s neat, it’s just teamwork, right?” Bell said. “It was fine. Even guys like Jimenez, who maybe has a bad appeal in the CFL, he was there to get in and get his hands dirty to benefit Haiti.

“We bonded right off the bat. We were all hanging out, there was no turmoil. There were jokes and stuff like that, but it was honestly like being in a locker-room. We were all there for one goal, that’s what we focused on and we accepted everybody for who they were.”

Putting their gridiron differences aside, the group teamed up to rally attention to reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts, including a visit to Oxfam and Care Canada projects.

Joining up was an easy decision for Bell, the Eskimos recipient of the 2010 David Boone Memorial award for outstanding involvement in the community.

“It was originally an e-mail from the CFLPA and you had to e-mail Kelly Bates about it,” Bell said. “Kelly was with us at that point, so I just walked across the locker-room. And the three of us went.

“We do a lot in the community and I think that’s the platform that leveraged us into doing something of this nature.”

Just never to this extent before.

“There’s poverty, there’s pollution, there’s garbage all over, damage, destruction,” Bell said. “But they do the same things we do daily, albeit it’s harder for them to do because they have to walk for water, they have to find food. They don’t have the accessibility we do.

“Those are all things we take for granted. I mean, we had to do a bucket shower down there. I’ve never done that. I’ve camped, but there’s always been running water.”

And the rolling blackouts didn’t help matters, either, with some lasting 30 hours.

But what is lacking in infrastructure and services is being countered with the spirit and willpower of the people fighting to get their livelihood back.

“You really see the optimism in Haiti when you see the kids,” said Bell, who had the chance to visit a school and a hospital that specializes in spinal-cord injuries. “That was a big day for me, just seeing how these people have come back from life-threatening injuries.

“One lady told us she was really happy that we were there. She blessed the earthquake for happening because she got to meet people like us that are going to change the world. She had lost five kids, so that was an emotional day for everybody. Seeing the optimism that they have for their lives because they think God saved their lives. I’m sure they mourn them but they don’t focus on the people they lost, they focus on they must be here for a good reason.”

gerry.moddejonge@sunmedia.ca


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