Duke linemen dig wells for Ethopians

CorrespondentMay 22, 2012 

Dave Harding assumed that somebody in the group of Duke offensive linemen who traveled to Ethiopia earlier this month would have a hard time adjusting on the voyage.

Maybe it would be the scale of the poverty.

Maybe it would be the manual labor of building a well in 90-degree heat.

Or maybe it would be the food.

“I expected to have one or two people attempt to become standoffish or something like that,” Harding said, “but everyone seems to have done a really good job and being open to all the experiences. No one was like, ‘No, I’m not going to do that.’ That was something I was really happy with.”

Harding, 10 of his fellow Blue Devils offensive linemen and a strength coach were in Ethiopia from May 4-15 in part to help construct wells in an eastern African country where international organizations estimate that 76 percent of the country does not have access to clean water.

And while there were a number of culture shocks along the way, the trip was something close to an unqualified success. The group finished one well close to the house where one woman lives with her five children after the death of her husband.

“Best experience of my life,” said Duke sophomore Takoby Cofield, who is from Tarboro and had never been out of the country. “I definitely, definitely would go back at any opportunity.

“I’m grateful, and that was one of the big things it showed me – how much we have, how much more we have. We almost have too much sometimes. I’m just grateful for everything I have in my life.”

Harding, a redshirt junior guard, lived in Jordan as a kid and has been on a number of trips to Ethiopia. He spearheaded the trip. Harding’s father works with Water is Life, an international non-profit, and helped provide logistical support.

The group flew into Addis Ababa, sharing 20 pizzas on their first night in Ethiopia before heading out to the countryside.

The meals were less familiar from there. Harding said they ate a lot of fermented bread that looked a bit like a pancake but tasted sour. It was used as a utensil while scooping out a main dish that looked a bit like curry but was made with lentils or chicken.

“It’s very flavorful and good … but it can throw your stomach for a loop if you’re not careful,” Harding said.

Added Cofield, “It’s kind of monotonous – it’s kind of the same food every single day, but it was still good.”

While they visited orphanages and played sports with Ethiopian children, the main point of the trip was the well construction. That took place over two-plus days, with the offensive linemen finishing one well and then starting another.

“I think the most surprising thing was just the attitude of a lot of people there,” said Conor Irwin. “A lot of these people are living in conditions that we would consider the poorest of the poor, but a lot of them had a very upbeat attitude about things. They were very appreciative for what we did.

“It was just kind of amazing their attitude on the outlook of life despite their circumstances.”

Since returning, family, friends and the rest of the Duke football team have flooded the participants with questions. Beyond the well, one of the goals of the trip was team-bonding, and Harding said that while everyone got on each other’s nerves at times, that aspect of the trip went better than he anticipated.

Whether or not that helps the unit when it is facing difficult situations in the upcoming season remains to be seen. In some respects, however, that’s almost beside the point.

When talking about the well Duke’s players helped the Ethiopians finish, Harding talked about the message the team wrote near the top.

It said: “Faith, family, future.”

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