Well before an earthquake devastated Haiti two weeks ago, New York Red Bulls midfielder Seth Stammler already had an interest in the Caribbean country.
After visiting the country with former Red Bulls and current Hull City striker Jozy Altidore a little more than three years ago, Stammler decided to start a charitable group called the Sporting Chance Foundation. Since 2007, the foundation has helped more than 10,000 citizens in Port au Prince find drinkable water and handed out 49 scholarships to children so they could receive a better education. But now the foundation's efforts have turned to much more immediate life-saving demands in the wake of recent tragic events.
When he visited Haiti in December, Stammler noticed how fragile the homes and buildings were. "We looked at all of the buildings and wondered how people could live in them," he said. "If one goes down, it could start a domino effect."
Stammler realized quickly after the earthquake that news coming from Haiti might not be good news, especially about the foundation's scholarship students. "Realistically, I know there will be a couple of bad scenarios," he said. "With the grace of God, they will survive."
Right now we just want to help out. Everyone gets it for free right now. We just want to make sure everyone gets the proper hydration to get through this tough time.
As it turns out, the well that the foundation stayed functional in spite of the earthquake and its aftershocks. It is still running during the crisis, much to the relief of Stammler, who is also happy that it ended up being used by many more people than it was originally intended. "We just finished it in September," he said. "They really started using it in October, and three months later they have a tragic earthquake. It's pretty nerve-wracking to think that our efforts may have gone for nothing. It survived."
Port au Prince citizens usually have to pay one gourd - the equivalent of 2 1/2 US cents -- for a five-gallon bucket of water. But the earthquake has changed things drastically.
"Right now we just want to help out," Stammler said. "Everyone gets it for free right now. Just want to make sure everyone gets the proper hydration to get through this tough time."
During his December visit, Stammler was impressed at how popular the foundation's well was. "The well had a line 15 deep of young adolescent girls waiting to get their five gallon bucket of water," he said. "I would be interested to see what it is now. I'm sure there are other people coming from other neighbourhoods to get their hands on some good water. It’s definitely a proud thing for the Sporting Chance Foundation. I think it re-energizes us to do more wells. They're kind of costly. But I think it just proves the importance they have it in the community."
An average Haitian well costs around $20,000 USD to build, although the foundation received a deal at $10,000 USD for the first one, Stammler said. "They can be pretty pricey," he added. "The pipes had been laid by the water authority to the area. So it was a matter of us putting the well up. That was achieved well. Hopefully, we can find similar ones or with the proper funding."
A helping hand
Since the 12 January earthquake, the foundation has raised $10,000 USD. "That’s pretty good for us," said Stammler, who expects any new money raised will used for more immediate aid to Haitians.
Stammler said he has talked to Red Bulls management about flying down to Haiti to help. But he is in pre-season training with the Red Bulls in La Manga, Spain until 4 February ahead of the MLS season which starts in March. So his involvement has been watching news updates about Haiti and the aftermath of the earthquake on television. "My days have been long and busy, just dealing with fundraising," Stammler said. "There are a lot of different organizations trying to get involved that want to do their part.”
He says he has been gratified by the public's response so far. “We're trying to extend our network right now and get people involved who we wouldn't have access to otherwise,” he said. “It's all going to the same place, which is the most important thing. We're all pulling together to make a difference."
When he has an opportunity to catch his breath, Stammler cannot believe what has transpired on so many levels.
"It's just hard to believe we were there a month ago," he said. "As bad as things were there we just can't fathom how they are now. It's the last place that can deal with that type of tragedy or should deal with it. They were struggling already. That just sets them back more than you can imagine."
To read more about the Sporting Chance Foundation, please click on the link on the right hand side.