Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – A gift that we might take for granted – an eraser, a sticker or a pair of socks – means the world to the kids at the Hockey Hearts School & Dormitory in Tanzania.
"(I learned) that we're super privileged over here," said MacEwan women's hockey player Kennedy Davidson. "If the kids get a pair of socks, it's the best day ever."
So, when Davidson and teammates Karlie Bell and Jessi Rampton visited her mom Jody's orphanage last spring and brought two MacEwan Griffins jerseys with them, you couldn't wipe the smiles off the kids' faces.
The experience was rewarding for the Griffins players, too. While it was Davidson's second visit to Arusha, Tanzania – originally travelling there in 2014 as her family built the orphanage that houses 24 kids – this was the first time she'd brought Griffins teammates along.
"It was pretty cool to be able to show them around and get to show them my mom's orphanage," she said. "Each of their families ended up sponsoring kids, as well.
"My mom always says when you go and volunteer, you end up falling in love with one kid. You love all the kids, but there's one that really touches your heart."
That happened on mom Jody's first trip in 2013 when she initially travelled to Tanzania to help at a different orphanage. A little girl named Esther captured her heart.
"She went through an organization IVHQ and they set her up at this orphanage. She fell in love with this little girl named Esther," said Kennedy Davidson. "She fell in love with the kids and wanted to help more."
That led to a full family trip a year later with a goal of upgrading that orphanage. When they arrived, though, everything had been fixed. However, they were able to find a piece of land through a local connection and build their own orphanage.
"It was almost finished when we left. We went for three weeks," said Kennedy. "My brother stayed an extra week. He helped finish it. It's been four years now and my mom goes twice a year."
Jody Davidson hired a full-time teacher, who instructs the kids in math and English, and lives there with the kids, while the facility also has a cook to provide them with proper nutrition.
If sponsors can be found to pay for further education, the kids move on to a school called Haradali, where they can finish their schooling right through Grade 12. Noting that teammate Natalie Bender and her family have also helped sponsor a kid, Kennedy Davidson is noticing the impact of their helping hand.
"The little girl that we sponsored, she could barely speak English when we met her and now she's pretty fluent," she said.
The trip for Davidson, Bell and Rampton also included a safari, of course, which happened to be on the day of Kennedy's 21st birthday. But it was primarily a volunteer opportunity – giving back – which is a big part of the Griffins women's hockey culture.
"A huge component of being a part of our team is that aspect of giving back to the community," said head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "I think these girls have been given so much throughout their minor hockey career up to now. Beyond the hockey rink and the classroom is a really important component for us.
"The fact they are privileged enough to be able to go over and take part in a program like an orphanage and be able to play with those kids and interact with them in a very different part of the world, speaks super highly of the three girls that went. They're all great character girls."
Davidson and her family continue to raise awareness and funds for the program over in Tanzania. Head to Hockeyheartsfoundation.com to learn more about the initiative.
As for the Griffins, they're in the middle of a first semester that has them atop the ACAC women's hockey standings at 7-2-0-0. They host the Olds College Broncos (3-3-1-0) on Friday (7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).
Olds upset them 2-1 on Thursday night, even though the Griffins outshot their rivals 35-14.
"Being prepared for the physicality that they bring is a huge one for us," noted McAlpine before the weekend series kicked off. "We tend to struggle in games where the physicality gets high. We need to match it to be able to push back. I think being ready for that at the outset of the game will help us tremendously."