May 26th, 2024

Edmonton Elks receiver Eugene Lewis says mission to Africa changed his life

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on April 16, 2024.

Edmonton Elks CFL receiver Eugene Lewis is shown holding a child in this handout image provided by World Vision Canada. Like many, Lewis had seen the commercials that ask for donations to help less fortunate children in Africa but nothing prepared him to see their plight up close and personal. This offseason, the Edmonton Elks receiver served as an ambassador with World Vision Canada and spent time on a mission to Africa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-World Vision Canada **MANDATORY CREDIT**

It was a life-changing experience for Eugene Lewis.

The Edmonton Elks receiver was among six CFL players who spent a week on a mission in Africa last month. Like many, Lewis had seen the commercials that request support for the less fortunate there but they didn’t come close to preparing Lewis for his up-close-and-personal visit.

“It opened up my eyes to seeing a different part of the world and understanding what being grateful really, really is,” Lewis said. “You just understand that in North America we have so many options.

“We can decide, ‘Do I want to go to work today? Do I feel sick?’ In Kenya and other places in Africa, you don’t have a choice but to get up. You need to have a purpose each and every day to help your family live and survive and be successful.”

Lewis was among nine CFL players who served as World Vision ambassadors. Montreal Alouettes safety Marc-Antoine Dequoy, receivers Tim White (Hamilton Tiger-Cats), Reggie Begelton (Calgary Stampeders) and Nic Demski (Winnipeg Blue Bombers) were involved on a mission to the Philippines.

Lewis, linebackers Bo Lokombo (B.C. Lions) and Henoc Muamba (retired Toronto Argonaut), receiver Dominique Rhymes and linebacker Tyron Vrede (both Ottawa Redblacks) and defensive lineman Miles Brown (Saskatchewan Roughriders) all participated in the mission to Africa.

The players flew into Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, and visited Mathare, which is a collection of settlements/slums that roughly 500,000 people call home. Afterwards, they flew to Lodwar then drove approximately 120 kilometres north to Kakuma, which is where they spent most of their time at refugee camps as well as with local people.

Lewis, a native of Norristown, Pa., said he saw poverty growing up but it was unlike what he viewed in Africa.

“You see a different type of poverty in the U.S. than you see in Africa,” he said. “They don’t have access to many things in Kenya, the slums of Nairobi or refugee camps in Kakuma but you see what community really is all about there.

“There would be kids – one-, two-, three-year-olds – walking around by themselves and their noses were running and people walking past would wipe the kids’ noses clean then keep going.

“They might not know the children but they knew each other because of the community and just wanted to help. Everyone is trying to build each other up.”

And life in Africa made Lewis appreciate the many things North Americans take for granted. Like ice, for example.

“Ice in Kakuma is like gold because it’s so hot and it hasn’t rained there in so very long,” Lewis said. “When you get a bottle of water with ice in it, everyone is like, ‘Wow, where’d you get this?

“I had never seen a river before that was literally dried up but there was one there that people were walking on and cars were driving on. We also saw camels walking across the street in Kakuma, which was a little out of ordinary for me.”

But especially tough for Lewis was seeing the harsh conditions children there must endure.

“I have seven brothers and sisters, six nieces and nephews and so for me it’s always been about the kids and making sure they’re good,” Lewis said. “As adults, we can figure out ways to do what we have to do but we have to guide the kids and point them in the right direction.”

During the mission, Lewis met a pastor who also operated a chicken farm. Her outlook definitely resonated with the CFL star.

“Pastor Pauline started her business with seven chickens, then went to 20 and got to 200,” he said. “She was then able to buy her son a motorcycle so he could deliver the chickens further away.

“What she’s trying to do for the people in her community is reform their minds, to reform their hearts, and that will reform their pockets. That was some of the greatest advice I’ve ever heard.”

Lewis was so captivated by the mission that he wants to return to Africa.

“I absolutely and 100 per cent want to go back and do more,” he said. “I’d love to go build a basketball court, a football field, help those soccer teams with cleats and stuff like that.

“I saw how World Vision is bringing people together and sports _ it doesn’t matter what colour you are _ brings people together.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2024.

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