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A Higher Goal

Two NHLers try to help in Tanzania

AN UNDERsized NHL defenseman who was drafted 208th, the Bruins' Andrew Ference knows about humility, which might explain why he quickly said yes when offered the chance to spend eight days visiting schools and orphanages in AIDS-ravaged Tanzania. Says Ference, 28, of a country where some 1.1 million children have lost one or both parents to the disease, "It was a chance to educate myself and see what life was really like in a Third World country, instead of getting the five-star version sipping cocktails by a pool."

Ference, from Edmonton, was joined by a friend, Panthers defenseman Steve Montador (yellow shirt and below), on a 10-day trip organized by the Toronto-based humanitarian organization Right to Play. Along the way the athletes got some surprises. Some preteen boys at an orphanage borrowed Ference's digital camera and, he says, "recorded a Swahili rap for me and a song by Jay-Z." Another time the players were wending through tall grass when they came across two green mamba snakes. "I asked our guide if he had antivenin in case we were bitten," says Ference. "He said, 'Nope, you just lie down and relax. In about 60 seconds you'll die.'?"

Besides playing soccer and netball with the kids—Right to Play uses sports to teach concepts such as "peace building" and "conflict resolution"—Ference and Montador explained hockey, using two, 18-inch-long plastic hockey sticks. Tanzania is an equatorial country where snow is restricted to the peaks of Kilimanjaro. "They held the sticks correctly," says Montador, "but it was hard for them to understand the concept of skates and ice across a large surface."

Other games were laden with health messages and provided the kind of experiences the children desperately need. "While playing, you're hugging and high-fiving them and you almost forget their situation," says Ference. "One day we were playing soccer with about 400 kids around. The staff told us 65 percent of them either had AIDS or were orphaned by it. They're just struggling to survive."

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COURTESY OF FERENCE AND MONTADOR (TANZANIA)

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