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Jennings touched by trip to Africa

Posted Jun 18, 2012

The young boy came up to Greg Jennings and wanted to give the Packers’ star receiver a hug and have a picture taken with him, and he had no idea who Jennings was.

The boy, living in the city of Arusha in the east African republic of Tanzania, in all likelihood didn’t even know what a touchdown was.

Jennings had just fitted the boy for a hearing aid, which could rectify his lifelong hearing difficulties. Jennings could see the excitement on the boy’s face, and on his father’s, and the family simply wanted to commemorate the life-changing occasion with a photo. An autograph couldn’t have been further from their minds.

“That’s the best, when you’re just any person and they don’t know who you are or what you do, what you’re about, they just know you’re there to help them,” Jennings said. “It’s a greater sense of fulfillment.”

That interaction with the young boy is one of Jennings’ best memories from a humanitarian trip he and his wife Nicole took to Tanzania earlier this spring.

Jennings joined a group of NFL players, including fellow receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Santonio Holmes, for a Starkey Hearing Foundation mission that included fitting adults and children with hearing aids. Some of the individuals had battled hearing problems their entire lives. Others had lost their hearing at some point.

Whatever the case, the reaction of the aforementioned young boy stood out to Jennings because most of the people being helped were very shy and reserved. There weren’t the overwhelming outpourings of emotion that make for Kodak moments, but the work was gratifying nonetheless.

“That’s not the kind of people they are,” Jennings said. “They kind of keep to themselves. They were very, very grateful, but at the same time they understand that this isn’t the end. There’s still work they need to do. It was interesting to see.”

So were all the animals Jennings got to see on a safari trip. With an experienced guide driving a truck down into a vast area called “the crater” outside Arusha, Jennings was up close with everything from zebras and wildebeests to gazelles and cheetahs in their natural habitat.

“It was phenomenal,” he said. “You felt like this was ‘National Geographic’ and you were right in the middle of it. I was taking a picture of a female lion and a male lion and they were right outside the truck. It was like you’re in harm’s way but you’re not.”

Jennings’ trip also included a visit to a Maasai village, where Starkey and Pentair joined forces to help dig a new water well. The excursion was nearly three hours by Jeep over horribly rough terrain that Jennings said “takes a toll on the body,” which is saying something for a football player.

Jennings said it was common for the women in this village to walk as far as eight kilometers (roughly five miles) one way just to retrieve a bucket of water. This new well right near their village, which was dug mechanically by Pentair, would ease a major daily burden considerably.

When water was struck, it set off a ritual celebration ceremony involving a parade, dances and songs. As a gesture of thanks, Jennings said his group was presented with robes, necklaces and chains and was “treated like royalty.”

His only regret was that he didn’t actually dig the well himself. Jennings wanted to be more involved in the manual labor, like the hands-on work he was doing with the hearing aids, but the excursion was still a memorable learning experience.

“It was great, because you got to learn about the culture of the Maasai people and their way of life,” Jennings said. “We weren’t trying to change their culture, just enhance it.”

The entire experience left Jennings wishing there were other ways to make an impact.

“To go over to a third-world country and assist in the areas we were able to, with the hearing and striking water, it’s always a plus,” he said. “But you want to make a larger imprint. I felt like there was more I could have done.”

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