JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Marcell Dareus didn't understand what the children were saying, but he knew he wanted to help.
The Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle was touring Haiti in February 2017 with Hope for Haiti -- a nonprofit organization whose goal is to improve the quality of life for Haitian people, particularly children -- and was astounded when he saw the destruction that still remained from the earthquake that devastated the country in January 2010. Especially when he saw the more than 800 children the organization was trying to help.
That's when he continued to pledge his support for Hope for Haiti, and it's partly why he returned to the country for a second time in June.
"It means the world to me," Dareus said last month. "It's an opportunity where I can just help out, give a little bit back. Can't change the world but I can change a life. Just a little token."
The Haitian people returned the favor. As part of Dareus' trip he spent some time at the Christ-Roi Primary School of Cammy. He donated $125,000 to fund its one-block, three-classroom school wing through his foundation, and in return, the school named the building in his honor.
"That's pretty cool," Dareus said.
Dareus' connection to the country is through his father Jules Dareus, who grew up in Haiti before immigrating to the United States as a young adult. Jules died when Marcell was 8 years old and Dareus had long wanted to go to Haiti to learn about his heritage and possibly find some relatives he had never met.
That feeling intensified after the earthquake and Hurricane Matthew, which hit Haiti in October 2016. The country had not yet recovered from the earthquake when Matthew hit. Dareus did some research, found out about Hope for Haiti, and donated $25,000 to the organization.
That money paid for teachers' salaries for a year at Christ-Roi Primary School of Cammy. Dareus wanted to travel to Haiti to see how his donation was helping and to search for his long-lost relatives. He went in February 2017 and, though he said he was unable to find his relatives, he was able to visit the school. That visit left a huge impression on him.
"I was just like, just heartbroken about [the conditions and devastation in Haiti] and then saw the kids and got with Hope for Haiti," Dareus said. "It just joyous [to visit with the kids]. Had a lot of fun. It was a crazy experience.
"I didn't want to just go and just go over and travel and be a tourist. I really wanted to help out in any way I can. An opportunity came up. We looked around at a couple of foundations, nonprofits, and we decided to go with Hope for Haiti. Hope for Haiti, they're very well in-depth in the community. Everybody respects them. People know they're helping and they're just doing the best they can. So we just donated some money there and I wanted them to take me around, show me where my money's going. I want to meet the kids. I want to meet the teachers. I want to see the schools. It was time-consuming, but we had a good time and I really pretty much saw the whole country. It was pretty cool."
Dareus said he got weird looks wherever he went, mostly because of his size (6-feet-3, 331 pounds). That didn't stop the children from flocking to him, though, and while they weren't able to communicate verbally -- the two official languages in Haiti are French and Haitian Creole -- Dareus felt a connection.
"It's kind of hard to explain," Dareus said. "It's like a non-verbal communication, a non-verbal gratification, like, 'Thank you.' Like, 'We're just happy.' They can't actually say what they're actually feeling.
"It's something you have to be there to experience."
Dareus met with Haiti's prime minister Dr. Jack Guy Lafontant, high-level government officials, Hope for Haiti board members and others before traveling to the school for the dedication.
"This new school building will revolutionize education in the whole community," school director Augustin Bertrand said in a statement. "For the first time the Cammy children will have a nice, standardized and safe place to learn."
In addition, Dareus has pledged additional funds to Hope for Haiti through his own foundation. The money will go to help with school construction, teacher training, salaries and mobile clinics.
Dareus said he's hoping to make more trips to Haiti in the future and wants to continue to help the country and the children. He's not concerned about whether his involvement will spur others to help, though.
"To be honest, I don't really care what anybody else does," he said. "This is just coming from me, how I feel, from the heart. I'm not asking anything. I just want to help out."
Should you block ads? Adblocker