April 28, 2014
By Jerome Boettcher | Subscribe to Commodore Nation
On the window sill in David Williams’ office sits a bowl overflowing with small yellow, green and pink pieces of paper.
Whenever Vanderbilt’s athletic director needs perspective or a reminder of “those moments when you want to realize what you’re doing makes sense,” he sifts through those papers and smiles.
He reads memories and testimonies about the life-changing trip to Tanzania that 21 Vanderbilt student-athletes (from all sports) made last year to deliver shoes with Soles4Souls to those in need.
“At the end of the day, I’m not quite sure who benefited the most,” Williams said. “Whether it was the kids in those villages in Tanzania or it was our 20 kids. It was just something that really, really changed their life.”
The 10-day voyage to Tanzania in Africa was Vanderbilt athletics’ first international service trip where athletic competition wasn’t a part of the itinerary.
It won’t be the last.
Williams plans to send another group of 20 student-athletes to Africa, this time Morocco. The 10-day service trip will take place this summer and is being organized out of the university’s international office.
“I just thought taking them as a group and doing a service project helps them understand a number of things,” Williams said. “And one of them is even with all of the hard work and stuff you go through (in daily life) you’re one of the fortunate few. The only way the world gets better is those that have, do.”
The university sent a group of selected students to Morocco this winter. The students painted a hospital, taught English to local children and participated in service opportunities with the National Council on Human Rights and Amnesty International of Rabat.
They also attended lectures and workshops in Rabat, the capital city of Morocco, on gender dynamics, civil society and volunteerism and religion and politics in Morocco.
Williams said the student-athletes will follow a similar itinerary. And, as was the case for Tanzania, students will have to apply to participate, write an essay on why they want to go and provide letters of recommendation.
The feedback from Tanzania has been overwhelmingly positive. They still see the images of the poverty-stricken children at an orphanage smiling and laughing when they washed their feet and tightened the laces of their new shoes.
Those who didn’t make the trip are eager to apply, and graduating seniors want to know if they would be eligible to go. Williams met with the student-athlete advisory committee in February, and they were adamant about wanting the athletics service trip to become a permanent, annual quest.
“There is this concept of doing service because I want to put it on the resume or I want to do service because I want to help you,” Williams said. “Then there is the concept of doing service because that is what people do for each other. I would be surprised if any of (the student-athletes who went to Tanzania) put that on their resume. I would be surprised if any of them told anybody about it in an interview.
“I think they saw it more as they learned something about themselves, and they learned something that is going to be part of their life.”