I started the Cliff Avril Family Foundation with the goal of improving the lives of youths with diabetes. I didn’t know at the time that my passion for improving the lives of children would lead me to Haiti.
SOMEONE asked me, “Why is Haiti so important to you?”
The answer is easy: I am one of them. They are my people. I could have easily been one of the kids in Haiti. I was just fortunate enough to be born in the United States.
I don’t believe we — and I mean Americans — ever truly understand how fortunate we are to live in the United States. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes visiting a country so impoverished to put that in perspective.
On the other hand, I don’t want people to think that Haiti is all gloom and doom. It’s on the same island as the Dominican Republic. Haiti has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, amazing food and music, and is rich in tradition and culture. The country is a nation of strong, resilient people who, due to natural disasters, political unrest and systematic oppression, have struggled to overcome issues, many of which are beyond their control.
My mother was born in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, and my father in Jacmel. The two met in Jacksonville, Fla. They had come to the U.S. because they wanted more for themselves and their families. I traveled to their homeland every summer to visit my grandmother, but stopped in 2001.
When I traveled to Haiti last April with my foundation, and I saw the country I used to visit as a child through the eyes of a grown man, now a husband and father of two, my desire to be a conduit of change intensified.
I started the Cliff Avril Family Foundation with the goal of improving the lives of youths with diabetes. I didn’t know at the time that my passion for improving the lives of children would lead me to Haiti, but it did and I am proud of that.
A former teammate told me about the work he was doing in Third World countries, and I thought it would be an amazing way for me to give back. So last December, I set the wheels in motion. Working with an organization that has a presence in Haiti, we chose to serve La Chanm, a rural area in the Central Plateau.
Five-hundred children were going to school in a tin-covered structure with bed sheets as walls. The area was divided into six sections. My description doesn’t adequately depict the learning environment of these kids, but some would walk two or three hours one way just to be educated. My foundation was able to start construction on a suitable school building for them, and we opened the first school block in September.
I saw firsthand, growing up, the real struggle of what they’re going through. I’m in a fortunate situation now, and I feel I owe it to them. To hear the children’s laughter and see their eyes light up, I knew we were right to expand the foundation’s mission.
Haiti has so much potential. Just as in sports, there are so many athletes with the skill set — sometimes they just need an opportunity. Haiti just needs the opportunity to show the world its greatness, and I hope to be a part of that.
Two days after my foundation opened the school, Hurricane Matthew hit. Fortunately, the area we built the school was not affected, but the town where my father was born was ravaged by the storm. I received another opportunity to help — and in a creative way. For every sack I record, I pledged to build a home. It’s just another way for me to hopefully make a tangible difference.
I don’t want people to think that I am writing this to pat myself on the back, but one thing I have become more aware of this year is that people genuinely want to help. They want to support what some of their favorite players are doing off the field. And the more I have the opportunity to speak about the work I am doing, the more lives we will be able to change.
I recently watched a very enlightening documentary on charitable giving in impoverished countries, and one quote from the president of Rwanda stood out to me. He said, “The best way to help is to help people to be able to stand on their own.”
Through the school and the homes, through my time and the resources, that’s all I want. I want the people we are serving to know someone cares and we are there to help. I am reminded of the adage: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”