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For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

For his final entry, Foster writes about his last hours in Ethiopia and reflects on a trip he'll never forget.


Today was a very calm day, as it was our final day. The only thing on the schedule was to get a little more shopping done and we were all able to find exactly what we were looking for to take back to the States as souvenirs and gifts for friends and family. It was very fun but a little annoying having to negotiate the prices on everything, even for something as small as a plastic bracelet.

After another good lunch, we headed back for the guest house to pack up for our flight. I had packed most of my stuff with the idea that I was going to give it away, so about half of my clothes and food and other usable items went into a bag that I would then give to Mark to donate to Dejene or any other place that he felt needed the help. We also had a team debrief with among all of us discussing what we learned and how the reality of situations differed from our expectations. Mark also handed out a packet of papers for us to look over including ways to sponsor a child, which I filled out to sponsor my man, Dejene. It was a very quick debrief, as we were all so tired and ready to get packed up to get to the airport.

We packed our luggage onto the bus and set out for the airport. Once we arrived, which was around 6:30 p.m. Ethiopian time, saying our goodbyes to our new friends thousands of miles away home was difficult, but it was reassuring knowing we could stay in contact through Facebook. After checking our luggage, heading up to our gate and going through security, it was time to board.

I am now writing this on the plane forcing myself to stay awake as it is around 10:45 p.m. We took off about 30 minutes ago, and I am hoping for a smooth trip to Rome, then D.C., and then to Cincinnati, which is where we will be picked up by a University of Kentucky van to bring us back to the football facility.

This was an unbelievable experience that I will never forget. Seeing the poverty and desperation firsthand is tough to take in, but that is the reality that the people we met live in each and every day. The toughest part about it is the fact that most of the poverty is due to the corruption of the government, and these people are unfortunately just born into this situation. I especially feel for the children, as they didn't have a choice as to where they would be born, and many of them become orphans by the time they are 12 or 13 and are forced to live on the streets. I've learned to appreciate absolutely everything I have been blessed with in my life, even the little things as little as running water and a toilet or even a mattress to sleep on, let alone a clean pair of sheets or clothes.


I am so thankful for the opportunity to see this country and meet the people I was able to meet, as it has forever changed my life and understanding the true difficulties life can bring -- not just a shanked punt or a B in the classroom. Ethiopians fight for survival, literally, as they spend a majority of their day searching for food to provide enough nourishment so they can survive. It's difficult to be able to just write or type my reflection of the trip as there was so much to take in, but the only way that truly describes it is this: Their situation shows true desperation, while we are the most blessed nation on this Earth.


For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

Today, Foster writes about a morning spent with a local youth soccer team on the Wildcats' last full day in Ethiopia.


Today was another very enjoyable day, as we were able to spend much more time with teenagers closer to our age. After breakfast, we traveled to a local private school. We were greeted by a teenage soccer team sporting blue Nike dri-fit tee shirts with white letters spelling out "Kentucky" on the front and their numbers on the back. The soccer team was there because Jason sponsors one of the players on the team, Natnael, and he invited his whole team to spend time with us.

The first part of the day was introducing ourselves to the soccer team and getting to know them. We ventured over to a shady area on school property where we could all sit down. After sitting down, the man in charge of the school talked to us and explained the whole mission of the school, as well as how many children are parts of the institution and how many are sponsored vs. those who are still looking for a sponsor.

While sitting down with the kids, they brought out the three most recent trophies the team has won, all won within the past year or so. Also, several women came out and made coffee, which is a ritual in Ethiopia. The other women then followed suit and offered up popcorn and roasted grain, which are also both commonly served during the daily coffee-drinking ceremonies.

During that time, we also sat with the team and enjoyed each other's company. A conversation about soccer sprung up and of course I jumped right in asking each of their favorite teams and players. Most of the kids were wearing pants affiliating themselves with some European soccer club. There, I was told that I looked like both Gareth Bale and David Beckham. I wish people back in the States believed I looked like David Beckham, too. Other than those conversations, we joked around and got to know each other, but the center of the conversation was always soccer.
 
After introductions, we headed across the parking lot, grabbed a few soccer balls from our parked bus and continued down a hill past the school and to the soccer field. Again, this soccer field was all dirt and rocks with wooden posts outlining the goals, although this one was a bit bigger. We started by juggling, then moved on to a more organized set of drills, which brought very vivid memories of my travel soccer days to mind. After a few of the passing drills, we got our teams ready, and we added their team coach to our roster (very much needed).

This team was very good and very well organized. We went down 3-1 but came back and tied it 3-3 with only 2 minutes or so left in the game. We then played a golden-goal overtime session, and we scored a few minutes in and got the victory which brought our Ethiopian soccer tour record to 3-1 - not too shabby for some American football players...and three Ethiopian footballers. It really was an enjoyable and entertaining game and it created that much more respect between us all.

After the game, we were all very hungry. Conveniently, we had a pizza party planned for lunch. The pizza was the best pizza that we had in Ethiopia: a meat lover's pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage and chicken. After passing out pizza to the team and savoring some ourselves, we thanked the team for giving us their time and hoped and prayed for their well-being in the future. A surprise gift was in store for Jason, as the ultra-shy teenager that he sponsors spoke in front of the entire group on behalf of his team thanking us for everything. It truly was a special moment.

Once we finished lunch, we headed out to a small zoo to see some Ethiopian lions. I've been told that you ultimately have to face your fears to get over them, so this was the time to truly get over my lifelong fear of Scar from "The Lion King." Ethiopian Lions are the only type of lions that have the dark brownish/black manes, which is their main distinguishing characteristic. It was amazing getting to see those huge animals in person, as well some monkeys and very unique deer, including two small baby deer.

After the zoo, we headed out to do some shopping and concluded the day by eating dinner. We then were dropped off at a guest house where Brett Johnson is staying. We started off by playing Ping-Pong, but the burning desire for some Wi-Fi access left Bud, Braylon and myself stranded on the steps of the stairs, as it seemed to be the only definite hot spot. After spending a little over an hour at that house, we started walking back towards a main road, and along the way Braylon screamed like a little girl (typical SEC running back style) after seeing a two-inch wide frog leap across his feet on the group. Even after that terrifying moment, we eventually reached the main road and successfully caught a taxi back to our own guest house.
 
For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

Today, Foster writes about meeting a husband and wife who are changing lives.


Our day began with the arrival of our fellow UK athletes from the swimming and diving team, Maclin Simpson and Lindsay Hill. They got right into the action and hopped on the bus as we set off to visit Abraham and his wife, Salem. Abraham visits UK every January and is very close to Coach Rock Oliver, and his wife runs an organization that makes and sells handmade items such as hats, baskets, jewelry, scarves and tablecloths. They hire most of their employees from the poorest area in Ethiopia, the city that we visited on Friday.

Not only do these people have exceptional talents of making these items, but Abraham and Salem are also helping provide them with work and fair pay. They, being Abraham and Salem, are helping fight poverty and strengthen Ethiopia's economy by creating work for the people who live off of food from the trash dump. Abraham also explained to us that in Ethiopia, men do most of the fabric making.

The products that were made at Salem's business were beautiful enough to receive interest from major American companies. However, they couldn't fulfill the orders due to the substantial quantity ordered as each piece takes a significant amount of time to make. After coffee and tea with Abraham and his wife and a little bit of shopping, Abraham took us to learn firsthand about community initiatives that the business financially supports.

The first was a library. The library was more than just a library, though, as we arrived there right around lunchtime and saw many students filing in to be served lunch. Abraham said that they provide free lunch to any student who can't afford it, so they don't have to continue the rest of the school day being hungry and wondering where their next meal will come. He estimated that 70-80 kids use the library each day.

Not only does the program provide lunch, but it also provides books, computer use and standardized test prep and practice books. Abraham was ecstatic and pleasantly surprised to learn that both Kaleab and Girma, two of our translating friends, had used this program as recently as a few months ago. That just reiterated the importance of the program and how the children really do use and benefit from it.

After leaving the library, we headed to lunch at this pizza place where Bud continued his trend of getting his food last, this time because when he ordered a pizza he told the waitress everything he did NOT want on the pizza, but she thought he said that's what he wanted on the pizza, so they had to make him another one. Also, while at the restaurant we ran into a couple from Louisville, Ky. ... what a small world. After leaving the restaurant, we headed to the Hope Center.

This center was managed by a man by the name of Jeremiah, who is the house dad. He is in charge of "recruiting" kids off of the street by telling them his story and showing them they can change their lives. He then takes them off of the street and into this house, and all Jeremiah and Abraham ask of them is to be open-minded to the change in lifestyle.

Today, all 25-30 of us gathered to introduce ourselves. After each of the old and new teenage members of the house introduced themselves, there was one common denominator: Jeremiah was a wonderful house dad who truly had changed their lives for the better. Jeremiah finished the introductions by telling his touching and emotional story that has many similarities to stories of college and professional football players here in America. He abused alcohol and drugs trying to fulfill himself, but then was ultimately healed by family members and his faith. He provided such detail in the story that made it easy to picture yourself in his situation and completely understand the circumstances he went through.

It was very special to see someone do a 180-degree change in lifestyle and not just stop there, but wanting to provide other kids going through similar situations a way out if they allow him a way in to their lives. Once the seriousness of the life stories concluded, we all wanted to lighten the mood by going outside and kick and throw the Ethiopian and American footballs. As it has been this entire trip, it was so enjoyable trying to teach them how to throw this foreign oblong object.

After throwing the football for a while, I wanted to join them in what they are much more familiar with, as am I: kicking a soccer ball. We had a blast showing each other the moves we know and juggling in a circle, and I even ended the day being compared to Liverpool's Luis Suarez (I don't see it). It was such a wonderful day being able to see how Abraham and his wife's vision has had and continues to have such a powerful and positive effect on kids of all ages.

The lowlight and highlight of the night happened on the way to dinner to Bud and Braylon, respectively. The lowlight was when Bud, once again, was the victim of an attempted pick-pocketing crime. I don't know why in the world they would choose a 6-foot-4, 275-pound man who tackles guys for a living to steal from, but luckily Bud caught them in the act and pushed them away.

The highlight was when Braylon made eye contact with a local Ethiopian who ended up following us all of the way to cupcake and sat down by herself right next to our table and would not take her eyes off of Braylon. It was the topic of conversation at our end of the table for the first 15 minutes of dinner until we realized Braylon wouldn't go sit with her no matter how much we pestered him.

We ended the day having dinner at a restaurant called Cupcake, which to my surprise, had much more than just cupcakes. I had an awesome chicken pesto Panini, with Jason copying my order. And of course, Jason also stole the last piece of red velvet cake they had left, but it's OK...he was just looking after my body composition for Coach Korem.


For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

Next, Foster writes about a day spent relaxing and taking in a soccer game.


Today was scheduled as a much-needed relaxing day. After three consecutive long and tiring days, we finally had a chance to some rest to a second wind for the second half of the trip coming up.

We were able to sleep in a little bit, and then we met downstairs around 8:30 to head to a relatively nice gym named Bole Rock. As we walked to the gym, we were consistently pestered and followed by locals anywhere from the age of 3 to around 50 or 60 begging for money. Once we got to the gym, the begging ended but the attention didn't. We all are much, much bigger than the typical Ethiopian, so once we got upstairs to the gym area, which couldn't be more than 1,500 or 2,000 square feet, all eyes were on us - for Bud and Braylon being so built and me being an obvious foreigner. The workout went very well, but it was hard finding enough plates for Bud and Braylon. Once we did, every time one of us went to lift, all six local in the gym stopped to watch. After our workout, we started our 15-minute trek back to the guest house, and upon our arrival, we had our typical breakfast -- French toast and eggs -- with Bud getting a double order of course. We took a quick shower and we were ready for an optional 11:15 church service.

We arrived a little early, around 11. The worship songs started around between 11:15 and 11:30 and lasted for at least an hour. It was as if it was a game to see who could stand up the entire first hour of the worship. Most people lasted for the first 30 minutes of the music, but after that people started dropping out like flies and sitting down. After the worship singing, a group of missionaries from a Chicago church performed an awesome five-minute dance on stage.

Then, the preaching finally started, after what was the typical length of an entire service here (90 minutes or so). The service was very entertaining, however. The preaching was led by an Amharic-speaking pastor of another church and translated by the English-speaking pastor of the Beza church. It was a wonderful service talking about knowing your true inner self and used the metaphor of our body and flesh being a clay pot. It was an atypical church service for most, if not all, of us, but the consensus was that it spoke a great message, with a fun, upbeat preaching style and translation with a bit long of a worship singing segment.

We then headed to lunch, where Bud and Braylon ordered an entire chicken. I stuck with just half of a chicken. After lunch, we stopped back by our guest house, changed and then we were ready for the soccer game in the afternoon afternoon between the women's national teams from Ghana and Ethiopia. We all went in going to cheer for Ethiopia, except for Gabe, since his parents are from Ghana. Gabe got lucky and felt even more at home after realizing we were sitting in the Ghana section, so he felt that much more comfortable cheering for Ghana after each of their two goals in the 2-0 victory. The most shocking thing to me was the fact that the ambassadors, the most respected and important people, sat literally one row in front of us. We all had plenty of fun during the game and took lots pictures after the game -- even one with the referee crew. After the game, we headed back to the guest house for dinner and put an end to this relaxing day.

For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

To start, Foster writes about a day spent visiting local jails and playing soccer with locals.


Today was expected to be a very long day, and that expectation was proven to be true. Our day started earlier than usual as we had around two hours of traveling to Debre Zeit, a city south of Addis. After breakfast and a long drive that many of us spent sleeping, we arrived at Sammy and Ruth's house. Sammy and Ruth are a husband and wife originally from India who moved here to serve young Ethiopians.

Our first task of the day was to create goodie bags of personal soap, laundry detergent and a few other things. Once that was finished, we headed to the backyard to make to-go boxes filled with a hot meal consisting of injera (sour, spongy, traditional Ethiopian food) and a red, spicy sauce made with sheep meat. The sheep was bought, slaughtered and cooked all within 24 hours! We prepared over 30 hot meals for the prisoners and police officers we were about to visit. We then had about 30 minutes of free time after all of the goodies were packed up on the bus, so we played with their two daughters, who are both absolute joys, for the remainder of the time. During that time, we played soccer, introduced them to a football, and then the ultimate winner was when I threw them up in the air to let them "fly." Also, during this time, I asked the older daughter if she wanted gum, and I believe I created an addiction, because she asked me for gum at least 15 different times during the remainder of today.

When the time came, we boarded the bus and set out for several different jails. Once we arrived at the first one, I was very surprised to see how small this prison was. It had three main holding cells, each with about five or six inmates. The security seemed very, very relaxed and the walls to the prison area were about four or five feet tall, just asking to be jumped. We then served lunch -- the sheep stew, injera and a banana -- along with giving each prisoner and police officer a t-shirt and a personal care goodie bag.

After visiting with the prisoners and policemen of two different prisons, we headed back to Sammy's to have a traditional lunch. Sammy and his family were very hospitable and welcomed us into their house with open hearts. Sammy had prepared some traditional Indian cuisine of curry with pita bread, some traditional Ethiopian cuisine of sheep and injera, and fresh mangoes and bananas. It became obvious how talented of a cook Sammy is after the first bite of the traditional Indian cuisine. After introducing ourselves and receiving a rose as a welcoming gift, we helped clean up the room of our plates and packed up some more items onto the bus to take to some widows' houses.

We packed up the bus and headed out to visit some widows and bless them with some essential foods and necessities. The desperation and need for help was obvious at each of the five widows' houses that we stopped at. Many of their houses were smaller than a typical bedroom in the United States -- roughly 10 feet by 10 feet with concrete or dirt floors. We also had the privilege of praying over them and praying for their future well-being and thanking God for allowing us the ability and resources to travel to them and provide a few items for each of them. It was truly a blessing, as it has been this whole trip, to be able to provide for people and seeing their reaction of gratitude is beyond satisfying.


By the time we finished visiting the last of the five widows we planned to see, it was already 3:45. I say, "already," because there had apparently been a small soccer tournament scheduled around our visit at around 4. We drove to the area that we were about to play at, and I can't say that I had ever played on a field like that. This "field" was all dirt; not a single blade of grass had grown on it. The goals were made out of timber found around the village, and as no surprise, had no net. On one side of the field was a stone-lined gutter/ditch, while the other side had a small hill, and the field seemed to be located in the center of several housing villages.

Upon arriving at the field, there were around ten younger children who were quick to greet us after getting off of the bus, and about five or six young adults about the same age as us warming up on one of the goals. We brought out both a soccer ball and a football to play with and teach the kids about American football. After 20 minutes or so of just kicking the soccer ball around and throwing the football, many locals must have heard about our arrival and had made their way to this field. We started to seriously get ready for the games we were about to play.

We got the teams set, our group and our three translators vs. their group, and then we kicked off. We played three games in a row, winning the first two and losing the last one. We, without a doubt, shocked many people, me included, with how well we played. Catching your breath during exercise here in Ethiopia is much more difficult, because it is around 9,000 or 10,000 feet above sea level. The important thing about these soccer games was just being able to show the kids in the village that we cared about them. And when there is such a language barrier, the best way to communicate is through sports.

We then headed out after coffee at Sammy and Ruth's and had the long drive back to the guest house in Addis. I don't know what it is, but the bus rides rock us to sleep like babies, because within 10 minutes or so, we were all knocked out for the two-hour ride or so back to the guest house. We then had dinner and then headed upstairs to get some more sleep. That is after watching the Champion's League Final, of course, in true soccer watching style - an iffy, static picture with no sound. It was by far the worst quality picture I've watched any sporting event on in a long time, but I'm glad I did, so I can truly get a grasp on every aspect of the culture. The game ended in a disappointing fashion, in my personal opinion, as Real Madrid beat Atletico Madrid in extra time 4-1 after tying it up at one each only two minutes before the time had expired.

Today ended up being the most fun day of the trip up to this point. Growing up surrounded by soccer, I felt at home playing the three games today and then watching the game tonight. The important parts of the day were also rewarding, though. Helping the prisoners is something I have never done before, and honestly probably will not ever do again, but it was definitely a great experience doing it. Along with this fun day comes great exhaustion...therefore, goodnight! Tomorrow should be a much lighter day of rest, and it could not have been scheduled at a more perfect time.


For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

To start, Foster describes his first full day in Ethiopia, during which he met a special young man.


Writing this entry is going to be tough for several reasons. First, I am exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally. It was such a long day that brought both tears of joy and tears of sympathy. We started the day with breakfast -- our typical order of French toast with scrambled eggs (with peppers), some tea and coffee, and of course Sammy bear (the syrup brand).

After breakfast, we were headed to one of the poorest sections of Addis Ababa. Here, many people are forced to scavenge through the dump for everything necessary to survive due to the poor health of many of the people that reside there - a mixture of leprosy and HIV infected populations.

Once we parked, we headed to a local community center. As soon as I stepped off the bus, I could tell that this area was even worse than the areas we visited yesterday, as these living conditions can't get much worse. It was hard to believe I was about to venture into a territory like this, but I put my personal reservations behind me and was ready to face the reality of survival for the 130,000 people or that live there.

We walked about 15-20 minutes through the village until we arrived at the community center. We were greeted with joy and much gratitude by the leader of the center along with several women and a young male teenager, Dejene. In a small lawn in front were about 30-35 widowers and lepers who clearly were uplifted as soon as we walked in. We entered a room and began an assembly line to make "goodie bags" of necessities that these men and women probably only see once or twice a year, like macaroni, rice, sugar, soap, matches and another item or two. We filled 30 or so bags and then took them out on the concrete porch in front of the crowded lawn space.

Passing out these bags, just as it was yesterday, made me think so much of what I have back home and what I deem a true necessity. When I walked out to hand some of the bags out, I was greeted by so much constant gratitude and love in Amharic that saying "you're welcome" just didn't seem enough to me, but that's all I could do. The language barrier is so tough when you have so much to say but there isn't a way to verbally say it all. This is where the nonverbal gestures became the primary source of communication. Just a smile from us put an amazing sense of security and gratitude on their faces. It was humbling being able to truly change someone's day, week, month and even year just by a simple smile and a bag of truly basic necessities.

Once we finished passing out the bags, it was brought to our attention that many of these people, due to their leprosy or weakness from malnutrition and their living conditions, could not possibly carry the bags back to their homes. Therefore, we carried the bags through the dump to their houses. I happened to be carrying two bags as two people lived near each other in the same area.  Remember Dejene, that boy that I met earlier? He for some reason tagged along with me and asked several times to carry a bag for me but I declined the first several times until about 20 minutes into the walk, I was getting a little sore and he could tell so he simply took one from me.

I found out he spoke English after trying to speak Amharic to him saying, "Hey, what's up, how old are you?" in Amharic. He simply replied in pretty good English, "What's up, I'm 15. How old are you?" I still answered in Amharic saying "Hiya (20)." It was pretty funny looking back at it, swapping the norm of languages. We finally arrived at the ladies house and her son, who spoke very little English, greeted me, but his gratitude was also easily expressed. The floor of her house was all mud. Mud walls reinforced by tree limbs created some shelter but there were many leaks that proved to be devastating during the rainy season. After saying a quick prayer for her safety, health and thanking Him for allowing us to be able to provide support to her, we said our goodbyes and headed back.

On our way back we passed what seemed to be tin/aluminum garbage receptacle, but I was then informed that is where the nightly guard sleeps. The box couldn't have been six feet long and four feet wide and tall. We eventually got back to the community center where we busted out some Ethiopian footballs (soccer balls) that we had brought with us. Myself, Gabe, Wario and Dejene began passing the ball and juggling in a circle until I worked up quite a sweat. My touch had pretty obviously gotten worse since the last time I had touched a soccer ball (four years ago) but there was so much joy playing a game that the locals and I all love.

We then walked out of the church and saw some local kids (around 8-12 years old) and asked them if they wanted to play. They took us to what they called a field, but I would call it more of a rock-filled dirt patch that was on a slope and had several boulders sticking out of the ground. Goals were set up using bigger rocks and we had our makeshift field set, home-field advantage clearly going to the locals. The teams were quickly set with Gabe, Wario, Girma, Dejene, Bud and me making one team and what seemed to be at least 10-12 local kids making up the other. Seeing and playing soccer with Bud is one of the highlights in my life. Seeing a 6-foot-4 275-pound future NFL defensive end hesitate to go up for a header against some 5-foot, 120-pound kids is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives. He eventually got the hang of it and started playing like a natural, other than the fact that most soccer players are as gigantic as he is. I hadn't had that much fun playing soccer, or any sport for that matter, in a long time. It truly is amazing how we as Americans can travel thousands of miles into Ethiopia where there is no common verbal communication, but the game of soccer itself becomes the form of communication and forms a bond with the local Ethiopians just by playing with them and sharing our time and love for them.


After we won the soccer game, we headed back to the church to meet up and get ready for lunch. Dejene was always right by my side everywhere we went, and it gave me so much time and opportunity to break him out of his shell. He was very shy at first, which made me have to keep the conversation going. I completely understood though, and I was starving for his life story and getting to know everything about him. We invited Dejene to come out to late lunch with us, so he followed us back to the bus and again, was never more than 3 feet away from me. From the bus ride to the restaurant, to the one-on-one "lunch date" with Dejene, to the bus ride back to take him home, there was some quality bonding time. I genuinely respect him and his story to the utmost extent.

This is a boy who never met his mother and lived with his father until he was around 8 or 9 years old when his father married. The woman he married had something against Dejene from day one. She would beat him and deny him any food or clothing or any level of caring for him. He was forced to move out on the streets around a year later just to survive.

It was there where he found his way into and out of an orphanage and being taken in by his best friend who is a few years older than him. He was then fortunate enough to be able to be sponsored, which gave him the funds for a private education along with guaranteed meals for the month. During his time at school, through all of this adversity, he achieved and maintained a 3.6 GPA until his sponsorship was abruptly cut. He was in 11th grade when his sponsorship was stopped, so he still needs two more years of school before he can take the Ethiopian national placement exam to see if he can go to the University. He loves biology and wants to be a cardiologist!

After the way he made me feel safe on our walk to deliver supplies earlier in the day, Dejene's name fittingly means "protector." We found a big-time common ground in our favorite TV show -- Prison Break. We also found similarities in our internal personal drives to succeed in life. Dejene fills the room with happiness and contentment every time he shows his huge, beautiful smile, even though it is tough to get it out of him sometimes.


I can't express how much Dejene already means to me and how much I care for him and want to return the favor and be his provider and protector. It brought me tears of joy when he told me how much he loved me and considered me family and how comfortable he felt around me. I really hope I am able to see him again, but we are already Facebook friends I am positive I will keep in touch with him, and hopefully I will be able to sponsor him, so he can go back to school and graduate. I see an amazing kid, with an amazing drive and work ethic who has lived through so much adversity, literally having no one to care for him. No mother, father, brothers, sisters or cousins. Obviously, I haven't had to live through anywhere close to the kind of adversity as he has, but I do understand the sense of loneliness that he has to be feeling. Being an only child, I missed out on being with brothers and sisters, and I truly wish I had a sibling to have that type of relationship with. I feel so remorseful, sympathize for him and empathize with him. I hope I will someday be able to bring him over to the United States to give him the opportunity of his life that he deserves to become the best cardiologist he can possibly be. Meeting Dejene and getting to know much of his story truly has inspired me to become a better person.

On our way back to the Addis Guest House, we stopped at a shoe store run by a woman who came through one of the programs at the community center headed by our friend and host, Mark. The shoes' soles are made from old tire treads, so they are very environmentally friendly.

With such an emotional and amazing day behind us, Bud provided us with humor throughout the day. Miscommunication due to the language barrier is expected, but the fact that there needs to be an intermediary translator to get from Bud's dialect to English that our translator friends can understand makes us laugh every day. However, today provided the best quotes by far.

Quotes of the day by Bud: 1) At dinner, Bud informs us that his last name isn't spelled Dupree, it's DuPree. His response "Yeah, I just found that out a few years ago."
2) After dinner tonight, our waiter comes to our table after being called over by Mark. We had just finished talking about room towels. Bud thinks Mark is calling him to inform him about our towel problem, but is in reality calling him over for the bill. Bud raises his hand and says to our waiter "Yeah, were going to need three regular towels and two hand towels." The waiter walks away puzzled. We all laugh.


Bud's quotes aside, it was an emotionally, physically and mentally draining day, but such a great and fulfilling one for me personally. Dejene will be a part of my life forever, and hopefully I can find a way to financially support him to continue and finish his schooling to give him the opportunity to become the cardiologist he dreams of being. As exhausted as I am, I still need to get these push-ups, abdominals, and squats in before I can get some much needed rest.

For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

To start, Foster describes three days of their journey, from a stop in Washington, D.C., to a long day of travel to their first hours in Ethiopia.


Day one - D.C.

Today was somewhat of a start on our Ethiopian journey. We made it all the way to Washington, D.C., with a stop in Cincinnati.


After landing, we claimed our bags and hopped on the hotel-airport shuttle bus to take us to our hotel.  before our private tour of Washington, D.C. After getting settled, we walked outside of the hotel and were greeted by our friendly Egyptian tour guide, Zuma.

Trying to retain all of the information that Zuma was giving to us was impossible. I actually ended up with a headache as soon as we arrived at our first stop, the United States Air Force Memorial. This memorial was beautiful and consisted of three very tall half arches that were outwardly curved in the center of two marble slab walls 40 yards to each side of the main arch attraction guarded by hulking statues of soldiers.

We left the U.S. Air Force Memorial and drove right past the Arlington National Cemetery that was located directly across the street and occupies an absurd amount of acreage. We then headed to downtown and passed the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol along with multiple historic buildings and monuments that featured some of the most amazing architecture I've ever seen.

We ultimately ended up stopping at only two more memorials, the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial, which honors an individual that had more influence on civil rights and equality than I can even comprehend. Quotes from Dr. King lined the marble walls surrounding his statue, and my favorite was, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." This quote speaks so much truth to our nation as a whole, as well as to me personally.

After a great dinner, we took a taxi back to the hotel. Now, here I am, typing this journal entry while half-watching this Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers Game 2, after what would typically be a long day of traveling in my mind. Just thinking about tomorrow is exhausting.  Now time to get some rest before waking up in seven hours to get to the airport to fly on a plane for twice that long...or I might just stay up so I can sleep on the plane. Either way, today was an enjoyable, entertaining and fulfilling start of the trip.

Day two - Wheels up to Ethiopia

Welp, there's not a better time than now to write my journal entry of today than now...since we'll technically spend over 20 hours on this plane - 13 on the plane and seven more crossing time zones.  Today started early, around 6:30, to get up, pack, get some breakfast and take the shuttle to the airport. The flight wasn't until 11:00, but since it is an international flight, we were supposed to be there three hours early.


So far, this plane ride has been pretty smooth, and we are about four-and-a-half hours in. I've passed the time with Sports Illustrated articles, a ton of music and watching a movie. Now, here I am, typing this journal entry with my knees against this seat in front of me as a lady has already leaned her chair back as far as it can to go, and she is now trying to force the chair back even further, pushing with all of her will. I almost feel bad for 6-foot-4, 275-pound Bud Dupree sitting to my left in the dead middle of the plane while all 6-2 and 200 pounds of me has the aisle seat. Typical of me, I had so much planned and high hopes for getting things accomplished during this everlasting flight. However, since it is already around 11:00 p.m. Ethiopian time, I am going to head to the back of the plane, get in a couple stretches, go to the bathroom, and try to get some rest before landing around 7:30 a.m. Ethiopian time with a full day planned tomorrow.

And...here's a morning update: First, I have slept maybe a total of an hour and a half during the 12-plus hours we have been in the air thus far. Right now, my computer reads 11:10 p.m., which means it is around 6:10 a.m. Ethiopian time, and the last time I had any bit of sleep was about three hours ago. Since then I have finished one Sports Illustrated magazine, eaten breakfast and watched "Invictus," the story of Nelson Mandela's release from prison and his support of the South African National Rugby Team before and during the 1995 World Cup.

I couldn't help but notice some similarities between what we are doing on this trip to what was represented by the movie. President Mandela was so supportive of the team, because he believed backing the team for the World Cup would help unite the divided Republic of South Africa. It was during this time that he urged, well, demanded, the national team (which only had one black player on the roster) to go out to less fortunate villages and run youth rugby "camps." These villages, which were mostly made up of less fortunate black citizens in South Africa, knew very little about rugby, but fell in love with Chester, the lone black player on the team.

It was amazing seeing the nation coming together throughout the entire movie to support the national team. Also, the joy on the children's faces was unparalleled, and I hope that we as a group of football players from the University of Kentucky can instill half of the happiness that the team did in "Invictus." Now, it is around 6:30 a.m. Ethiopian time, and we are about 45 minutes from landing and starting (continuing) our day of events.

Day 3 - Only the beginning

Looking back on today, I don't even really know how or when to begin.

We landed in Ethiopia around 8 a.m. local time after a 14-hour flight during which none of us, other than Jason, got more than two hours of sleep total. Once we landed, we proceeded to go through customs. After making it through and claiming our bags, we were greeted by our photographer for the trip, Jeff. He guided us through the airport parking lot to our large van guarded by the rest of our group, guides and interpreters. We quickly loaded the bus with our luggage and headed to the guesthouse where we are staying, the Addis Guesthouse.

Once we arrived, we dropped our bags off in our rooms and headed downstairs and outside to consume our second breakfast of the morning. After breakfast, we quickly changed, packed up our gear, boarded the bus and began our 15-minute ride to a local community center. Demmis, the founder of the program that provides support to local widows, greeted us when we arrived. We were divided into three different teams to perform different tasks. Braylon and our interpreter/friend Girma were chosen, with the help of an expert in the area, to re-roof the grass roof on the round cultural house right outside of the church. Bud, Brett and another of our Ethiopian friends, Kaleab, went along with one carpenter, while Gabe, our Ethiopian friend Wario and I teamed up with another carpenter to perform both fixes and upgrades to mud stucco houses.


Our house needed one of the mud walls to be torn down and lots more work. After redesigning the infrastructure of that wall, we nailed heavy plastic tarp around the inside of this 8-foot by 8-foot house to keep it dry.

Imagining staying one night in one of these houses, or shelters, is hard to comprehend by itself. That reality sets in even more during days like today, in the midst of the rainy season where it gets very windy and chilly along with the daily storms. The joy shown by these Ethiopians affected by such poverty is an amazing sight to see that can only make people like me more thankful for what I have.

One common theme throughout the day today was how important interaction and the idea of togetherness are in this community. Coffee, even though it is expensive, is served as a ritual around three times a day, which forms bonds as they typically travel hut to hut or house to house each time during the day. Their happiness in the community truly is a testament to their connectedness to one another.

After finishing up all of the repairs on the houses, each group returned to the community center, and we were greeted by a line of beautiful widows and a few of their children. It was then when you could truly see the thankfulness and sense of relief on each of their faces when we handed out bags filled with food, bed sheets and a blanket, as well as a mattress and bed frame set to some. That was a very exciting moment for me, because you get to see the widow's reaction to being gifted food and a place to sleep first hand. Clean bed sheets, a pillow, and even a mattress are all things that I definitely have taken for granted growing up in ever-so-sheltered Franklin, Tenn.

After finishing passing out "the goodies," a couple of the widows needed help getting their newfound sleeping arrangements back to their houses, so we all lent a hand, or two, walking at least 20 minutes one way to drop off one woman's new possessions.

From there, we walked back to the Church, picked up our bags, and boarded the bus to get back to the Addis Guesthouse, where we ended up eating a wonderful group dinner with our Ethiopian friends. Here, we were finally able to connect to Wi-Fi for the first time since landing in Ethiopia, allowing us to contact our friends and family to ensure them we had arrived safely. The rest of the dinner was spent talking about sports, reflecting on the sights and events of the day, and discussing plans for tomorrow. But now, it is time to rest. At last, a good night's sleep hopefully lies in front of me. Until tomorrow.

Video: Wildcats reflect on Ethiopia service trip

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Jarrod Polson and seven fellow UK student-athletes returned from a service trip to Ethiopia on Wednesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Jarrod Polson and seven fellow UK student-athletes returned from a service trip to Ethiopia on Wednesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
This week, eight Wildcats are taking part in a service trip in Ethiopia. Throughout the week, the student-athletes will take turns describing their experience. Please note that these posts are the personal reactions of the student-athletes and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics. Jarrod Polson wrote the final entry, an account of the group's final day in Ethiopia and a reflection on the trip as a whole.

Jarrod Polson (men's basketball)

The last day of the trip may have been the most moving of them all. We were able to visit an organization called Youth Impact that was located about 15 minutes from our guest house. When we got there, we were greeted by Abraham (who was educated in the United States, but decided to come back to help the Ethiopian people instead of getting a very lucrative job in America), the visionary leader of the affiliation. He and his wife had the idea about 20 years ago to teach uneducated men and women different skills that would help them get back on their feet and provide for their families. In essence, instead of handing out the fish, teach the people how to fish so they can sustain themselves.

We toured around and saw people basket-weaving, working the cash register and even making scarves and blankets (which is a very complicated and tiring process). The items were so well-made and intricate that a lot of us decided to buy some souvenirs to take home from the different shops.

After a little bit of shopping, Abraham and Aramis, the other main leader, took us to the "library." Aramis also has a very interesting story. He grew up as a street kid who got into a life of crime and drugs, simply trying to survive. A girl he knew kept trying to convince him to come to church with her but he never would. Eventually, he decided to end the nagging so he accompanied her one Sunday, but instead of participating, he took out a cigarette and started smoking during the service. She was very embarrassed, but about six weeks later, he came again and sat in the front row where he radically changed for the rest of his life.  

Anyway, we arrived at the library, which was also where they educated young children. Most of the young boys were taken off the streets, and most of the girls were taken here right before they would have more than likely been sent to the streets. You would think that being abandoned by your parents and having to live on your own would completely wreck a 5-year-old's heart, but I can honestly say I have never seen a group of children with more joy and excitement in my entire life. The teacher had them sing the ABCs in English to us, along with the Ethiopian national anthem, so loud and passionate in fact that most of us were either crying or had goosebumps the entire time.

The last Youth Impact group we got to meet was made up of older kids and young adults, ranging between around 14 to 21. They were a group of around 20 teenaged boys who were rescued from the streets by this organization. Some had been street kids for up to five years. Just to give a little background, I asked how children came to live on the streets. I learned that a lot of the times a mother takes her child to a stadium via taxi, tells the driver she will be back in 10 minutes, drops her child off and returns to the taxi. Others are simply orphans and have no parents to feed them. Others are the victims of mothers choosing a boyfriend over their kids because of an ultimatum. In any case, these children literally have nowhere to sleep at night and no way of getting food.

These teenagers we met quickly changed from a statistic to a story. Five years went from just a number to a tragic and lonely life. A few of these rescued men stood up and thanked us for coming to help them, one of the most humbling experiences of our lives. After we returned to the guest house, we were able to collect a lot of our clothing and shoes to send back to the Hope House (this is what the street kids' house was called) because they were big enough to fit into them.  

We left for the airport around 7 p.m. (East Africa Time) and after a 17-hour flight followed by a one-hour flight to Cincinnati, we finally arrived safely in Lexington around 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

I know that when people come back from mission or service trips they always talk about how "life-changing" the experience was. Because I had never experienced one, I was always hesitant to believe them. I regret it now because this trip has really given our group a brand-new perspective on life. Some of us were talking about how sometimes during the trip, we were confused because we felt as if we were in a completely different world. The biggest impact on me personally was seeing the Bible come to life.

I started a book called "Red Letters" before the trip and it talked about trying to see Jesus in everyone you come into contact with. In Matthew 25, Jesus says, "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." This idea was so clear to me in Ethiopia because it was really easy to see Jesus in a lot of the people we came into contact with. I saw Jesus in the little boy with a huge smile on his face using a balloon to drink water from a muddy river. I saw Jesus in the woman with a nervous-system problem who cried tears of joy when we delivered food to her because she was about to give up, saying we were a gift sent straight from God at the exact right time. I saw Jesus in the woman who was distributing bread she had made to the poorer people at the church, the same woman who we gave food to earlier in the day because she was very sick and struggling to feed her children. I saw Jesus in our two translators, one orphan and one street kid, who have every reason to be mad at the world or God, but are the two most joyful and unselfish young men I have ever met. I saw Jesus in the woman who has been in bed for 18 years plagued by leprosy, who wouldn't let me touch her head in fear of me getting the disease, who blessed us and our country through her words, and who still seemed more joyful than me after years of physical agony. I saw Jesus in the woman who brings in travelers to her small home and shares the gospel, all the while her sons won't talk to her, ashamed of her Christian views even though she has HIV and still feeds them. I saw Jesus in the leaders of Youth Impact and the church who finally "made it" and could be very successful, but chose to stay in their poverty-stricken native areas and try to help everyone they can. I could go on and on, telling the stories of so many people we met that have very little of what the world has to offer, but very much of what God has to offer: a joyful heart and a peace beyond understanding.

I'm not writing this blog to condemn anyone or judge anyone, because I am guiltier than anyone of not helping people or taking the time to make people feel loved. This trip has definitely changed the lives of our group members and I pray that God would use this trip as a wake-up call to realize why He chose us by name to live on this earth.

I'm not saying everyone needs to move to Africa to become a missionary. People in America have problems just like people in Ethiopia, just maybe not in the same ways. The one thing we realized, and (Senior Associate Athletics Director of Corporate and University Relations and trip chaperone) Jason (Schlafer) pointed out to us, is that everyone who we helped was more appreciative of the fact that we came to help than the actual food or supplies we gave. Forming relationships and just coming across the world blessed the people way more than any amount of food we could have given them. I'm talking to myself when I say this, but we can translate this to America by simply forming relationships with people who need to feel loved and be loved. People may not need food like the Ethiopians do, but everyone needs love and that is where we can make our biggest impact in America.

Maclin Simpson helped deliver basic necessities to residents of Ethiopia on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Maclin Simpson helped deliver basic necessities to residents of Ethiopia on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
This week, eight Wildcats are taking part in a service trip in Ethiopia. Throughout the week, the student-athletes will take turns describing their experience. Please note that these posts are the personal reactions of the student-athletes and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics. With the travel party set to return to the United States on Monday, Maclin Simpson writes about what he saw on Sunday.

Maclin Simpson (swimming and diving)

I woke up this morning feeling mixed emotions about the day ahead. On one hand, I was excited for another opportunity to serve the people of Ethiopia with a group of friends I would consider family. On the other, I was anxious because I knew that my expectations were about to be shattered into a million pieces, yet again turning my world upside down.

The day started just like any other. We had breakfast at the guest house followed by a quick meeting before we set out. After reconfirming our flight information, we had about an hour or so to kill so we made our way over to the zoo. I use the term "zoo" loosely because it isn't comparable to anything you would find in the U.S. More or less it was just one massive, circular cage with about ten lions that looked like they could eat any one of us without a moment's hesitation. Regardless, it was still a cool experience.

Then it all changed.

The moment that we got out of the van at the community center, we were swarmed with loving children. It was unbelievable to see the pure joy in their faces just to hold our hands and walk with us. Our task was to fill bags with assorted basic necessities and deliver them to widows and other families. Throughout our time there, the one thing that was constant was how gracious these amazing people were. It didn't matter who we were, just that we came. To them, we were an answered prayer and a gift from God. Every home that we visited (most were about half the size of a dorm room, dark and housing up to seven people) we prayed over the people about whatever physical or emotional discomfort was troubling them. Each time, without fail, they would tell us how much they loved us and prayed that God would bless us and our families. It's incredible that a village and people in such desperate need of financial capital were so content with human capital. The last home we visited was of a widow who suffers from tuberculosis; Jarrod Polson and I literally had to chase after her because she was so excited to invite us into her home and introduce us to her children. We sat, prayed and shared a hug that could have lasted a lifetime. It is those types of moments that make me realize how much of a gift from God life truly is and how much I take for granted on a daily basis. We all left that village changed and with memories that we will never forget.

Tomorrow is our last day here. I am going to miss this place and will forever be grateful for the opportunities given, experiences had, but most importantly for the people that I have met and the relationships I have formed.

Tiara Phipps bonded with Ethiopia natives playing soccer on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Tiara Phipps bonded with Ethiopia natives playing soccer on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
This week, eight Wildcats are taking part in a service trip in Ethiopia. Throughout the week, the student-athletes will take turns describing their experience. Please note that these posts are the personal reactions of the student-athletes and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics. Tiara Phillips writes about Saturday's activities.

Tiara Phipps (gymnastics)

Day four was like nothing I've ever experienced, which seems to be a common theme for this entire trip.  

9 a.m.: We left the Addis Guest House to head for the soccer fields for what we thought would be our forte: sports. The weather was unfavorable, but not one thing stops the Ethiopians from experiencing life.

9:27 a.m.: One of our translators, an incredibly intelligent mind who has never set foot in a school, told us his story. It's incredible that a young man who learned English in an orphanage, who was thrown into the wild at age 7, and experienced so many things we couldn't even imagine, is as receptive, generous and protective as anyone could ever hope to be. This is one of the huge examples for me of what it takes to be Ethiopian. STRENGTH. The people of this country grow more beautiful to me each day, but it's not an expected beauty, it's unintentional, unorthodox and a beauty that's truly a blessing to witness. We reach the fields after a walk through livestock, and immediately see the kids. They are already passing the ball, and getting dirty and into the game that's king in their nation. Our family is such a mixture of athletes from different sports that we had no idea what to expect from each other when playing soccer, but nevertheless it was fun. We started passing with the children and it's incredible how universal sport is. We speak two completely different languages, yet I was never uncomfortable hitting the ball with my head to a complete foreigner and the same for them with me.

12:45 p.m.: "They're better (at soccer) with their shoes off than we are with cleats on." A hilarious statement by Stephanie Fox at first, but an analogy at second glance. They experience more permanent happiness than I have ever seen with less than I have ever seen. After being made to look foolish by the Ethiopians, we took a little hike to the top of the mountain to find an incredible view and a perfect spot for a mini photo shoot session. The boys took a couple bro pics, and the girls smiled big, then we made fools of ourselves and loved every second of it. Later, after some slight misunderstandings and stop and goes to find a restaurant, we decided on a cultural place with great food and even better entertainment.

7:58 p.m.: This dancing is so athletic, it hurt my shoulders just watching them have the time of their lives with absolutely no breaks. Finally, Jarrod Polson got his shot at being the hero as one of the dancers approached our table, a chant broke out and I'll just say that video is one to watch.

This culture and the lessons it has taught me will stay with me forever, just like I hope the people I've met on this trip will never fade in my memory. I just want to say that I'm blessed beyond belief to be on this trip with this amazing team of people I'm sad I have to leave soon. This little group has become like a little family, and I appreciate every single one of them.

Every single thought on an Ethiopian's mind no matter the situation this entire trip has been on God blessing us, but we are simply His hands and feet. In spite of everything they absolutely need, they need us to be blessed. It's unfathomable the amount of love I'm developing for this country, this team and this culture. With that being said, I thank everyone for their prayers and pray that God blesses every single one of you.

Eight UK student-athletes spent their third day in Ethiopia on Friday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Eight UK student-athletes spent their third day in Ethiopia on Friday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
This week, eight Wildcats are taking part in a service trip in Ethiopia. Throughout the week, the student-athletes will take turns describing their experience. Please note that these posts are the personal reactions of the student-athletes and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics. Friday's blogs are from Emma Brown and Liz Breed.
   
Emma Brown (women's soccer)

"It's not about how big or small the gift, it's that you came."

Keeping my eyes open, providing my hands for a purpose and my heart to a people has given me an understanding of how time, words and relationships impact the world around you. How can you recognize the importance of a moment until it has slipped through your grasp, elusive as air? How can you feel the weight of words, both as heavy as they are light? How can one woman's thank you slow your heartbeat and warm your soul? "It's not about how big or small the gift," she said. "It's that you came." If you're pondering these same questions as I am from the confinements of a guest house in Ethiopia, I'll let you in on my newly discovered secret. Love, compassion, reflection, connection, that's how.

Our coach teaches us that every moment could be "the one" - the one that wins games or costs you your season. That is why you prepare and train and repeat, because you never know when that moment might come. The moment may be fleeting, like a shooting star streaking across the sky, brilliant and blinding and exceptional. Or maybe your moment was meant to be infinite, changing the blueprint of your life permanently. As our translator Kaleab relayed one woman's message to our group I realized the gravity of the moment I was in. The weight of words so lightly uttered in a dark and damp space that carried meaning that was just beyond the surface, if you were willing for your heart to find it.

In that epiphany-induced moment I came to learn much about humanity and myself. It's there as Africa's constant reminder to me - an action we think is so small can actually be something much bigger than us, our ideals, and the hopes we hold for each other. It's not necessarily about the amount of money we give or the food we hand out, it is that we cared enough to just give them a new shot of life, new wind under their wings. It's not that the difference you make is one that changes everything, but that you had the courage and compassion to take the first step towards something better.

Yesterday was about learning lessons for me, and today I was thankful for the lighter feeling that a day of sightseeing and shopping provided. It was a beautiful day to decompress and unburden some of the heaviness from the previous day. Nice weather throughout most of the day gave us the opportunity to "haggle" for gifts and glimpse some of Addis Ababa's landmarks. Even as the rain came we still had a great lunch and scarf extravaganza, where the boys were taught valuable lessons in how to pick out the right color scarves to complement their girlfriends and wives (really boys are about as clueless to the difference between pastels and prints as you would think, and that is not a new lesson for anyone). I'm excited for what tomorrow will bring and thankful for the time I've been allotted in this amazing country.

Liz Breed (women's golf)

You think you've prepared yourself for things outside of your comfort zone, but when you're out there, there are no words. There is nothing you can say to aptly summarize what you've seen.

Today we went shopping; we were tourists today. But shopping here is nothing like shopping at home. You barter and trade for the lowest price possible. (The American dollar is worth about 18 Ethiopian birr, which is the money system).  There are young boys with trays of gum, begging for money. Adult men are following you to sell you maps or belts. All you can do is give a firm "no," and keep moving. You stick to your guns and show no mercy. If you do, they swarm. It sounds scary, but it's not. It's excitement of a different kind.

After shopping, we went to a coffee shop. Picture: Starbucks, Ethiopian style. The colors and ambiance were the same, the drinks were the same, the baristas were wearing green aprons. It's the same thing...and just as good.

After coffee, back to shopping.

All in all, it was a fun day. Just...different.

Being in such a different culture has been overwhelmingly amazing and terrifying at once. You hear about it, but it's never what you've imagined. You could never prepare for a trip like this.

This week, eight Wildcats are taking part in a service trip in Ethiopia. Throughout the week, the student-athletes will take turns describing their experience. Please note that these posts are the personal reactions of the student-athletes and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics. For perspective on Thursday's activities, we turn to Angelica Whaley and Brett Johnson.

Angelica Whaley (track and field)

Angelica Whaley of UK track and field works interacts with locals in Ethiopia. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Angelica Whaley of UK track and field works interacts with locals in Ethiopia. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
We began our second day here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, bright and early at 8 a.m. local time with breakfast and then headed to a local community center. There, we met a case worker that is the head of a sponsorship program for impoverished families. We found that our main task for the day was to deliver mattresses to families that were in need - a task that seemed so simple to us but meant so much to people who piled leaves on the ground as a form of bare minimum cushion from the ground. The first woman to whom we delivered a mattress and frame to was a recently saved, HIV-positive mother of one young boy. The joy and appreciation in her face was like an unexpected gift to me; she was so gracious. Her son who was about 2 or 3 years old was literally a bundle of joy who smiled and pranced around everywhere. To have what we, as Americans, would call "nothing" and to live as if he had everything in the world in the way he laughed, smiled, giggled, and played was truly a blessing to see. We gave him a small toy, nothing extravagant, and the way his face lit up is something that I will never forget. The way all the children's faces lit up even more when we gave them toys period was a sight to see; it was pure, unadulterated happiness.

We traveled to a nearby city named Kai Afar to deliver another mattress to a local widow. The outside of her house was plastered with mud but had a definite structure to it unlike many of the "huts" and "shacks" that we've seen thus far; her neighborhood is considered to be a part of the more urban area. She was so warm and welcoming. Once we gave her the mattress, she insisted that we come in her home and have a seat. A few of us eagerly piled in as she rummaged about, rearranging the small amount of furniture that she had so that we all could fit. She was beyond gracious and didn't know much English but one phrase that she was completely familiar with was "thank you." She constantly said "I'm very, very thank you." She prayed for us and told us that we were a blessing to her and that she loved us. She said it meant so much that we came such a long way to deliver her a mattress. She shared with us that she suffers from an internal disease that affects her nervous system, and it often times causes her to be sick. Also, she shared with us that she has three children, one of whom we met book-in-hand in her home. Three people were sleeping on the twin-sized makeshift bed she had when we got there, but tonight, she and her family will sleep more comfortably with an extra mattress on the ground. We offered to pray for her, and she agreed, but she asked that if we pray for her, pray for her extended family members as well.

After our prayers, she thanked us again and again and began to cry. She revealed to us that at times, she felt as if God didn't know her and that he forgot about her. She shared that all the times that she was sick, no one came to see her or help her with her family, but we came. She said that we were her treasure. What we did for her was greater than the mattress, and it was greater than the simple toy that we gave her neighbor. We became a tangible confirmation of her faith. She was at her breaking point with her situation, and God used us as a blessing for her life. The entire visit was emotionally heavy and left many of us in tears; it was incredible to feel God move in that way. Through everything, she has had steadfast faith, and through us, God was able to show her that He takes care of all of His people. It is important to know that here in Ethiopia, religion is everything, compared to America where religion is somewhat "lost."

Nothing but love was felt but little did she know she was truly as much of a blessing, if not more, to us as she said we were to her. She is a beautiful soul inside and out. Through it all, she continues to put others first. She is truly a woman of gold, and I will never forget those soft, endearing eyes. A mattress brought us together. It is the donation of a plain, old mattress that has deeply impacted my life. Even with all the miles apart, it is our love of Christ that will keep us together (as said by our new friend). And she is completely right. 

We spent the rest of the day building relationships, giving small toys to children, and giving away coffee and sugar to many poor women at the community center. They tell us that it's not how much we brought but that we came.  We came 9,000 miles to spend time with them, and they were so thankful. You often hear them say "ameseginalehu," which means "thank you" in their Amharic language. The same young boy whose mother received a mattress, later greeted us with hugs, plants, and flowers - gifts that have proven to be the sweetest I have ever received and will cherish forever. Everyone constantly says, "God bless you," and we said the same in return, but God is blessing us all along this journey.

Lastly, we drove an older woman that has sickness in her legs that even makes walking to her home difficult.  She is on the waiting list for a sponsor who can change her life emotionally, spiritually, and economically. Sponsorship only costs $35 U.S. We prayed for her, and she was gracious like all the other women with whom we came in contact. As of now and as a group, we are waiting to see if it is acceptable for us to sponsor her. 

Today was a day like no other day I will experience in my life.  We've asked ourselves questions like "How can they do this?" or "How can they live that way?" But, I've realized why would they question their lifestyles if they have never seen, heard or even thought differently? This world is all they know, and even still, they, as a people, are happier and more peaceful than any place in America.  They are patient and loving people who live in a place where men can walk hand in hand as a sign of love and respect for one another with no judgment. These people are too busy with survival to spend all of their days judging one another. I love this culture. I love these people. Compared to our country, they may be "poor" outwardly, but they are wealthy in their hearts and spirit. 

Brett Johnson (men's tennis)
Brett Johnson is spending this week in Ethiopia with seven fellow Wildcats. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Brett Johnson is spending this week in Ethiopia with seven fellow Wildcats. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
"Selam" (Hello), "Ameseginalehu" (Thank you), "Simi man new?" (What's your name?) and "Cint amete new?" (How old are you?), were just a few phrases that came in handy today. After some wonderful morning quiet time, outstanding breakfast and a quick run, we began our "never going to forget this day" journey.

We started off the day a little differently than expected. We made our way over to the community center to soon realize the supplies for the day were not yet ready. Pastor Mark thought it would be a good idea to go on over to the bank to "quickly" convert our U.S dollars to Ethiopian birr. We had everyone put all their money in a bag, and Stephanie Fox was elected to be our money representative. So Pastor Mark, Stephanie and I make our way into the bank, expecting a five-minute exchange. Oh no! After 45 minutes Stephanie was still in the back "exchanging" money. Not what we were expecting, but everything ended turning out fine. 

Upon receiving a phone call from the representative for the community center saying the supplies were ready, we headed back to the center. We loaded up several beds, several pillows and many sheets. We were ready to go serve. Our first stop was to a single mother, who was currently working a quick shop. We pulled up to her "shop" and I look over and I see a gleaming smile on this woman's face. She hurried over to the van to meet us all. After several minutes of talking, eating her biscuits and prayer with her, we were off to a small town called Kai Afar not realizing what some of us considered "a day we will never forget."

Pulling into these tin-roofed, plastic-covered homes, we arrive in Kai Afar. Several of us get out to deliver the mattress, pillows and sheets. We duck our heads, and enter this mud-covered home and are ushered by this joy-filled widow to "sit down and get comfortable." After small talk with this widow and her youngest daughter, our hearts begin to melt. We asked the lady if there was any prayers we could say for her and she proceeded to tell us about a dysfunction in her nervous system. She was in severe pain, but we would have NEVER guessed it! She seemed as if she had the whole world in her hands! The joy and positive attitude that this woman had and the faith she had that God would provide was astounding and it brought all of us to tears. When praying for her and praying for healing, we were all a wreck. After hugging and saying our good-byes, my eyes were opened to a reality. How much do I need to be thankful? This woman had NOTHING, yet seemed as if she had EVERYTHING. I was excited to see where God would put us next.
 
It was around lunchtime and we all were ready to eat. We ate at a rodeo restaurant, where many of us had authentic food. With our bellies full, we were ready to keep serving. We made our way back over to the community center where we distributed sugar and coffee to the mothers. Again, they couldn't stop thanking us and blessing us. Upon hearing stories from several of the women, a very special one stood up and shared her story. She was also a single mother, in need of money and a sponsor, because she is unable to work because of severe pains in both her legs and an HIV-positive diagnosis. Several of our hearts went out to her. Some of us drove her back to her home and were able to pray for healing and that an opportunity would open up for someone to sponsor her. Yet again, never would have guessed anything was wrong in her life because she was bubbly and always smiling and hugging. Again, how much do I need to be thankful?

It was beginning to get late so we all decided to head back to the guest house, where some of us realized we still had a lot of energy. So we asked Rock Oliver to take us to the gym to get a late night workout in. To say the least, I'm going to be super-sore in the morning. This concluded our wonderful Thursday. We all want to say thank you for the prayers and thoughts, we are continually driven by the joy these people express. Our hearts are captivated by their sincerity and thankfulness. We are excited to see God at work the rest of the trip!

Eight UK student-athletes arrived in Ethiopia on Wednesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Eight UK student-athletes arrived in Ethiopia on Wednesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
This week, eight Wildcats are taking part in a service trip in Ethiopia. Throughout the week, the student-athletes will take turns describing their experience. First up are Jarrod Polson and Stephanie Fox on their long voyage to Africa and their first day serving.

Jarrod Polson (men's basketball)

We started our journey to Ethiopia around 10 a.m. ET on Monday morning. We drove to the Cincinnati airport where we took off for Washington, D.C., arriving around 430 p.m. After checking into the hotel near the airport, we had the wonderful privilege of taking a three-hour tour around D.C in the "fun van," as our driver called it. We were able to see most of the famous attractions including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and even got a glimpse of the White House. During the tour, we were fed both a countless amount of information and some cheese puffs that were out of this world. Once done with that escapade, we proceeded to partake in the "last supper," as we liked to call it. We chose to go to the Cheesecake Factory and were not disappointed. Knowing that we probably wouldn't have an American meal for at least a week, we took the honor of each ordering an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. After stuffing our faces, we came back to the hotel and rested up for the journey ahead.

The next day we woke up around 6:30 a.m. so we could catch our 9:15 a.m. flight. After purchasing a comfortable neck pillow and a hearty bagel breakfast, we boarded the plane and began our 13-hour flight to Ethiopia.  Fortunately, it wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting. The seats were pretty spread apart and after watching three movies, taking a few naps and reading a little bit, we finally landed in Africa promptly and safely. It took a while to get out of the airport because we had to go through customs. Once the particulars were done, we checked into the Addis Guest House. It didn't take long to see such a culture change from America to Ethiopia. One of the big things that I wasn't even expecting was the driving. Ethiopia is actually a very busy place to drive, and it doesn't help that there are hardly any lines on the road and people literally are walking in and out of traffic, even on the "highways." We quickly learned that it is kind of a free for all, as drivers do not stop for pedestrians, even if they are literally a few feet away from them. I also should mention that I heard more car honks today alone than I have in my entire life.

Anyways, after getting settled into our rooms we ate a quick breakfast right there at the guest house and got ready for the day. We drove to one of the poorer areas in Ethiopia and helped out with covering a woman's house with plastic as it wasn't keeping the rain and wind out very effectively.  A few of us went into the house and that's when it really hit me how underprivileged some of the people are. This house was about the size of a bedroom and was occupied by a few sheets and blankets for a bed, some old pots and pans and that's about it. It was hard not to feel bad for the woman, but the crazy part was just how joyful she seemed to be and thankful for what we were doing. Talk about a wakeup call!

My favorite part of the day by far was getting to meet my new buddy Alamiyoo. Funny story: As I was hammering some nails into the wood to keep the plastic up, a little 10-year-old boy came up to me and pretty much showed me how it was done. I'll be honest, I was a little mad at first because he was showing me up and making me look pretty worthless, but we soon became really good friends. I got to play a lot of "games" with him (mainly raising my hand up and seeing how high he could reach it or teaching him how to do the "Dougie") . Alamiyoo and all the other children we got to play with really taught us a good lesson. Here they are living in houses with dirt floors and plastic walls, hungry and thirsty most of the day, and they were some of the most joyous people I have ever met. I can think of so many times where I complain about the littlest things, and these kids have nothing and still have huge smiles on their faces. Today as a whole was very shocking, and I'm certain that the people of Ethiopia are going to help us out way more than we could ever even think of helping them, simply through the joy they show in the worst of circumstances.

Stephanie Fox (women's tennis)

We started out adventure in Ethiopia when we arrived at the airport at 7:30 a.m. Many of us got very little sleep but were still ready and excited for the day ahead. We arrived at our hotel - The Guest House - and after breakfast headed to work.

Our job was to insert plastic wrapping around two houses that helps keep wind and rain out. This is very important because it is winter in Ethiopia and rains nearly every day! The people were very grateful and it was a great time working with them to help improve their living situation as best we could.

The families were great and I think a lot of us would agree a huge highlight of the day was the children we spent time with at the houses. They were all vibrant and full of energy! I can already tell this trip is going to help each of us grow and I'm so thankful to experience this with other UK athletes. Can't wait to experience the rest of the trip!

Avery Williamson, Jonathan George and Kevin Mitchell spent a week serving in Ethiopia in late May. (Photo by Jeffrey Burns) Avery Williamson, Jonathan George and Kevin Mitchell spent a week serving in Ethiopia in late May. (Photo by Jeffrey Burns)
Within hours of landing in Ethiopia, Avery Williamson began to wonder what he had gotten himself into.

After a 13-hour flight, Williamson and his two UK teammates landed in Bole Bulbula, a village in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital city. They stepped off the plane, immediately distributing water filters to residents without clean water.

Williamson was excited about the athletic department-sponsored service trip before he left, but amid wholly unfamiliar surroundings, anxiety began to set in. By the end of his week in Ethiopia, however, it disappeared.

"The first day I got there I was really homesick, honestly," Williamson said. "I was ready to come back. But after being over there for a week, I wasn't ready to come back home."

In spite of some initial nervousness, Williamson embraced everything the trip had to offer. He allowed his perception of poverty to change when he saw the conditions in the leper colony of Korah. He didn't try to avoid seeing children as young as five years old begged for spare change or food.

"I was really surprised but the living conditions and stuff," Williamson said. "You see it on TV but until you really see it in person it starts to hit you. You start thinking about it and like, 'I could not live like this.' That is how those people live out their lives and they are accustomed to it."

By the time it was all over, he wasn't thinking about sleeping in his warm bed, changing into clean clothes or raiding a stocked refrigerator. Instead, he was trying to figure out how he could do more. Williamson, Jonathan George and Kevin Mitchell spent much of the flight home to the United States thinking about finding their way back to the country that had so deeply affected them.

"I was really glad to go over there and be able to help," George said. "In the future, I would really like to go back and do some more stuff for the people in Ethiopia."

But before they can make a return trip, Williamson, George and Mitchell have to resume their normal lives as Kentucky football players.

All three will be seniors on new head coach Mark Stoops' first UK team. Summer workouts are already underway and they are all expected to play important leadership roles in 2013. That, in fact, is a major reason why their coaches tabbed them to make the trip.

"It is more people that are working hard and being leaders on the team that get selected," Williamson said. "I thought it was a big honor for me to get chosen because there have been some great guys that have went on this trip in the past and I was very humbled by it."

Danny Trevathan and Stuart Hines went on the inaugural trip in 2011 and Mikie Benton, Matt Smith and Larry Warford followed last May. All five brought their changed perspectives home and used them to help guide their teammates. Williamson, George and Mitchell will now look to do the same.

Though his thoughts won't be far from the people with whom he built relationships in Ethiopia, George believes an increased awareness of how blessed he and his teammates are to have so many opportunities will make them even hungrier to capitalize.

"One of the things I took from this trip was being thankful and being appreciative for the things I do have," George said. "I've always felt that way about things being appreciative of what you have because there is always somebody that has it worse, but I feel like this opened up my eyes even more to that topic because some of the things I saw and experienced it was real rough to see people going through those types of things."

On Thursday, Avery Williamson, Kevin Mitchell and Jonathan George - the three Kentucky football players who made a service trip to Ethiopia in late May - spoke to the media about the week they spent in the East African nation. See what they had to say in the video below.


I'll have a story a little later this afternoon about the trio hoping to return to Ethiopia soon to continue their service. Before then, here are links to the three travel logs we posted with Williamson, Mitchell and George in case you missed them.

Mitchell embracing experience
George, Cats visit local prisons
Williamson thinking about the people as trip ends

Avery Williamson and two UK teammates spent a week in Ethiopia on a service trip. (Photo by Jeffrey Burns) Avery Williamson and two UK teammates spent a week in Ethiopia on a service trip. (Photo by Jeffrey Burns)
Jonathan George, Kevin Mitchell and Avery Williamson are representing the Kentucky football team on a weeklong service trip to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, we will be posting travel logs featuring the thoughts of the student-athletes. Our final entry is from Williamson, UK's star linebacker.

UK football's service trip to Ethiopia is near its end.

The three football players who spend the week in the African nation will board a plane at 7 p.m. East Africa Time on Tuesday after a day of sightseeing atop a mountain near Addis Ababa and meetings to close the book on their memorable voyage. On the 17-hour flight, Avery Williamson will be spending much of his time thinking about the people he met and the relationships he formed with them.

First on that list is an 18-year-old young man named Girma.

Sponsored by a pastor who has helped guide the student-athletes over the last six days, Girma has spent the last half of the trip in the company of Williamson and his two teammates as saw lions at the zoo and visited local elementary schools on Monday.

"He's just the most humble kid that I've seen in a long time," Williamson said. "I just get a sense of trust from him that you usually get from a best friend that you've known for a long time. And I've only known him for two or three days."

Williamson has come to know his new friend's story well. When he was just nine and living on the streets, he and a number of other homeless were loaded onto buses by the military. They were then left to fend for themselves in the wilderness. Girma lost a couple of his friends, but was able to find his way back to a main road and Addis Ababa.

"I just think about that and it's crazy," Williamson said. "I was curious because I've never heard anything like that. There's probably not a nine-year-old kid in America that can say that story."

Williamson reports that Girma has become a good soccer player with a "bright future," but what sticks out about him is his kindness in spite of everything with which he has been faced in his short life.

"I guarantee you he'd probably give me clothes to wear even if it's the last thing he's got," Williamson said. "That's the type of guy he is."

Girma is hardly the only person the three Wildcats have encountered to show that kind of spirit. Williamson has been struck in particular by the children he has met. He thinks about himself as a child and can't help but be awed by what he's seen.

"When they receive things, they're really thankful for it - I can tell - because they don't know when the next gift or sometimes the next meal might come from," Williamson said. "I really do admire those kids."

Williamson had heard firsthand accounts about life in Ethiopia from Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and his teammates that made the trip before him, but - continuing a theme from the accounts of Jonathan George and Kevin Mitchell - there's no substitute for seeing it yourself.

"You don't really think too much about it," Williamson said. "But then when you get over here, it's like, 'Wow, these people really are starving.' It's really a life-changing experience."

But as different as life may be in Ethiopia, there have been a few moments that have reminded Williamson that he has humanity in common with everyone he's met. Going to church on Sunday is an example.

"I was kind of nervous about walking in and being around different people, but actually it felt kind of similar to home," Williamson said. "It was good, just like home, a Christian service and it's amazing to go across the world and still people serving God. It was real cool to see that."

The same can be said about a couple chance meetings with people who noticed the student-athletes' blue Nike gear. Two different people approached them to say they used to live in Kentucky and the second was even a graduate of UK.

"He was from Louisville and his wife, she was undergrad at UK and she's from Ethiopia," Williamson said. "We talked to them for a while, took quite a few pictures and stuff. We were like celebrities in there."

Apparently, the Big Blue Nation really is everywhere.

Past Ethiopia travel log entries:
George, Cats visit local prisons
Mitchell embracing experience


Jonathan George, Avery Williamson and Kevin Mitchell are on a weeklong service trip in Ethiopia. (Photo by Jeffrey Burns) Avery Williamson, Jonathan George and Kevin Mitchell are on a weeklong service trip in Ethiopia. (Photo by Jeffrey Burns)
Jonathan George, Kevin Mitchell and Avery Williamson are representing the Kentucky football team on a week-long service trip to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, we will be posting travel logs featuring the thoughts of the student-athletes. Today is George's turn.

This is the third summer in a row that a group of Kentucky football players have traveled to Ethiopia for a service trip. On Saturday, the latest bunch of Wildcats did something that none of their predecessors did, visiting two local prisons.

The day started with a drive of a little more than an hour from their guest house in Addis Ababa to Debre Zeit, a town approximately 30 miles southeast of the Ethiopian capital city. There, Jonathan George, Kevin Mitchell and Avery Williamson met an Indian family and helped prepare a meal. They cooked a goat, made injera - a yeast-risen flatbread - and boiled eggs to bring to the prisoners.

The two facilities they visited were small, housing between 20 and 30 inmates who are awaiting trial. Along with food, they took along soap, toothbrushes and Bibles.

"We really got a chance to interact with them because they let us actually hand the food to the prisoners," George said. "One of the guys even asked me for my phone number."

George said he went into the day more curious about the differences between American and Ethiopian prisons than nervous. After getting a first-person view of what daily life is like for the prisoners, George learned quite a bit.

"It was a great experience," George said. "Of course, their prisons were a lot different than our prisons. I looked at the inside of their cells and they were all laying on the floor."

The three student-athletes found out that inmates are not provided many basic necessities. Instead, they must rely on family members and friends to bring them what they need. Inmates also take care of each other, sharing what they receive from the outside with one another. That's an outgrowth of Ethiopian culture, something George has seen up close the last three days.

"They're really accepting of us," George said. "We interact with people everywhere we go. It's been a great experience with the people. They're really nice, generous people."

George has noticed that even extends to the roadways.

"There are no stoplights, no stop signs, none of that, so it's just like everybody's kind of driving over each other," George said. "You'd think there would be a lot of road rage and stuff, but everybody kindly lets other people pass."

The UK travel party has relied on Agenou to provide them safe passage on those roads. Since the Cats arrived on Thursday, Agenou has driven them anywhere they needed to go and played familiar music all along.

"We ride in the van and he's playing all the American music: Rihanna, Michael Jackson and all that," George said. "On the way back (from the prison), he was listening to Eminem and Snoop Dogg."

Agenou has driven Wildcat football players each of the three years they have made the trip and has a wardrobe full of UK gear given to him by Danny Trevathan and others.

"Every day he has different Kentucky apparel. Every day we've been here he's had on a different Kentucky football shirt," George said. "He's a big fan now and he's somebody you can really appreciate because, even though this is his job, as soon as you call he's on his way."

George is in Ethiopia to serve, but that doesn't mean he hasn't had any fun along the way. He's had some good laughs with Agenou as well as Mitchell and Williamson, getting to know two of his teammates and fellow rising seniors in a way he never has before.

"Of course I'm cool with Avery and Kevin, but I haven't talked to those guys as much in Lexington as I have here," George said. "It's been great spending time with those guys. I feel like we have built stronger relationships with this trip."

Jonathan George, Avery Williamson and Kevin Mitchell are participating in a service trip in Ethiopia this week. (Photo via Jeffrey Burns) Jonathan George, Avery Williamson and Kevin Mitchell are participating in a service trip in Ethiopia this week. (Photo via Jeffrey Burns)
Jonathan George, Kevin Mitchell and Avery Williamson are representing the Kentucky football team on a week-long service trip to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, we will be posting travel logs featuring the thoughts of the student-athletes on the experience. First up is Mitchell, UK's senior offensive lineman who spoke via FaceTime interview.

Kevin Mitchell had as much information as possible about the service trip he would be taking to Ethiopia without actually going on the trip.

He had two different sets of teammates who went on the trip the last two summers, so he had gotten plenty of advice on how to approach it. He even lived with former offensive line teammate Stuart Hines when Hines went to Ethiopia in the summer of 2011.

No matter who he talked to, there was one common message.

"All the guys I've talked to just said, 'Embrace it,' " Mitchell said.

Two days into his time in the Eastern African nation, that's what Mitchell is doing.

The voyage for Mitchell and his two teammates began with a quick stop in Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, Mitchell, Jonathan George and Avery Williamson toured their nation's capital, ate dinner and tried to get some rest before a long day of travel on Wednesday. They then boarded a plane bound for Ethiopia for a 13-hour flight.

"I've never even ridden in a car that long before," Mitchell said.

Due to the seven-hour time difference, the travel party arrived at 7:30 a.m. East Africa Time and wasted no time getting the life-changing experience started in Bole Bulbula, Ethiopia. There, the three UK football players distributed filters to residents without clean water and helped line the inside of homes with plastic for rain protection.

After eating dinner and getting settled into the place he would be staying for the night, Mitchell had no trouble getting to sleep.

"We were really tired because we got off the plane and had a full day," Mitchell said.

Following a night of rest, the three arose early the next morning to head to Korah. The community - located in Ethiopia's capital city of Addis Ababa - is one of the poorest areas in the world. Mitchell and his teammates provided food and charcoal to approximately 25 families, touring homes along the way to get a feel for life in Korah.

Considering Mitchell stands at 6-foot-6 and the smallest of the three is George at 5-10, 221 pounds, it should come as no surprise that they attracted attention. But in spite of the language barrier and a little initial awkwardness, Mitchell could not have felt more welcome.

"The people here are super-friendly," Mitchell said. "At first I didn't really know because they kind of look at you weird, but they're super-friendly, very accepting people. Everywhere we've been, they've taken us in and accepted everything we've been able to provide them. They're real grateful."

After another packed day on Friday, the group returned to its hotel for dinner at 6:30 p.m. and to rest up for Saturday and reflect on their first two days. As much as Mitchell may have heard about what he was in for before he came to Ethiopia, he knows now there is no way anyone could know what to expect.

"I kind of knew what I was getting into, but it's a different world when you actually get here," Mitchell said. "Nobody can really describe how it really is. Once you see it with your own eyes, it's really unbelievable."
Ethiopia2_jb.jpg Ethiopia3_jb.jpg Ethiopia4_jb.jpg Ethiopia5_jb.jpg Ethiopia6_jb.jpg All photos by Jeffrey Burns.

UK Hoops junior guard Kastine Evans created UK Hoops junior guard Kastine Evans created "Shooting At Success" in an effort to teach life lessons to kids in Lexington. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Junior guard Kastine Evans led what many would call a "comfortable life" growing up in Salem, Conn. Her father Ray played professional football for the New York Jets and now coaches a local AAU boys basketball team, her mother is a financial director for a major pharmaceutical company and her older brother R.J. is currently pursuing his master's degree while playing on the University of Connecticut men's basketball team.

Despite spending the majority of her life as a star athlete, including in high school at Norwich Free Academy and now as a member of the No. 8/7 Kentucky women's basketball team, Evans has always made it a priority to give back to the community and make an impact in children's lives.

In January, Evans started a non-profit after-school program called "Shooting at Success." The organization's focus is a 10-week program that runs on Mondays at two local churches in the Fayette County area. Evans rotates every other week between Broadway Christian Church and Crossroads Christian Church where she teaches groups of 50 kids from low-income households between the grades of second and fifth life lessons on building character.

"I came up with the idea of 'Shooting at Success' by realizing that basketball or sports in any way are a great tool to get through to young kids," Evans said, who has partnered with the Lexington Leadership and Urban Impact to found the program. "It's very fun, but at the same time you can teach them discipline, you can teach them hard work, you can teach them different things that they will learn in the classroom but also on the basketball court. It's a great way to reach out to kids on a common level and just at the same time be able to be important figures in their lives because they are looking forward to something that's coming up in the week and just being able to relay any message that you try to get through in a sport like basketball."

In an effort to build character in the kids, Evans repeatedly references honesty, discipline, sacrifice and opportunity - the four pillars of the UK program instilled by head coach Matthew Mitchell. She even brings in guest speakers to talk to the students about the meaning of each word. What this does is give the children a viewpoint from student-athletes and other college students who have persevered through trying circumstances themselves.

"Being able to talk to these kids at a very young age where they are very vulnerable to different things and situations that are going on in their lives right now may make a difference for them later on in life," Evans said.

Her charitable efforts extend well beyond serving children in the Lexington area.

Last summer, Evans went on a service trip to Ethiopia with seven other female UK student-athletes and members of the athletic department staff. The group spent a week dedicated to serving the citizens of the African nation and Evans returned stateside with a new outlook on life and an inspiration to give back.

What stood out most to Evans from the trip was coming to understand the everyday struggle of the people she served. Even in the face of poverty, the natives always found joy in their lives through faith and a sense of community.

"You see these people who have nearly nothing," Evans said. "They don't have running water, they don't have toilets, they don't have food, they don't have clothes, they don't have any of the basic necessities to life but they still smile every day and they were happy that we were there. You could just see that sense of hope and joy in their heart and that's something that's stronger than any struggle you'll have as long as you have that faith and keep a strong mind and heart."

Evans says she began realizing it was her duty to help the world at a young age; her mom and dad always raised her to look beyond her own existence. Since Evans and her siblings graduated from high school, her father still gives back to their community. For the last three years he has coached a local AAU team comprised of players who have gotten cut from their local high school teams. He makes the two-hour drive to New York every other week to showcase his players' talents against some of the best competition in the state. Since he began the team, nine of his players have gone on to play collegiate basketball.

Evans put her parents' lessons into practice with teammate Samarie Walker last summer, volunteering one day a week to clean rooms at the local Ronald McDonald House, a "home away from home" for seriously ill children and their families. Even with the jam-packed schedule of a student-athlete, Evans has always seemed to find time to lend a helping hand.

When it came time to deciding where she would attend college and play basketball, Evans' decision was an easy one. After getting to know Coach Mitchell, she recognized in him and his program the same beliefs and morals that she learned from a young age.

"Anybody that asks me why I came here, a lot of the decision came down to the coaches and their principles and how they care about you," Evans said. "It's not just about basketball and that's what is going to develop us into great women."

Evans plays a key role for the Wildcats, being primarily the first player off the bench and averaging the most minutes among the reserves. Her character shines through on the court, as Coach Mitchell calls her "the glue that holds the team together."

Evans hopes to bring back the life lessons she learned from Africa and influence the young kids of her "new hometown" of Lexington, where she has spent the last three years of her life. Her intimate involvement with "Shooting at Success" demands hours of her precious time, but will all be made worthwhile by achieving one simple goal.

"One thing I hope that comes out of this is to be able to at least reach one kid," Evans said. "It's going to be real hard to reach all 50 kids, but to at least be able to get one or maybe two that's the best thing to be able to reach out to them and know that somebody else is there looking after them even when they go home. To know me personally and the people through Lexington Leadership and Urban Impact are here to work with them and hopefully they will take different strides than maybe some of their older siblings or parents have taken and become successful within themselves."

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