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Seven UK student-athletes participated in a service trip to Ethiopia this week. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics) Seven UK student-athletes participated in a service trip to Ethiopia this week. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics)
This week, Wildcat student-athletes Kate Lanier, Alex Carter, Ale Walker, Morgan Bergren, Sam Day, Kaelon Fox and Cassidy Hale are one the second of two UK Athletics service trips to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, Carter and Day write about a day in Korah that completely changed their perspective.

Alex Carter (women's soccer)

On Tuesday we went to the city of Korah, which is an extremely impoverished place. At one point it was solely a leper colony. Lepers are considered untouchables in Ethiopian society. In this day and age, however, cities surrounding Korah have grown enough to where their boundaries have merged and there are no longer only lepers residing there. However, it still remains one of the most impoverished places in Ethiopia.

Tuesday morning we drove into Korah and to an organization that does several different projects that have to do with loving and caring for the people in this city. We arrived with supplies such as toilet paper, oil, soap, noodles, rice, matches and other useful things. We were greeted by the leaders of the organization, along with 30 families that we were getting the opportunity to bless that day. As soon as we walked in, we saw so many big and beautiful smiles and kids who were running up to play with us.

After divvying up all of the supplies, the leader of their organization blessed and then passed them out. I cannot describe the joy on the people faces as they received these gifts. It was as if it was the first gift they had ever received. Even though we did not speak the same language, it was awesome to get to go around and hug some of the women and shake their hands. I did not need to understand them to know what they were feeling. We also got the opportunity to hand out candy, stickers and glow sticks to the kids and blow bubbles with them.

Afterwards, we said our goodbyes, got in the van, and headed to the city dump. This is where many people go to scavenge to try and find food for themselves and their families for the day. It was even more heartbreaking when I found out that many women lived in this dump with their many children and husbands, because they could not afford to pay rent for a house in the city. These people would set up what resembled a shelter, with at least a metal sheet propped up over their heads. But in most of these cases, there were five to 10 people having to live in these tiny spaces.

We went into one lady's "house" and started talking to her and learning about her with the help of our translators. She told us that she had problems with her head and her heart and could not work because of it. Her husband also could not work because he was crippled. All he could do is sit out on the street and ask for money. They had seven children who all lived with them in that small space. If they had food that day, it was either from finding it in the dump or from the money her husband collected that day (from one of the poorest cities in the country, mind you). In my mind they were completely hopeless.

After hearing their story, our guide, Mark, asked her in she was one of the families that were part of this program that we had just served earlier that day. She said no. He told her and the leaders of the organization that she qualified to be in this program and that they would set her up an appointment to be interviewed. When she heard this news she burst into tears and bowed, thanking God and us again and again. Wow. That just ripped my heart right out of my chest. This lady was given an interview to POSSIBLY receive a few supplies a month, and she was filled with such joy and hope (possibly for the first time in her life) that her and her family might be redeemed.

In the U.S., our society says that success is ultimately the most important thing. You can see this drive everywhere you look. We have Instagram, Twitter and Facebook where we post selfies or other pictures that make people understand just how important we think we are. We strive for the best education and the best resume that will set us up for the best job to get us the best car and the best house and a perfect family. Many times we strive more than anything to be known, powerful and liked, and we place value on those people who are, regardless of character. Success is what drives us, and we are willing to push whoever and whatever down to get there.

Here, I look around this city dump (and really around the whole country of Ethiopia) and I see people our society would count as nobodies. They are literally forgotten or ignored all of the time. In fact, the city has come several times to bulldoze the houses of the people in this dump, because they are considered illegal homes. They are seen as pests that are just in the way. It was at this moment where it all came together for me, and I experienced God's love more than I ever have before. Every time I looked at one of these people we were visiting, I could not fight back the tears. I just kept thinking, "God knows you name, child. He knows what you're going through. He sees your struggles and your broken spirit. He values your soul equally with mine (even with all of my falsely perceived self-importance) and every one else's. He designed and created you EXACTLY how he intended, without any mistakes. He has a plan and purpose for your life. Even though this world counts you out, you are important to Him. He wants you to seek him with all of your heart. He loves you." This was so humbling, and it changed the way I thought of these people. It is easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged and view this experience as a big and hopeless sea of problems. I started thinking of them as individuals that God loves.

The truth is, this life on earth is so short when compared with eternity. Even though I was surrounded by heartbreaking circumstances with heartbroken people, I could not help but be overwhelmed with joy, because I knew for a fact that all of the women we had met and served that day loved God and were saved. Tears of joy streamed down my face. I was filled with hope when I realized that these women have what counts. They have the only thing that matters in this life: faith and hope in Jesus, maybe even more so than me. It is easy for me to take God out of the equation in my life, where I grew up getting everything I wanted and needed. It is easy for me to think that I am the reason I am doing so well.

In a strange way, it was rather beautiful to see these women and families in such low circumstances, because they literally put every ounce of their hope in the Lord. When anything good comes their way they fall on their face and praise God. I wish I had faith like theirs. In Revelation it says, "and He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, or any scorching heat. For The Lamb at the center of the thrown will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." I kept saying this over and over in my head, and suddenly was filled with hope for them. I prayed, "God, you truly know what these people are going through. If they could just hold on, if they could just keep hoping in you, even if they make it out by the skin of their teeth, one day soon they will be crowned in heaven and be made whole, healed, and forever satisfied in your presence. It was there that I truly felt the love of God and saw the true beauty in these people.

I have to admit somewhat embarrassingly, that beside my prayers, I was not a great help to my team that day due to the fact that I was such an emotional wreck. But let me tell you, that forever changed the way I see people in poverty, or with any other seemingly hopeless situation in life. I am so grateful for this opportunity I have been given to come to this beautiful country and meet and serve these beautiful people.  I hope to one day go back again and be able to bless and serve these people, in which God has broken my heart for.

Sam Day (swimming and diving)

As I planned and packed for this trip, I had to prepare myself mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. After spending five days in and around Addis Ababa, I have realized no matter what I did to plan for this trip, it wasn't possible for me to be fully prepared for these experiences.

On our final day in Addis Ababa we visited a community in Korah, which is also the place of the city's dump. One of our leaders said that there are between one hundred and one hundred fifty thousand people that make their living and provide for their families by scavenging through the dump. Even after nearly a week of working in Ethiopia, my heart continued to break for these people.

As we pulled into the community and up to the church, the people of the area flocked to our van. Everyone was interested and wanted to know what we were doing there. I hadn't seen poverty like this on the trip. Everyone was so desperate and in need. I struggled with this because if I tried to help anyone, I would have to help everyone and I wasn't able to do so. We went into the church and organized the supplies we had brought. Everyone was so joyful and happy to see us; the attitude of the people inside was the opposite as that of those outside. There was hope in their eyes. We introduced ourselves and passed out the supplies. Everyone was so thankful and appreciative. It was hard for me to wrap my head around why. How could people be so thankful for so little? But this was the reaction of everyone all week. Seeing this has caused me to take a step back and look at how grateful or ungrateful I am for everything I have.

From there we went to a community next to the dump and visited people in their homes. I will never forget the odor of the hillside we were on and will also never understand how people can live with such a smell engulfing the air. We pulled up and in the same way the people gathered near our van at the community center, they did here as well. Most of the homes were behind a makeshift fence that surrounded the community. We were able to meet and pray with a few of the people living here. They were all women and children because they were either widows or their husbands were out begging for money.

One of the women was living with her 1-year-old baby in a shack with barely enough room to sleep. I was utterly stunned when she said all she wanted was something to stop the rain from running through her house. A woman with almost nothing didn't want a new home but merely an improvement on the one she had. We visited another woman who had three children, 13, 9 and 1 years old. Her husband was crippled and out sitting on the street begging for money. She was very happy to see us and asked for our leader to pray for her. We continued through the community and met a few other people. I was blessed with the opportunity to be able to pray with a woman who let a few of my team members and me into her home. She said she has a heart problem and has to pay rent to someone that didn't actually own the land since it is owned by the government. This woman and her son could not understand anything I said but still seemed to know I was praying for them and that what I was saying was about them. It felt so good to be with them and I hope I was able to give them a little more hope than they had.

The children all around Korah were so happy all the time. They just followed us and would want to play and eat any candy we had. I probably threw about 50 kids in the air and lifted more onto my shoulders. These kids were so delighted to play and tried to come with us and I'm sure a few of us would have gladly done so. Even when our van pulled away and drove to a different area, the kids followed and would bring friends. I was encouraged by their attitude even though they had so little.

This week has been a truly eye-opening experience for me. Not only have I been tested physically with nearly two days of travel and working at high elevation, I have also been tested mentally and emotionally. I have had to take a step back and reevaluate a lot about myself. I hope to return home and bring my experiences with me. I need to allow these memories to help me change areas in my life. I'm sure this week is going to help me grow in new ways in the classroom, pool and life as a whole.

Ale Walker (middle) helps distribute supplies on UK Athletics' July trip to Ethiopia. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics) Ale Walker (middle) helps distribute supplies on UK Athletics' July trip to Ethiopia. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics)
This week, Wildcat student-athletes are one the second of two UK Athletics service trips to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, Ale Walker writes about the group's visit to a boys' home.

Ale Walker (women's golf)

What a week it has already been! As we near the last few days of our journey here in Ethiopia, I can say my heart has never been so full with love and joy. Coming into this trip, I was preparing myself mentally and emotionally for the things I may see or experience after hearing from others about their trips and what they have taken away. It is to no surprise that what they attested to is true, but it is something you have to experience yourself to really understand the impact it will have on your life.

Today, we went to visit a boys' home here in Addis called the Hope House. These boys were victims of living off the streets either due to the stress put on their household for supporting another child, which their parents could not afford, abandonment, or their search for a better life.

They are led by a man named Ermais. He is the one who took these boys off the street and enrolled them in his program at the home. We got the opportunity to share a meal with the young men and hear their stories on how they got to the home and how the program has changed their lives. We had pizza, which they all loved on this special occasion!  

It was such a wonderful experience to hear their testimonies firsthand. One boy told us of how he was living on the streets for 10 years before he was found by Ermais. He told us of how he had become hopeless and never thought he had a purpose in this life. He was abandoned by his parents at a very young age due to their inability to take care of him. He was living day to day in search for food, just trying survive on what little food or water he could find.

Once he was taken into the home, he said, Ermais showed him love and what it was like to have someone care for him for the first time in his life. He said that on the streets, people could give him money, anyone could, but no one could give him love. It takes a great person to give someone love, but a special person to give love to a stranger, someone who has no relation to him or her.

It would affect Ermais none if he chose not to take this boy in, but he did. Why? Because as children of God, that is what we are called to do. We are called to love others and care for others just as Jesus would, regardless of their race or whether they are rich or poor, healthy or sick. These children are starving on the streets and all they long for is someone to love and care for them.

Ermais is a man of God who gives not only love, but also his time and his grace. He had every opportunity to be a successful man in Addis, yet he chose to give his life to these boys, to better them and give them hope in a world so broken.  It was so moving to hear this from the boy and listen to how sincere and grateful he was for the opportunity to have a future and to have dreams because of the Hope House. All of the boys, having gone through the program, have jobs and are supporting themselves. After they answered our questions, they asked us a couple, "How will you take what you have experienced here and use it back home and in your lives?" And, "What did you take away from your experience here?"

First hearing this, I thought, "Wow, what amazing questions." Though this is one of the main purposes of this trip, doing something about what you have learned to better yourself and hopefully others, when hearing these questions asked out loud, it really hits home. What are YOU going to do in your lives, what are you going to change, how are you going to change?

What I will take away most from this experience is the gratefulness they have for what they are given, even under such harsh circumstances. I will remember how beautiful and contagious their smiles are when a simple wave is given and how joy overcomes them in that very moment. I will take away how everyone is more concerned with how YOU are doing than themselves and how it is more important to give to your brother than to receive.

When I return I hope to always remember what this trip has taught me. I hope to remember that no matter how difficult my situation is or how low life may get, there is always room to smile, and there is always room to laugh and love. And to always, always follow our passions. God put them in our hearts for a reason and he wants to see us pursue them. I cannot wait to see what the next couple days have in store for us, and I can't wait to be back in the States to share more about our journey here!  

Morgan Bergren and two new Ethiopian friends. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics) Morgan Bergren and two new Ethiopian friends. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics)
This week, Wildcat student-athletes are one the second of two UK Athletics service trips to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, Morgan Bergren writes about a day in Debre Zeyit.

Morgan Bergren (volleyball)


This morning, breakfast was at 7:30. I didn't get a great night sleep, so it was hard to wake up. At around 9, we took the bus to Debre Zeyit, where we met up with Samy and his two daughters, Abby and Becky. We played with them for a little bit at their house, then loaded the bus to do some work.

When we got to the first house, we were asked to split into two groups. The group that stayed was going to be repairing/building a house and painting. The other group, the one I was in, was going to deliver food and supplies to widows. But first we made a quick stop to get some coffee. It was delicious, but so strong. It made me super jittery. The first two women we visited were amazing. Mark, one of our hosts, had leftover money from buying them food supplies, so there was enough money to pay two guys to repair the mud walls that had cracked and fallen off their home. Seeing that was unbelievable. One guy mixed the mud with straw, and stomped on it with his feet, then took handfuls to the guy on the ladder, and he patched it onto the house.

I really only saw and talked to one of the ladies who lived there. She was the sweetest woman. She was older, and her daughter had died, so she was taking care of her grandson. She was so grateful for us and for God, and cried and blessed us and invited us into her home. Mark had an amazing talk with her. When we got back on the bus, I had forgotten to leave shirts with her, so I had Ale (Walker) run them to her. She bowed at her feet and was so grateful. It was an amazing sight.

From there we went to a community center where we met at least 30 shoe-shining boys. Samy works very closely and has built a connection with these boys and men and we presented them with new shoe-shining supplies. But of course, before we could even present them with their gifts, we had to do introductions of everyone, have a prayer in both English and their Ethiopian language, and explain the importance of these relationships. Ethiopian people care more about relationships than they do time. If you are an hour late to something, it doesn't matter, because it meant you got to have a meaningful conversation with someone. So there is always a lot of talking before we get down to the meat of things.

After we gave them all their bag of goodies, we shared a typical Ethiopian meal with them, although our group did not eat it. When we were finished there, we made our way back to Samy's house and waited for pizza to arrive. While we waited we played soccer, volleyball, played with the girls, sat and talked, ate some fresh mango and banana, and had a great time. The pizza was enough to give us energy for our upcoming soccer game. We drove to the stadium, and played a friendly game of soccer with an actual Addis team. I was given the opportunity to be our team's goalie, since as a volleyball player I'm better with my hands than I am my feet. The last time I played soccer was when I was 5, and I never played goalie.

Needless to say I was a little lost at first, but eventually got the hang of it. Our team was a mix of us Americans and some of the Ethiopian people that were joining us on our trip. Sadly, we lost due to my lack of skill as a goalie. I had two pretty big saves in the beginning, and it was pretty much downhill from there. They scored three straight on me, and I subbed myself out.

After the game, however, I made my way into the volleyball match that was being played. I was able to play a game that I actually knew, but was still very foreign to me. They did not play positions, did not rotate and did not speak my language. I definitely did my best, but I'm sure they thought I was terrible. I still had a blast though.

At the very end of all of the sporting events, we went back out to the soccer field to present the other two teams with the soccer balls we brought and some t-shirts. Of course, however, it was not short and sweet. A lot of speaking from Samy, many more introductions of all of the American people and a few prayers. We finally got to present them with the gifts, and left the great city of Debre Zeyit.

We had made it most of the way back, when something a little unnerving happened... Thanks to President Obama visiting the country in just a few days, the security detail of Ethiopia is on high alert. All of the military personal line the streets and corners, and most are armed with AK-47s. So on our way back the entire street was backed up with traffic and we couldn't figure out what was going on. Finally the military approached our bus and asked us to get out so they could search us. They patted us down one by one as we came off of the bus. They were super nice and friendly, and we had nothing to be afraid of, but it still got my adrenaline going a little bit. We ended the night with a nice group meal after our showers. The end of day two!

Photo by Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics Photo by Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics
This week, Wildcat student-athletes are one the second of two UK Athletics service trips to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today,Kate Lanier and Kaelon Fox share their experiences from their first day in Ethiopia.

Kate Lanier (women's tennis)

Wow, what a first day in Ethiopia! My first thoughts are how different the country is compared to the US and how spoiled we are. As we drove around in our bus, you witness that the grounds are extremely muddy and the streets are crowded with cars speeding by and honking with not much organization. You see goats and stray dogs and tons of shops side by side.

Our main destination today was visiting the church and discreet houses in which mainly widows and single parents live with their kids. Mark, our host for the trip, explained how their goal consists of a three-year plan to help those who are struggling. They are given some essentials such as food and some other needs so that the mother and kids can focus on more than just survival. Some are granted $400-600 loans which include those who are the in the greatest need. They can then start a business such as bread-making and begin to support their families.  One woman bought a fridge and then her trade was to sell beverages and she is now paying back her loan.

Before learning the basics of the organization and their goals, we first introduced ourselves. Then the women of the group stood before us and introduced themselves, which was one of the most impressive and impactful things I thought we went through today. Each one had a different story, but for example one widow had seven kids to support but two of them had mental disabilities. Some of the mothers had disabilities themselves such as being paralyzed or dealing with a broken hand, but all of them had in common that survival was a struggle, especially with kids. What impressed me so much about these strong women was that after each introduction they always said how Christ made them stronger and how thankful they were for us to be there. They said that their only family was God and us, which honestly had me on the verge of tears every time. To see these people have barely anything but still be so thankful was so impactful.  We were told that Ethiopians cherish relationships more than structure, and it was clear after hearing them speak and seeing them pray and sing. I feel Americans cherish the opposite, which is sad considering all the opportunities and essentials plus so much more we are blessed with.

We then proceeded to separate out a type of flour they use along with spices, oil, bedding and mattresses for three different families. I helped carry some of the supplies to two of the women's houses down a couple streets.  We had to be careful whom we helped though, because we learned that if a landlord sees tourists helping then they will raise the rent of the living space. Walking alongside the roads was very eye opening, because it is so different than the states. People are sleeping and often barefoot. Most are trying to sell some type of item such as gum or vegetables or doing a trade such as fixing or cleaning shoes. The women's houses we went to were small and muddy and laundry hung on lines, but it was so rewarding seeing their faces glow once we delivered the goods to their houses.

While we were at the church we also handed out bracelets that Sam's pastor from home had made which say NIKAO on them, meaning in short terms, to conquer through faith. The mothers and all the children loved the small gift and put them on immediately. We then took many pictures and the kids loved being in the camera. As one of us was about to take a picture with one kid, seven more rushed over to be in the picture so I had to take the picture just to fit them all in the shot. You could just tell how happy they were for us to be there which is an amazing feeling.

Later in the day after lunch, we went to an even poorer area in which the housing is built overnight, because it is technically illegal. The mission was to deliver one of the mattresses and pillows to a mother who we met at the church. I helped carry in the mattress and my first thought was how muddy and what close quarters the housing was. All of the housing here was connected to one another and very, very small.  The walls were mostly made out of mud and scrap metal. It was crazy to me how they survive there. We learned that the government plans to destroy the homes in this area since it is illegal, so I can't imagine the stress of the parents who reside there and who will not have anywhere to go if their homes are destroyed.

As a whole, today was already was such a great experience, and I could not be happier to be on this trip with these amazing people. Wario and Girma, two of our leaders who are from here, were so informative and friendly. Seeing the kids in the streets wave to us constantly and the women at the church giving us such thanks and welcoming us was rewarding to say at the very least. I can't wait to see what the rest of the trip has in store for us.

Kaelon Fox (men's soccer)

This morning was an early one. We woke up at 6:30 a.m. and I felt fully refreshed. I took a GoPro video of the city in daylight and from my hotel room. The city looks amazing and it is still hard to breathe because of the high altitude, but I am very excited for today and cannot wait to see what it is like in Ethiopia.
 
We just got back from a very eye-opening day. We traveled to Nifas Silk and went to a community center to distribute and meet people in dire need of help. We met our local translators Wario, Girma and Addis.

On the way to the village we went through the nearby towns and some of it was hard to look at. Adults and even children were on the streets asking for any type of money and food that we may have had. When we finally arrived at the church we introduced ourselves to the families that were there, and they did the same in return.

The stories and struggles they shared were incredible. Some had husbands that had left them with children to take care of, some were mentally handicapped and had children that were also, and others were born with illnesses that they had to treat while trying to feed their children with barely any income at all.

Following the introductions, we helped distribute pillows, bed coverings, mattresses, cooking oil, spices and teff (a flour-related substance used in Ethiopia). All of the familes expressed how thankful they were that we were helping them. They sang for us while we got the supplies ready for them. We helped a woman carry her mattress to her nearby village and when we all got there she let us look at her home. It was smaller than I anticipated, with dirt floors and barely any room to walk in at all. There was hardly any room for three of us to fit in to put the mattress on her bed. Just thinking about how someone would live in such a home like that is mind-blowing.

She was so happy that we were there and seeing the smile on her face knowing how hard her life is is remarkable to see. Walking back and seeing how everything worked was really cool. Lunch was next and most of us got pizza, but others got pasta and vegetables. We had some leftover food so we took it in a plastic bag to give to people who needed it. When we walked out we gave the food to some kids and they all fought over who was going to eat it all. I had never seen such a thing and it made we want to do more for those kids. They were grabbing and pushing to grab the Ziploc bag with food in it. It just makes you wonder and realize how good our lives are back in the US.

The last stop of the day was going to another woman's home in a van to help were with bedding. She led us into her house and this one was bigger than the first one. It had three beds, but the space was nowhere near big enough for those three living in that home. She was also every happy that we were there and prayed and hugged us multiple times. The people that the Ethiopian team has met have been extremely nice to us and been very happy and blessed that we are here for them.

We are back at the hotel now and will have dinner in about an hour. This day has exceeded my personal expectations and I cannot wait for what tomorrow holds for us. The team is getting a lot closer now. After dinner we all went to the rooftop and then played cards for an hour or so. Now it is time for bed. Early breakfast at 7:30!

Austin MacGinnis. (Nikki McLaughlin, UK Athletics) Austin MacGinnis. (Nikki McLaughlin, UK Athletics)
This week, Alex Montgomery, Austin MacGinnis and Marcus McWilson are on UK football's annual service trip to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, MacGinnis looks back on the Wednesday the group spent last week visiting a local jail and a handful of Ethiopian villages.

Our African hump day sure did start out with a hump...in the form of about 50 camels crossing the street on our way to a children's sponsorship house. When we walked into the children's building, 100 kids were waiting on us with songs, chants and clapping. It was a jaw-dropping entrance to say the least. The smiles on the kids' faces reached from ear to ear. They did not want anything from us, but just to be in our presence and feel loved. We played soccer, jumped rope, danced and sang with the kids. After playing and spending time with the children we were able to give them snacks of avocado juice and morinda leaves. Along with some candy.

After we left the children's sponsorship house, we visited a local jail. The jails in Ethiopia are much, much different than those in the U.S. Instead of big cement walls topped with razor sharp barbed wire, the Ethiopian prisoners were only held captive by a wood fence and three lines of farming barbed wire. The offenses of the prisoners in the jail ranged from petty crimes to murder. They did not wear the typical orange jump suits like in the U.S. either. They were dressed in normal street clothes and could easily be mistaken for innocent pedestrians to the untrained eye.

After the jail visit is when the day really became special for me. We delivered bags of flour, macaroni, rice, spices and kits to allow a group of women to start their own coffee business. We delivered these goods to six different families in various villages. The women who received these gifts have basically nothing to their name but a very small square hut. These women have not received any support from the fathers and must provide for their children by themselves.  

One experience, in particular, from today really stuck out to me. We were invited into one woman's very small hut after giving her the supplies. While in the hut we prayed with the woman and were able to communicate through a translator. The woman explained to us that she has never met her mother OR father. She was abandoned as an infant and is now raising two kids with no father figure. She told Mark (who is basically our tour guide for the trip), "I see you as a father figure now, I would not have been able to provide for my kids without the help of your supplies." These words were spoken with such deep passion and honesty that it touched me deeply. Being able to help someone that is so grateful and deserving made my heart feel full. The joy and happiness we were able to bring these women is unmatched by anything I have previously experienced in my life.

I've come to realize on this trip that there is so much more to life than material goods. Ethiopia has taught me not to form opinions about a person by the clothes they wear, but by the fullness and love in their heart. It is very hard to put into words how little these people really have, yet they do not let their situation in life get them down. The smiles on their faces give me hope. I really just feel blessed to be invited on this trip. The opportunity to serve others instead of being served has opened my eyes in a way they've never been open before. I am really looking forward to these next few days here in Africa.

Marcus McWilson, Austin MacGinnis and Alex Montgomery. (Nikki McLaughlin, UK Athletics) Marcus McWilson, Austin MacGinnis and Alex Montgomery. (Nikki McLaughlin, UK Athletics)
This week, Alex Montgomery, Austin MacGinnis and Marcus McWilson are on UK football's annual service trip to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, Nikki McLaughlin -- the photographer accompanying the group on the trip -- shares her thoughts.

Each time I visit Ethiopia, I return home having made some amazing new friends. Included on the new friend list this go-round: three incredible football players from Kentucky.

I've been in awe this week as I have watched these three young men bless the people here and be blessed by them in return. Whether they were doing construction projects on the home of an AIDS-affflicted widow, delivering a mattress to an elderly woman who had never before slept on one, providing food to families who might otherwise have nothing at all to eat or showering love upon impoverished children, these three have impressed me so much.

I will never forget watching Marcus McWilson tirelessly pound nail after nail into mud homes so that several widows would be ready for rainy season. I will always remember watching Alex Montgomery quietly offer a big smile to each child who ran up for a chance to compare their (tiny) hand against his.  And Austin MacGinnis, he must have dedicated an entire suitcase to candy, toys and soccer cleats. I loved watching him put his heart into sharing each of these things with the sweet babies here. Although on the opposite side of the globe from home, all three of these guys seemed to be "right at home" as they took time to play football and soccer with countless little ones.

These guys have worked hard and loved big. And today, the group relaxed a bit, took a break from work and went on a field trip! We drove several hours south of Addis to Debre Libanos to check out an ancient 13th-century monastery and the Blue Nile Gorge. I was super impressed by the story of a monk who meditated in a cave near the monastery for just over 29 years. We saw monkeys too! AWESOME. Before heading back we had an impromptu portrait shoot at the gorge lookout which included karate-kid kicks and handstands of course.

Whether serving widows and orphans or throwing a football to an aspiring athlete or chasing after monkeys, these guys have totally rocked it. I am so honored to be here with this amazing UK team as we adventure through Ethiopia making friends and memories along the way, so lucky to be behind my lens capturing this story. Ethiopia now has a piece of my heart and I dare to bet the same is true for my new friends from Kentucky.

"It's not how much we give but how much LOVE we put into giving." -- Mother Teresa

UK Athletics administrator Rachel Baker is accompanying three UK football players on a service trip to Ethiopia this week. (Nicolette McLaughlin, UK Athletics) UK Athletics administrator Rachel Baker is accompanying three UK football players on a service trip to Ethiopia this week. (Nicolette McLaughlin, UK Athletics)
This week, Alex Montgomery, Austin MacGinnis and Marcus McWilson are on UK football's annual service trip to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, Rachel Baker -- the senior associate athletics director accompanying the students on the trip -- shares her thoughts.

As I reflect on the work of the three student-athletes today in Korah, I have found difficulty in finding the words to do it justice. For me, today has been one of the toughest yet. Korah, Ethiopia is one of the poorest areas in the country. Thousands of people live there, and many of them live at the dump in order to have a potential source of food and supplies.

The morning started at a local church where we distributed food supplies to 30 widowed mothers and children. Each family received a month's supply of oil, matches, rice, macaroni, spaghetti noodles, toilet paper, soap and detergent. The women began lining up as we were preparing the bags for distribution and you could see and feel their excitement. These women do not have traditional "sponsors," so many times do not know where or how they or their children will survive from week to week.

Following this, we traveled to the city dump to observe the living conditions. While we all come from different backgrounds and have experienced different things in our life, I can honestly say that I have never experienced anything like today. To witness hundreds of human beings living in a garbage dump in order to have a potential source of food and supplies was almost too much. The smell was unimaginable, and I am ashamed to admit that there were several times when I didn't think that I could continue on through it. However, I would occasionally look up and see Alex, Austin and Marcus reaching out to shake hands, say hello, or pass out candy and toys to the people living there and found motivation through them and their work. These people have so very little, if anything, but have smiles on their faces and are so appreciative that people care enough to come visit.

Following the trip to the dump, we traveled to an office to listen to a man (who was around my same age) talk about his life growing up at the dump. Wow. The stories of survival that he shared with us were beyond what any of us could ever comprehend. As I think about the differences between what I was doing around that same time in my life compared to his daily struggles, it provides a whole different perspective.  

At the end of his story, he gave us a call to action: help one person. We all have an obligation, a responsibility, a duty to make a difference in the life of at least one. When I step back and look at this man and think about his life growing up, I am amazed. He was able to persevere in dire circumstances, ultimately get an education and obtain two college degrees. He could probably have created a whole different life for himself and his family in another place far away but chose to return home to Korah in order to make a difference in his community. He truly defines what it means to be a servant leader, and I hope that we will all be able to take his advice to heart.

As I watch these three young men take in this extraordinary experience, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride in them, their team, and our institution. They have opened their hearts and visited with so many people and children, put so many smiles on young faces, and truly been outstanding representatives of UK.

Marcus McWilson is among three Kentucky football players serving in Ethiopia this week. (Nicolette McLaughlin, UK Athletics) Marcus McWilson is among three Kentucky football players serving in Ethiopia this week. (Nicolette McLaughlin, UK Athletics)
This week, Alex Montgomery, Austin MacGinnis and Marcus McWilson are on UK football's annual service trip to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

It's day two for us here in Ethiopia and it's such a blessing that we have the opportunity to put smiles on so many faces.

This morning as I got out of bed getting ready for the day I have to say I was overwhelmed with excitement and very anxious. I know that all of us were ready to see what God had in store for us, so we packed our bags and headed out.

As we're driving around it's a humbling experience seeing how much people struggle every day. People come from nothing, have nothing and leave with less but they have smiles on their faces because it's a new day. Knowing we can make a difference in a life is the best thing for me because I love making someone smile.

This afternoon repairing houses was a lot different from what I'm used to, but we were all able to adapt and help in any way possible. The houses aren't your typical brick and stone houses; they're made from sticks and mud clumped and molded together and made from the ground up. Once we figured out what we could do to help we were all in, from playing with the kids to handy work with hammers and nails.

We also gave out mattresses, which was heartbreaking because some people had never slept on beds. At times I feel like I'm not doing enough because there are so many people in need and I want to help them all. Tomorrow cannot come soon enough!

UK football in Ethiopia: Montgomery moved on day one

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Alex Montgomery is on an athletics department-sponsored service trip to Ethiopia this week. (Nicolette McLaughlin, UK Athletics) Alex Montgomery is on an athletics department-sponsored service trip to Ethiopia this week. (Nicolette McLaughlin, UK Athletics)
This week, Alex Montgomery, Austin MacGinnis and Marcus McWilson are on UK football's annual service trip to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

I would start this off by saying the flight was terrible and I never want to do it again, but then I would be lying because traveling is a part of the process. Yes, there were a few times that I wanted to turn around and go back home, but when I think about this trip and how life-changing it will be for me I said, I can do it.


The flight wasn't too bad because we all slept for majority of it. When we first landed I was so nervous because I didn't know what to expect as in where are we staying, what are we eating, can I shower, can I brush my teeth. All of these things run through your head, but after speaking to our trip leaders I felt better because they let you know that everything and everyone is going to be fine. Today is our first day going out so as soon as I get back I'll finish this day one blog.

(Eight hours later)

I'm back now, sorry for the long pause, but I can officially say our first day here is over! This morning I was a little hesitant because I didn't want to be too pushy or too laid-back like I usually am. So I told myself whatever you do today, Alex, just be you and to make someone else's day! So we set out to do just that.

First you're just driving through this amazingly different city with a lot of different things going on like their driving, the buildings, the people. I just wanted to stop and help everyone but unfortunately I can't. So we're finally on this dirt road where there are huge bumps, goats and donkeys. I really enjoyed looking at the donkeys though just because they all reminded me of Donkey from Shrek.

After that, we finally got to one family's house and we were shocked to see it had no roof and barely any walls. We got right to work, without a question. After a few hours of work fixing their home, the lady was so happy. She said, "Thanks for making my house beautiful," but I wanted to thank her for just showing me that it doesn't take a million dollars to make someone's day.

Reymann's versatility fills many roles

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Charlie Reymann. Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics. Charlie Reymann. Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics.
By Brent Ingram.

That first year in college can be a challenging transition for all student-athletes.

For Kentucky defender Charlie Reymann, that transition involved getting acclimated to the stress of playing every day as a true freshman and adjusting to the challenges of academic life.

A native of Worthington, Ohio, Reymann's adjustment in his debut season continued into the summer of his freshman year, when he joined nine UK student-athletes on a service trip to Ethiopia.

Reymann and the UK student-athletes worked with children, helped build homes, provide supplies and enjoy a life-changing experience.  

"It is such a blessing to be able to experience a place like that," Reymann said. "As we arrived, the first observations we had were the amount of people on the streets and what they called their homes. In the U.S. a home like we saw would make people look the other way. The houses were made from mud, wood and tin roof. And they were just thankful to have a home, something I think we all take for granted."

Throughout the trip, Reymann was constantly reminded of the challenges of everyday life in Ethiopia and was deeply moved by his experience.

"In Ethiopia, everything is about relationships and I experienced that right when I got off the bus," Reymann said. "A little kid named Honuk, 10 years old, ran right up to me and asked me my name. I was very impressed with his English, and for the rest of the day we were best friends. He asked me questions about everything that had to do with America and told me as much as he could about his life. Listening to him talk about his life just made me want to help him in every way I could. I gave him one of the soccer balls we brought and he was so excited to get a new ball. As he was carrying the ball around all his friends you could tell he felt really special that he had the new Nike soccer ball.

"Throughout the day I kept finding myself thinking how smart this kid is and if there was anything I could do to help his life. He was so joyful and happy to be where he was."

Reymann's  trip to Ethiopia came just a few months after his debut as a collegiate soccer standout for the Wildcats. His freshman season on the pitch was highly successful, as the 5-foot-9, 163 -pounder, played in all 20 games, seeing starts in 17 games.

"I learned that I have a lot of work to do before I can get to where I need to go," Reymann said. "I have a lot of things to improve on. Over the season, college soccer caught up to me, played against good players and that really showed and highlighted aspects of my game that I need to work on. Every part of my game needs to step up if I want to be the kind of college soccer player I can be."

Reymann saw time in the midfield but primarily as an attacking outside back as a freshman. He finished with two goals and one assist, serving as the primary corner-kick taker.

"Having (head coach) Johan (Cedergren) and (assistant) Chase (Wileman) give me quality coaching of where they want the ball to go, and when it should be there has helped me a lot because as you grow up you are just trying to get it to the big guy on the team," Reymann said. "But the structure we have here, it is so professional. Johan has made it very clear where he wants the ball to go on set pieces. Most of the time, I can get it there. It helps that those guys really teach us and the attackers know where the ball should be so we are on the same page."

One of the exciting elements of Cedergren's exciting style of offensive play is the ability of the outside backs to support the offensive attack, a role that perfectly fits Reymann's game.

"That was one of the reasons Johan recruited me, because I take pride in that part of my game," Reymann said. "I try to get forward as much as I can. Sometimes Johan and I joke around that maybe I get forward a little too much. The way we can be successful is to have out offensive guys be creative but if we can have our outside backs come up it will really help our offense. Sending in good crosses, that is probably one of the best parts of my game, just being able to pass the ball and distribute. Having that skill set should help our offense."

Reymann will join forces on a dynamic backline with center backs Jordan Wilson and Kaelon Fox. With an injury to his opposite member at outside back, Alex Bumpus, the back four will need to break in a new defender. Even with a new face, UK's defensive unit should be a strength of the team in 2014, including first-team All-Conference USA goalkeeper Callum Irving.

"We can be one of the best defending units in the country," Reymann said. "Jordan and I played a good amount together last year. Then having Kaelon Fox come in this spring to the backline, we all have a really good understanding of each other. In the first preseason game, we felt really comfortable with each other. We are starting to understand what each other likes and doesn't like. And having Cally back there, he is just a great leader, organizer. Everyone respects him and listens to him. Everyone being on the same page is going to help us a lot. Last year, with three freshmen coming in on the backline it is going to be a little different this year."

An important aspect of having a good back line in college soccer is constant communication amongst the back four and the goalkeeper.

"There are a lot of things going on at once," Reymann said "Especially against some of the teams we will play against this year, some really dynamic players. Just being able to communicate at a high level and knowing what each other generally likes to do. If Jordan wants to step here, or Kaelon is going to step up, we just have a good understanding of when we are going to do that. Against these good teams, we just have to react and know that your teammates are going to be there. Communication is just a huge part of us having success. Halfway through the year, we really started to communicate better. Now coming in with experience on the backline will definitely help."

With Kentucky coming off its season opener on Friday night at Wright State, the Wildcats now turn their attention to preparing for the home lidlifter on Sunday vs. Belmont at 5 p.m. at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex, the grand opening of UK's sparkling new facility.

"Oh my gosh. There are no words," Reymann said about the excitement for the new facility. "Last year, we were watching it get built. We just hear rumors about how nice the locker room would be, or the lounge. The field is already the best I have every played on, that by itself is amazing but know that they got it all built it is just amazing. We are just so excited to just get out there and play in front of a huge stadium. Now we have to win at home and build up that fan base."

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Bria Goss writes about the group's final hours in Ethiopia and looks back how a memorable trip changed her forever.


Today is the last day in Ethiopia and I feel like I just got here. I feel like I need to stay longer because there was still more to be done. I knew I had to make the best of the last day!

After breakfast we went to visit kids while they were learning at school. There were so many kids learning their ABCs and learning to count. We completely distracted a class by our entrance. We were so energetic and ready to play with the kids. Some were shy, but most were pretty open. They were first and second graders and for their age, they spoke pretty clear English. I noticed how well they got along with each other. They were very polite and generous to each other and really tried to show the same generosity and politeness to me even though we just met.

They were so eager to show me what they know. I was blown away by their willingness to learn. This was considered to be optional and the kids did not have to be there, but the class was full. There were no seats left open. The kids told me it was because everyone there cherishes school and wants to have a good education. I was in shock. Kids see the school as a way out. They are passionate because it can provide for their families.

There was one little girl that really stuck out to me. Her sassy attitude and outgoing personality is going to lead her to a bright future. She stole the show by showing us her dance moves and spirit. She swung her hips and put her hands in the air as we sang our tune. The girl had skills! I could see her as the next winner on Got Talent!

After the fun time with the kids it was time to go. We went to a market to get some food supplies for the next city we were going to. The market was very busy and muddy. It smelled terrible and people were shoving things in your face to get you to buy their product. There were flies everywhere, which gave me goose bumps! After we got the food we left to the market to go to drop off the food to the widows. They were so thankful for the blessings we brought them. They repeatedly said "May God bless you" and "Thank you, God bless"! This put a smile on my face. I fell in love with serving others! I want to help people with nothing in return. I get the utmost joy when I put smiles on other people's faces.


After passing out the food it was time to pack up and leave. We had about an hour to shower and get our things together and get something to eat. We gathered downstairs to eat and after we all finished, we gave Girma money to get his driver's license. He was thrilled and surprised. We wanted to do this for him because to get his license was very expensive and he had just about given up on his dream of one day being able to drive. Now, he will be able to take his test and get his license. We were happy to help him and be a part of something so special.

We then left for the airport and said our final goodbyes! It was so hard saying goodbye to our new friends. They were a big help and made the trip so much easier. I love how well this team came together and became friends. We weren't ready to leave. We got to the airport around 7 and we board at 9:30. This plane ride was a little different than the first. We were all close now so this made the flight more enjoyable.

Eighteen hours later, we were back in the U.S. The trip was life-changing. I know more than I ever thought I would about Ethiopia and had the chance to experience it firsthand. This trip will stay with me forever. The thing that really sticks to me is that life is not about what you do or don't have. It's about the relationships you build. It's about the friendships you cherish. It's about the people you reach out to. I learned how to give willingly and what that feels like. I learned to put others before myself to lift them up. I am not perfect, but living for God you don't have to be.


Haley Mills with a new friend in Ethiopia. (UK Athletics) Haley Mills with a new friend in Ethiopia. (UK Athletics)
In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Haley Mills writes about some inspiring children the student-athletes met on their last full day in Ethiopia.

We started our day like every other morning on our trip which included an early awaking followed by a delicious breakfast. We loaded up in our Toyota Coaster and dodged through the crazy traffic of Addis Ababa.

We first arrived at a little shop to buy a few souvenirs for loved ones back home. We then ventured on to a boys' home called Hope. The owner used to live on the streets of Addis and he was in and out of jail 32 times. After he turned his life around, he started a home for street boys to try and make a difference and change their lives. We introduced ourselves to all the boys and we were overwhelmed the most with their kindness and love, amidst the adversity.

A few of the boys shared their story and I was inspired as I related it back to my life. They had lost their parents and were left with nothing. They were destined to live sad lives as street children, yet these boys did not give up. They were doing everything they could, going to school, making enough money to live, learning English, all the while wrapped in God's will.

One boy told me his dream was to attend the University of Virginia and study psychology. He then went on to explain that he realized it was an impossible goal to reach. This broke my heart because here I am living his dream at UK. We take so much for granted and the events from today will make me think twice when complaining about something in my life. After we played soccer and football with the kids, we had pizza brought to the home for all of us to share. I was shocked when I saw almost half of the boys raise their hands when asked if this was their first time to ever eat pizza. These children have nothing and the joy in their eyes from a simple slice of pizza is truly inspiring.

Later that day we went to dinner at a place called Cupcake Delight. At first everyone thought we were having cupcakes for dinner and there was confusion on all of their faces. I did not think twice about it but the others were thinking about their "performance athlete diet". The restaurant ended up having a full menu and we all enjoyed a fantastic meal together. This was our last full day in Ethiopia and all of us were getting a little sad. We did not want to leave, especially to get on a 17-hour flight. Altogether it was a great day in Addis Ababa and it is one that I will never forget. Today's events left a huge impact on each and every one of us. The boys from Hope were such an inspiration and made me rethink the way I live.

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, John Sutton writes about lessons learned on a Sunday in Ethiopia.

By John Sutton

The day started with another delicious breakfast meal from the Addis Guesthouse, a common theme throughout this trip. The hospitality from those around us has not only left us feeling comfortable but also has transformed this foreign land into another home. Being Sunday, some of us decided to head to a local church with some of our Ethiopian brothers, Girma and Wario. However, being with some of the most talented college athletes in the country, we soon decided that an early morning trip to the gym was first in store. So without further ado, we headed out in the brisk Ethiopian morning air for a jog to our local gym - Bole Rock.

Traditional Ethiopian attire requires pants to be worn past the knees. With this in mind, it is no wonder that we got some odd looks in our blue and white gym attire as we jogged through the muddy streets of Addis Ababa. Upon reaching the gym, we each went our separate ways, some hitting the bikes, others hitting the treadmills and others hitting the weights. Despite being scattered at the beginning of our workout, we all ended in the same place - the floor. Being eight times the altitude of Lexington, Addis managed to give us a great opportunity to train in altitude. On our jog back to the guesthouse, street vendors clapped and cheered words of encouragement, or at least we thought they did. After a quick shower, we headed to our next destination - an optional church service at the Beza International Church.

I've been to many church services in the United States. However, I am forced to think hard to remember a church service that was as genuine as the one at Beza. The moment we arrived, we were greeted by the most joyful people. Despite our obvious foreign appearance, I felt the love and compassion from those in the congregation. Yet again the people of Ethiopia treated us like their own.

As we took our seats we immediately began worshipping with our fellow attendees. When I say "we began worshipping" I am referring to the hour and a half spent singing and dancing. The pure energy and passion that we saw initially shocked us. How is it that a country that is so financially broke can be so spiritually rich? How can those that have so little to eat on a consistent basis find so much energy to praise God? The music was done and we were eagerly greeted by a preacher who couldn't wait to share the Word with us.

After one of the most incredible sermons I've heard, I looked at my watch for the time to find that it was already 2 p.m.! We were blessed with three incredible hours of praise and worship. I found today humbling due to the fact that those who have so little can give so much thanks for the lives they have and the role that God plays in them. Definitely a lesson we could use back home! Seeing the physical manifestations of thanks and praise in such a poor country has made me feel like our lives of luxury have blinded us to the relationships that surround us.

Once church was over I talked to my good friend Girma about some of the differences between America and Ethiopia. I told him that I wish I could bring America to Ethiopia. However, I quickly realized that while we may have paved roads, video games and phones, the greater benefit would be to bring Ethiopia to America. Fortunately, our Ethiopian brothers have shown us the importance of relationships and love and now we, as a body of student-athletes, can return home not only with photos to show others, but with full hearts to pour into our community.

After lunch we headed to a lion zoo to see some of the local wildlife. Ethiopia is the only place in the world home to lions with black manes. While these beasts are truly beautiful, I was glad they were on the other side of the bars!

Upon leaving the zoo, we headed to a giant parking lot where locals play soccer. Having a large crew, we split into three different teams and set off between the buses and cars to try our hand at the sport. The first two teams took to the pitch and had a quick goal. Seeing all of the different athletes from their respective backgrounds converge to play soccer proved to be enough entertainment in and of itself.

Towards the end of the first game it started to rain. Hard. While all the locals ran for cover, we stayed and continued our quest for another goal. After we were thoroughly drenched, we decided we better head back to our bus. Yet again, while doing a mundane activity such as walking through a parking lot, we learned another hard lesson. Sitting in the middle of this giant parking lot was a small girl. She sat on the ground and tears ran down her face. Quietly crying to herself, we quickly realized how blessed we were. While we were soaked to the bone, we all had dry clothes back at the guesthouse, a warm meal awaiting us, and we all had friends and family to call when things got tough.

In America, we do a great job of hiding. We hide our pain, we hide our hurt. We hide the sick and the homeless, the bruised and the broken. In Ethiopia there was no hiding. Although there wasn't a lot we could do for this girl, it just showed us the need that this country has and yet again, showed us how blessed we are. It hurt leaving a crying child sitting in the rain and it still hurts thinking about it today. However, like a bad shot, a slow race, a missed goal or a short putt, we have the opportunity to either walk away and forget or learn from the pain. What I've learned is that there is need. All around us. In our homes, in our communities, on our teams, and in the world. You can travel 17 hours in a plane or you can walk down the hallway. It's up to us to make a difference.

Despite the so called "rest day", we still learned some heavy lessons. The joy that these people have is truly inspiring especially when compared to their circumstances. If people who have so little can be so joyful, surely we can too. And while we are so blessed, we must make an honest effort to help those less fortunate around us.

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Katrina Keirns and Kirsten Lewis write about a day spent in Debre Zeyit.


Katrina Keirns

Today we took a trip outside of Addis Ababa to go visit Mark's dear friend Sammy, who strives to take care of those in prison, widows and the poor. We began our day by eating our favorite breakfast, French toast and eggs, and then began our hour and a half journey to the city of Debre Zeyit.

After arriving in Debre Zeyit, we immediately drove to pick up the supplies we needed for the day, and then immediately headed to Sammy's house. When we pulled up in his drive way, he came out to greet us and welcomed us into his beautiful home. He told us that our tasks for the day would require us to divide into two different groups. Half of our team would go to deliver food supplies to prisoners, while the other half would help to build houses in another part of town.  Before both groups parted our separate ways, we formed an assembly line to make multiple bags of food and laundry to give to the prisoners we would be visiting. These bags consisted of a loaf of French bread, a couple bananas, detergent and body soap. After packing up the bags, we each grabbed a handful of them and loaded up the bus.

The first two prisons we visited were only a few minutes from Sammy's house. When we parked outside of it, I was confused as to where we were because it's so different from the prisons we have in the U.S. The prison was mainly outdoors and only had a few cells that held people. We then were able to chat and deliver the food bags and other donations to the prisoners, which we were very happy to do. The prisoners were very happy and appreciative of the supplies because the only items they receive from the jail are a few pieces of bread and water daily.

After delivering food to the two different prisons, we then began to make our journey around to visit all of the widows in need of food supplies. If widows do not have sons, they unfortunately struggle with getting food and other supplies because they do not have anyone to care for them as they get older. We had the pleasure of delivering food to six different widows' homes, who were all more than appreciative. When we arrived at each individual home, they all welcomed us with open arms and tears in there eyes. They then would hug and kiss each of us three times and tell us how much of a blessing we were just for coming to visit them. These women are honestly the nicest women I have ever met and constantly amazed me with their grace and how the smallest things make them the happiest.

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Following the widow visits, we began our journey back to Sammy's house. Sammy and his family invited us to stay for lunch so that he could make us a traditional Indian meal. After he was done preparing the meal, we gathered around outside in a circle and prayed over the delicious meal we were about to eat. The lamb curry, rice and naan (bread) that Sammy prepared was one of the best meals I've ever had, and I'm so thankful that he took time out of his day to host us. After we finished eating, Sammy told us that we would be visiting a few other families that were trying to start their own businesses in order to have a steady income.

The first family we visited consisted of a beautiful family of five (mother, father and three sons), that wanted to begin somewhat of a baking business so that they could sell their goods at the market. When we delivered the supplies to this family, the father told us how grateful he was that we were supporting him in his new business and was so thankful that we made the trip to see him and his wonderful family. The second family we visited needed a generator to power the arc welder. When we delivered the generator to the father, he was so grateful and happy that we brought the supplies he needed to help him begin the process of making the arc welder possible. The genuine smile and joy that portrayed made me so happy that our group could help him start something great.

Overall, this day was very impactful. All of these people have such big hearts and are thankful for every little bit that comes their way. Although they were the ones thanking us, I wanted to thank them in return for giving us the opportunity to visit them and hear their amazing stories. I will never forget their genuine, kind hearts and love that they showed us when they welcomed us into their homes.

Kirsten Lewis

We started off the day with a breakfast at 7:30 consisting of French toast and eggs! After our stomachs were full for the day ahead, we were ready to leave our guesthouse to go visit the city of Debre Zeyit, which was about an hour and a half drive out to the countryside. Only a few people in the bus got some shut-eye and the majority of us were either engaged in conversation or had our heads glued to the windows taking in all of the beautiful sights. The trip seemed to fly by so fast, and we were in Debre Zeyit in no time!

We immediately met up with Sammy, the man we were going to be assisting the whole day with his job and ministry in Debre Zeyit. After meeting up with him, his crew and his two adorable little girls, we sorted the supplies that he had already provided into several plastic bags that we would be distributing to the widows and the prisoners for the rest of the day. They guys opted to help out with a local building project, while the girls opted to go visit the two prisons and deliver some food to couples and widows in the area.

At the first prison that we visited, we were only able to drop off the food and supplies and nothing else. Mark said that it usually depends on who is in charge of working the prison that day as to how much interaction we could have with the inmates when different groups come in to visit them. Originally, we had expected to have the opportunity to talk to some of the prisoners, hear their stories and offer encouragement to them. A minor deviation from our previous plan, but we were happy that we were at least allowed to give them the food and items that we brought to make their stay at the prison a bit more comfortable. At the second prison, there were not as many prisoners being held so we distributed the food quickly and gave what we had left over to the guards and staff.

The next task on the agenda was delivering food to the families and widows in the area! We spent the rest of the time until lunch stopping at each house that needed food. We got to ride around most of the city of Debre Zeyit while we were making these deliveries, and I was at awe at the difference from the cities here in America! In the streets in Debre Zeyit, there are cars, mingled with people riding in carts hooked up to horses and dogs freely roaming the streets.


This city was a bit more rural than Addis Ababa and you could see valleys, mountain tops, trees, cattle roaming and gardens full of flowers as we drove around. It was absolutely beautiful and a nice change of pace from the street and in Addis Ababa. After we finished delivering all of the bags, we headed back to Sammy's house, where we met up with the boys and ate a delicious lunch that Sammy had prepared consisting of lamb curry, rice and naan. We sat around in a big circle as we ate and shared so many laughs with one another. It was a great physical and mental break from a very work-heavy morning!

The next order of business was delivering some heavy-duty machinery to a man who is in the process of starting his own business. We delivered to his home a generator and an arc welder which will help his new business out tremendously.

While we were there, we met a group of about 10 little boys who all were learning how to practice taekwondo. They were demonstrating to us their moves by having play fights with one another. At one point, Jared jumped in and started making up his own moves while the little boys began to watch him closely and begin to imitate the different poses that Jared was making. These little guys soaked up all of the attention that they were getting from us as we watched them go through all of their moves that they were currently learning. Their smiles and attitudes were infectious! They did not speak very much English, so at first it was difficult to learn very much about these boys besides their names and age. After one of our translators came over and joined us, we were able to learn about where each of the boys were from, how they had gotten into practicing taekwondo, what year they were in school and their favorite subjects.

After saying our goodbyes and taking a few pictures with these little guys, we all piled back into the bus and delivered some food to two more houses. John and I went together to deliver food to a young woman who had a little baby. We were able to take some pictures with her and her sweet little baby, who we found out was just two months old.

As we left the village, we stopped at the community center that the boys had started to build earlier. At this point, a bunch of little kids had begun to follow our bus around, and once we got out at the church, we were swarmed by kids of all ages and sizes. Some were shy and kept their distance while others came right up for high fives and were just speaking their language to us as if we could all understand them. The thing that struck me the most about these little kids were their willingness to accept us into their village as we were and just laugh and play and exist as if we were all the exact same for a day. This experience was humbling because how often do we accept and meet others right exactly where they are and come together for the sake of building relationships with another.

As we drove away from the village, one of the neatest moments was turning around and looking out of the back window of the bus and watching all of the little kids run after the bus for as long as they could. I do not think that I will ever be able to erase that amazing moment out of my mind. We left that day with our hearts overflowing with the love that everyone had showed us and every possible emotion running through our heads. Now, time to fill our empty stomachs with some food and get some sleep and do it all over again tomorrow!

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Montana Whittle, Danielle Fitzgerald and Charlie Reymann each write about an unforgettable day spent in the poorest area of Addis Ababa.


Montana Whittle

Where to start?

I find myself at a loss of words, because this experience cannot be described. There are no words or pictures that do this place justice. I wish I could let you see my memories and feel what I have felt. I will do my best to help you understand this place and its people, but I would highly encourage you to explore this world yourself and challenge you to keep an open mind.  

Today started with an amazing plate of French toast and a cup of coffee, and finished with me questioning my entire existence.  After breakfast we were given a brief explanation of what the day would bring. At this time I thought I was going to change lives, but the truth is that my life would be changed, forever. We were told that we were going to visit the poorest part of Addis Ababa. It is about one square mile, maybe a little bigger, and is home to over 100,000 people. These people are the poorest of the poor, most of them have been shunned due to disabilities and illnesses, such as leprosy or HIV/AIDS.  

We pull up in our van to Mark's office and children swarm us. From the minute we walked outside to the time we left, those children held our hands. They were so excited to meet us and tell us about themselves. All they wanted was for us to remember them, pray for them, love them. These children had such a huge impact on me. They were the happiest kids I had ever met, and yet they had nothing. Most of them had shoes that were falling apart and clothes that were worn thin. The two boys who held my hand had asked me for things, such as clothes, shoes or food. It broke my heart that we were not allowed to give them anything, because it would be unfair to those who did not get something. All I wanted to do was give these kids everything they needed; I wanted to tell them that everything was going be OK. But, the truth is, I had no idea. The memory of these children chasing after our van when we left will stay with me forever.

Our mission today was to deliver food and supplies (coffee beans, macaroni, salt, matches and soap) to widows and families in need. At the office we met the women and children who were going to be receiving these supplies. These women were inspirational. Faithful. They were so grateful, even though some of them could not even walk. Two women in particular really impacted me because one was in a wheelchair and the other had a daughter who could not walk, so she carried her on her back. When we delivered their food to their homes, the walk was not short. These mothers did not complain. In fact they were overjoyed just to meet us and have us see their homes.

I have never seen such poor living conditions, where their walls were sod, their roofs were tin and their floors were mud. A large house would be the size of our bathrooms in America. Yet, we were invited in without a moment's hesitation. They were so proud and had no shame; they wanted us to see everything in their homes and even offered us coffee. The first thing they did was thank us and tell us that they would be praying for us every day. I could not help but get emotional; I was not the one who needed prayers. I have never seen God work through people so much. They had so much going against them -- missing limbs, leprosy, unable to walk, crooked feet -- and yet they still were so patient with us, still so loving, still so faithful, still so happy.  


My experience today and every day this week was unreal and unforgettable. Now that I am home, all I can think about are those beautiful people that I met and my plan to return in the future. This experience has caused me to question everything that I know and everything that I want. Everything that was so important to me in the past is not important anymore. I know this experience has changed me for the better and I hope I never forget the faces and hearts of the people of Ethiopia.

Danielle Fitzgerald

Today was spent in one of the world's poorest places, which is built around the city dump. We started the morning with our standard "UK breakfast special" consisting of French toast and eggs but nothing we saw after was familiar. We were aware of the immense state of poverty but familiarity stopped there.

As we rolled up to the office that works to provide sponsorships to the people of the area, we were instantly greeted by big grins and precious little hands that wanted to be held. The instant joy the kids felt from simply having somebody touch them was quite overwhelming.

Mark took us into the office where we formed an assembly line to package macaroni, salt, body soap and other items for people who had been put on the sponsorship wait list. The recipients were sitting outside of the office and even though most were suffering from starvation, HIV/AIDS or leprosy, the pure joy they expressed seemed to be most contagious. We each carried a bag full of necessities to different houses, kids still in tow throughout the day. Although their houses' sizes were more comparable to a standard American bathroom than an American house, everyone was so proud to show us their homes and invite us to stay.

Each member of our team had about three kids latched onto them throughout the day and close to 100 followed us both when we were walking from house to house and running closely behind when our van took us to other parts of the town. There are few words to describe the emotions felt when a swarm of kids chases your van for miles and the two or three kids you've grown very close to come find you again, happy as can be to have done so. The simplest things brought them the most joy: thumb wars, hand games and skipping through the streets. Not even a language barrier could hinder that. Many of the kids would push their way through the line of hands to get closer to us but they did not realize they were the real celebrities, their endless love and eagerness to get to know us more admirable than our presence.


One of the hardest parts of the day was leaving the kids we had established relationships with. Eyes teared up when our new friends asked for pens to write their names on our arms in hopes that we would remember them forever and keep them in our prayers. Nothing can prepare you for the moment that two little girls ask you to take them home with you because life would be better that way.

It is so easy for us to get caught up in how busy our own lives are and forget about what is really important. These people don't have money to spend, cars to drive or cell phones to obsess over. They do have each other. And without worldly relationships, they still have a strong faith in God. I have never been so overwhelmed by such a concentrated sentiment of love. Relationships were valued so much more when there was not an emphasis on material possessions. Every person we came in contact with was significantly happier with their lives than I have ever seen before and I believe there is something to be said for that. Material poverty and spiritual wealth may not look glamorous from the outside looking in, but a completely different story was told once we were able to see from these beautiful people's perspective, even if only for a small fraction of time.

Charlie Reymann


Today was our second day in Ethiopia and it was full of eye-opening experiences. We started off with breakfast and then traveled to an area considered one of the poorest places in Ethiopia. The city began when all the people with leprosy were sent away and as time went on more and more outcasts were sent here. It surrounds a trash dump, and sometimes the people will search in the dump for food or supplies for their houses. We knew going into this day that this will be something we will never forget.

It is such a blessing to be able to experience a place like this. As we arrived, the first observations we had were the amount of people on the streets and what they called their homes. In the U.S. a home like we saw would make people look the other way. The houses were made from mud, wood and tin roof. And they were just thankful to have a home, something I think we all take for granted.

Once we arrived, we teamed up with a community center to provide some of the people in the community with a month's worth of supplies. The community center we worked with sponsors women and men from the city. The people that we helped today were men and women in line for the next sponsor. Some of the supplies we gave to them were macaroni, coffee beans, sugar and soap. We split up into little teams to make the process go as smoothly as possible. Since we are all athletes we all know how to work in a team, so we got to work.

Once we were done we all got the privilege to hand these men and women their supplies, which was a wonderful sight. Seeing their faces as we gave them the supplies was remarkable. They all said "God bless you" in English when we gave them their bag. After we gave them their supplies, some of us followed them to their houses to help carry them. These women came a long way to get their supplies, if I had to guess the farthest was two miles. And the lady who traveled the two miles was in a wheel chair!

As we walked with these women, questions came into my head. How does a place get like this? How does any human live in this city? Is there any solution to this problem? We may never know the answers to those questions but seeing the children filled us all with joy. Children came from everywhere to walk with us like we were rock stars. Each of us had at least three children holding our hands. Their smiles and joy were contagious to all of us. A place where it is hard to find anything to be happy about, these children could not stop smiling.

As I walked with these kids, I realized they were just happy to be alive. Video games and computers did not matter to them unlike kids in America. Materialistic goods are what most Americans really care about: their phones, their cars and their jewelry. These people have nothing and they all act like they have everything they need and more. It made us realize that we do not need all the "things" we own to be happy. They just enjoyed being with their friends and walking around with Americans for the day. And making new friends! We were their idols. They were thankful for a new friend, and that someone will be thinking about them. We get so caught up in our little world that we are not thankful for small things in life because we take them for granted.

We all went back to the community center to regroup and get ready for lunch. We went to a restaurant and almost everybody ordered a pizza. My pizza was delicious! We travel with three Ethiopian kids our age to help us learn the culture, translate, and most of all become our friends. Their names are Wario, Girma, and Khalib. They all made us try this green hot sauce that was like fire in your mouth. According to them everyone is used to hot spices in Ethiopia so when Americans come, they are not used to how hot the food is. Besides the green sauce that we tried everything was great and we headed back to explore the city a little more.

After lunch, we walked right up to the dump. We went inside a small village that was right next to it and the craziest thing happened. The little kids who were with us all morning found us and walked with us again!

I could not understand how some of these families can live this close to the dump and be so happy with their lives. No one would ever live as close to a trash dump as these homes were in the United States. We all went into the village and Mark called us around this small boy. He then told us that the kid he was holding up had a tumor above his eye not too long ago. One of the families who sponsored his family paid for this child to have his tumor removed. The kid could not have been more than four years old. This story touched all of our hearts. God used the sponsor to save that little boy's life. A remarkable story that we will never forget.

In Ethiopia everything is about relationships, and I experienced that right when I got off the bus. A little kid named Honuk, 10 years old, ran right up to me and asked me my name. I was very impressed with his English, and for the rest of the day we were best friends. He asked me questions about everything that had to do with America and told me as much as he could about his life. Listening to him talk about his life just made me want to help him in every way I could. I gave him one of the soccer balls we brought and he was so excited to get a new ball. As he was carrying the ball around all his friends you could tell he felt really special that he had the new Nike soccer ball. Throughout the day I kept finding myself thinking how smart this kid is and if there was anything I could do to help his life. He was so joyful and happy to be where he was.

All the kids were so happy! They were happy because they know that they mean something to someone who lives outside their village. That means so much to them. Honuk and some of the other kids wanted us to remember their names so bad that they wrote them on our arms. He borrowed a pen from a street vendor and pressed as hard as he could to spell out his name. The moment that will never leave my mind is when we were all getting on the bus to leave my new friend Honuk ran up to the bus and waved for me to open the window. With a smiling face and love in his eyes he said, "Charlie, I will miss you. I will pray for you." Those were the types of moments we all experienced today and I think we all agreed that we will never forget this day.

Walking through the city we saw more little kids laughing, playing, and loving each other than anywhere in the U.S. We saw mothers more proud of their homes than most mothers in America. They might not have as much money or opportunity but they have more joy and spirit. This day was an incredible day that we will always cherish in our hearts.  

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Jared Philips writes about the group's arrival in Ethiopia.


By Jared Phillips

Today's the day. We are traveling to Ethiopia! Our team got up early and headed to the airport where waiting in lines, flight delays and confiscation of necessary items at security awaited us. However, we were all incredibly excited for this trip, so these events were merely slight bumps in the road.

We boarded our nearly 13-hour flight to Addis Ababa shortly after noon in Washington, D.C., and finally touched down on a cloudy, cool morning at Bole International Airport at roughly 9:30 a.m. local time.  Our team's exhaustion quickly turned into exhilaration after landing in what was a novel experience for all of us but Jason (Schlafer, the senior associate athletic director accompanying student-athletes): Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Surprisingly quickly, we made it through customs, picked up our baggage, and walked out of the terminal. I got a taste of how kind the Ethiopian people are when a lady stopped me as our team was leaving the terminal and personally welcomed me to Addis Ababa; it was rather touching to see someone as welcoming as she was. As soon as we were outside, we were in awe what was before us: a mixture of nature and urban life stretching for miles and miles. The weather was nice and cool compared to Lexington, and the mass of cars in the airport parking lot awaited us. We met up with Mark, who would be leading us around to the various places on the trip, and Nikki, our photographer for the week and departed for our guesthouse.

Immediately, our group got to witness the poverty and crowdedness that characterize the cities of third-world countries. People were everywhere: walking in the streets, begging and trying to sell numerous goods, and crammed into blue and white vans that served as taxis for the city. Upscale buildings stood next to tiny tin shacks, and rudimentary slabs of concrete under construction littered the landscape before us. The traffic was organized chaos, as cars, trucks, and vans would come and go with not a stop sign or traffic light in sight. We arrived at the Addis Guesthouse, across from a field where tents of cloth, towels, and mud sprung up from the ground. We met two of the local guys that would be assisting us this week, Girma and Wario, who dropped our luggage off in our rooms, and we soon departed for our first visit.

As our driver navigated through the Addis traffic, Mark explained to us that the neighborhood we would visit is mainly occupied by widows and their children, and that we would be giving them bags of coffee and sugar and mattresses, complete with sheets and a blanket. We arrived outside a community center and made our way in through a metal gate with barbed wire, a common scene in Addis. What happened next absolutely floored me.  As soon as the widows and children saw us, they welcomed us with such warmth and love, peppering us with hugs and kisses. The joy evident on their faces was contagious. After a few hugs, I could not help but beam with joy simply being in their presence.

We hastily made our way into the community center where everyone sat in a circle and each member of our team was introduced to much applause. The women sang worship songs with clapping and rejoicing, and even though none of our group could understand what was being sung, it was a pretty neat experience. Several women then proceeded to share their testimony of how their sponsorship through the program that Mark is in charge of has completely changed their lives by giving them food to eat and providing for their children's healthcare and education. In everything these women thanked God for what they had, and it struck a chord with me: I complain about my phone being slow sometimes, yet these women are so thankful for the very little they have. Such incredible conviction.

Afterward, we handed out bags of coffee and sugar to these women, who thanked us profusely for them. We also managed to give out mattresses and sheets to the women who needed replacements.  We then got to spend time with one another, meeting each other and playing with the kids. One woman, Tonga, pulled me aside and continued to thank the group and me for coming to visit them and eagerly introduced me to her daughter. She kept telling me how we were such a blessing to them and how grateful she was for the things we handed out. Although it felt good to provide for these people's physical needs, I was humbled by her gratitude and thankful to her for how loving and gracious the hearts of the widows are. I got the joy of hanging out with some of these kids and seeing their faces light up when Montana handed out some chocolate.  

Two of these children I will remember forever: Biniyam, a 13-year-old boy, and Doriba, his 10-year-old sister. We bonded immediately and Haley and I got to carry their mattress back to their house. It was fantastic seeing these children who had nearly nothing, yet were so joyful and free of burdens. Walking through the neighborhood, we saw some houses that were pretty decent for their standards, but as we got closer we saw things for what they were. In the garages and backyards of these people, we saw widows and children in makeshift homes. Once we reached Biniyam's home, he invited us inside and showed us around. The house was no bigger than my bedroom at the guesthouse, yet they kept saying how big it was and were so proud of their belongings. These people are so thankful for the very little they have, and I was yet again floored at their attitude; we may have comfort in America, but the joy that these people have is a treasure very much worth looking for and guarding with your life.

We returned to the community center from Biniyam's house for a lunch of fried egg sandwiches and sodas, then left to go deliver laptops to some of Mark's friends and pick up supplies for his children. The area we were in, as Wario noted, is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Addis, yet it was not exactly middle-class America. Even something as subtle as being in a nice area of Addis rocked me. It was continued evidence that comfort and possessions do not equal joy, and possibly the absence of comfort and possessions (or the absence of finding your value in these things) contributes to the joy that people have.

Once we dropped off the laptops, we left to go exchange our American dollars for Ethiopian birr and we stopped by the "Starbucks of Ethiopia:" Kaldi's Coffee. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my coffee and I'm a big fan of the local coffee shops we have in Lexington, but nothing has come close to what I had today. The coffee is so rich that it doesn't need any creamer, sugar or anything fancy. These Ethiopians know their coffee! After the coffee shop, we returned to the guesthouse to eat dinner and retire for the night, exhausted after a long yet rewarding day in Addis Ababa.


In late July, nine student-athletes - Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) - participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

To start off, Bria Goss writes about the group's first day of travel and time in Washington, D.C.


By Bria Goss

This is the day we have all been waiting for. As excitement rises, so does nervousness. There are so many questions running through my mind as I make my final preparations for the trip. I am unsure what to expect when I get to Ethiopia, even though I have a pretty clear image.

The plan was to meet in the K Fund office to get lots of snacks from Coach Rock (Oliver) and double-check our bags to make sure we had everything. Today is Haley Mills' birthday so Katrina very generously gave her homemade brownies. Katrina and Haley had only met once or twice before that and Katrina already showed an act of kindness by giving her brownies. From that point on, I knew I had to make friends with Katrina to get some sweets on my birthday!!!

As 10:30 a.m. rolled around, it was time to load the bus and head to Cincinnati where we will depart for Washington, D.C.  I slept the whole ride to catch up on some much-needed rest. We arrived at the airport and check our bags. Everyone was so nice helping us along and pointing us to our next destination. We had a wonderful lunch in the airport and continued on our way. As we boarded the plane was when I first realized I was traveling to Ethiopia.


The plane ride was smooth and I slept the whole hour and a half. When we got to the Washington, D.C. Airport, we quickly grabbed our bags and headed to the hotel. After we dropped everything off in the rooms, we met in the lobby for our tour. Our tour guide, Zuma, was awesome. Not only did he make the tour interesting, he taught me a lot about D.C. Zuma took us everywhere: the Pentagon, Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Capitol, the White House and much more. He made the tour special and enjoyable.

After the tour was done, we went to dinner. This is where I really got the chance to talk with the other student-athletes. As the day went on, we became closer. After a great meal, we surprised Haley by telling the waiter it was her birthday. The staff of the restaurant came out singing happy birthday with a lot of energy. Haley was shocked! The look on her face was priceless.

After a night of many laughs, we loaded back up in our bus and headed for the hotel. We had a long day the next day so we wanted to get some rest. I am so excited to see what this trip has to offer. I am still so thankful for this amazing opportunity.



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.


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