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June 6, 2013

Three players travel to Ethiopia on service trip

In Ethiopia, Avery Williamson is anonymous. He's not a football player or a college student, but a helping hand.

Williamson was one of three UK football players who spent a week in Ethiopia on a service trip in May. The senior linebacker visited the country along with senior running back Jonathan George, senior offensive lineman Kevin Mitchell and senior associate athletic director for corporate/university relations Jason Schlafer.

Wherever they went, they tried to help. And wherever they went, they were needed.

"Every time we would stop, there would be people come up to the van, begging for food," George said. "You see homeless and poor people in America, but it was amazing. It was like our bus was like celebrities on it or something. It was crazy how they came up to it asking for food and stuff."

Schlafer organizes two annual trips; one in May with football players, and another in July with players from other teams. Other UK players and coaches, like Danny Trevathan, Stuart Hines and Joker Phillips, have made the trip in previous years. Players who will make the trip are chosen by their coaches.

"It's as rewarding as a championship," Schlafer said. "To see these really good kids go and give back and understand and recognize that they received more than they gave is really one of the more rewarding things you can experience."

They spent much of their time in Ethiopia passing out food. They supplied families with meals, visited a prison where inmates were given only bread and water, and helped improve the homes for some locals.

It affected each of the players in a different way.

"You see it on TV, but until you really see it in person, it doesn't hit you," Williamson said. "You start thinking about it at night, like 'Man, I could not live like this.' The way these people live, they're used to that. They've grown accustomed to it. It really hit me how blessed I am to have a house to live in. People were sleeping on mud floors the size of my kitchen. It was really a shock."

They walked through streets where children roamed on their own, begging for food. Some parents, with small children of their own, were also begging. Giving youngsters a piece of candy was enough to elicit a smile from them.

They did what they could, but had to be cautious with who they helped. Showing crowds of people they had extra food to give away could lead to commotion.

"Seeing kids smile when you give them a Jolly Rancher, that doesn't happen here in the States," Mitchell said.

The strongest experience for George came when the players visited a leper colony to give them food. A patient who didn't have any legs began to help them.

"He walked around with flip-flops on his hands, and used his hands to get around," George said. "We were bagging up food and charcoal for the people, and he came in and started helping with his hands. He helped us bag up the food that was not just for him, but it was for other people as well."

They gained new friends in their brief time in Ethiopia as well. Each of the three players handed off some UK clothing to their driver for the week as well as their translator, a 19-year-old named Girma.

Many of the people in Ethiopia have very little, but Williamson and his teammates hoped to give them a little more.

"It makes you really appreciate what you've got," Williamson said. "I really do want to go back and help those people out some more."

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