Tim Tebow isn't the only current NFL player to travel overseas on goodwill missions.
Seth Olsen, a former Denver Bronco guard now playing for the Indianapolis Colts (although he calls Denver home), recently returned from a ten-day trip to Uganda as part of a team completing a clean-water project. So...how was the trip?
"It was fantastic, amazing," says Olsen, who worked with representatives of Lifewater International, a California-based Christian nonprofit, and the outfit's in-country partner, Divine Waters Uganda. "I'd never been to Africa. It my first overseas trip, period. And I was able to see firsthand what Lifewater and Divine Waters Uganda do -- provide safe water, sanitation and hygiene education.
"Between the bush and the villages, the people have no access to education about safe water. So they teach people in the villages, who in turn become trainers for the rest of the people who live there. That way, it has lasting effect."
The centerpiece of the mission was drilling a new well in Alyet Village, whose residents previously had to walk five kilometers to the nearest water source. And that water carried diseases including typhoid fever, yellow fever and hepatitis, as well as causing diarrhea that was all too often fatal.
"In the states, we don't usually take diarrhea that seriously, because we have access to medicine and we drink clean water," Olsen notes. "But it's one of the biggest killers of children under five in the developing world."
Transporting the water brought threats of its own. Women and girls who traveled alone to collect it were exposed to rape, assault and kidnapping. And even if children performing this chore returned to the village unharmed, the time of the journey prevented them from being able to attend school.
The well, and instruction about how to make sure the water pumped from it is kept clean, address all of those issues, Olsen says. But the basic hygiene lessons Lifewater and its affiliates provide can save lives, too.
"Everyone knows about the importance of clean water -- that's sexy," he says. "It's hard to make sanitation sexy. But it's equally important teaching simple things like you need to have a clean can when you fill it up with clean water, and you have to wash your hands."
This last bit of advice sounds simple, but it's more complicated than it seems. Although Lifewater teaches folks how to make soap, it's a laborious process. But, as Olsen learned, ash -- yes, ash -- can be an effective substitute. "I didn't know this, but ash is a good way to kill bacteria," he says, "and it's much easier to produce than soap."
At this point, Olsen, who learned about Lifewater from an adviser at Regis University, where he took a class, doesn't have another overseas trip planned: He's already prepping for next season with the Colts, the NFL's biggest story right now given the suspense about whether Peyton Manning will return at quarterback or be supplanted by expected number one draft-pick Andrew Luck. (Olsen is just as curious to see what happens as anyone.) But he expects that he'll be returning to Africa again soon.
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"God put the idea of bringing clean water to Africa into my heart six years ago, so I thought I knew about the issue," he concedes. "But you don't really know until you go. The people were great, and it gave me such great one on one time with God. So if you have the opportunity to go, don't waste time, and don't make excuses why you don't go. If you're physically and financially able to go, then go. And there are plenty of organizations out there to help you accomplish that goal."
For more information about Lifewater International's Uganda project, click here.
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