Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Special Mission For Bengals Players

Bengals players Domata Peko, Rey Maualuga and Jonathan Fanene are in American Samoa, bringing an end to a long journey toward helping their beloved island recover from a devastating tsunami.

They spent months working to raise $40,000 to help the relief effort. They will present island leaders with the money in special ceremonies Monday.

Local 12's Tara Pachmayer and photographer Ed Burkholder are traveling with the trio. You can follow their stories here on Local12.com and on Local 12 News at 5:00pm and 11:00pm all this week.

Tara is also blogging about the trip.  Scroll down to read her account of the trip!

Sunday, Feb 7th, 4:51 p.m. Hawaii

Just boarded a plane to Samoa. Photojournalist Ed Burkholder and I left Local 12 around 3:45 this morning. We flew to Dallas, then Hawaii. A neat part about landing in Hawaii was the flight attendant recognized all the military on board and we gave them a huge, and well deserved, round of applause.

We met Domata Peko, Jonathan Fanene and Rey Maualuga in Hawaii. We only had a couple minutes with the guys before boarding the plane. Rey said that he will go to rehab to better himself, and everyone is just focused on all the good things that will get accomplished on this trip.

I'll write more when we get to Samoa!!!
Samoa 1:17 am
We finally made it to Samoa! I can't wait to see what the island looks like in the daylight! There were at least 200 people waiting for the Samoan Bengals at the airport... most of them were members of Domata Peko's family. They wore "Who Dey" shirts and chanted his name... it was pretty cool. Peko's family has been so kind to Ed and me. They hugged us when we got off the plane and presented with lei's.

I had a little more time to talk to Rey Maualuga tonight. It is important for him to be on this trip because it is a chance for him to spend time with members of his father's family. His dad died 4 years ago, so this is a healing trip for him. We'll talk about it more in the coming days... it is just a bit overwhelming right now.

Peko has a pretty packed schedule for us. We are going to be there when the Bengals hand over that $40,000 check for tsunami relief later today, and we are going to visit every school on the island. Peko has a HUGE surprise for all of the football players here! I can't wait to share their stories! I need to catch some z's... the sun will be up before I know it. By the way, it is 87 degrees here... in the middle of the night!
1:48 p.m. Samoa

Ed and I tried to grab breakfast before leaving the hotel this morning. We went to the internet cafe at our hotel, where they were blasting Kenny Rogers, "She Believes in Me". The song played the entire 15 minutes were in there. It was so annoying, and I know that me writing this means that News Director Elbert Tucker will sing Kenny Rogers every time he passes me at work for the next year!

Today we saw the island for the first time, and it is beautiful... it looks like any tropical paradise you would image. There are, however, spots that have yet to be rebuilt. The Bengals donations will help rebuild homes for people here.

The Samoan Bengals delivered their $40,000 donation today. It was very touching... very hot in the room... but very touching. The Governor thanked them repeatedly for not turning their backs on their people. He even awarded them with medals.

We are planning a 1-on-1 interview with Rey Maualuga later this afternoon. We also have a pig roast with Peko's family this week, as well as a couple visits to high schools in the area for the surprise I keep talking about. One more exciting tidbit... the Governor invited Ed and me to a special dinner on Thursday night to honor the Samoan Bengals!
Monday, February 8th Samoa time 7:55pm... Cincinnati time, 1:55am (February 9th)

Hello again! You know how everyone thinks everyone else is a bad driver? Well, the same goes for Samoa! We have made a new friend... our cab driver, Simise. Simise, like everyone else on the island, drives 20 miles per hour... and he drives as close to the person in front of us as possible. It's amazing how driving 20 miles per hour can still be scary!

Tomorrow Domata's Aunt is going to pick us up and take us to our shoots. Speaking of aunts... all the kids here call adults that are not their parents, "auntie and uncle". It is a sign of respect. A few kids here have called me "Auntie"... it makes me miss my nephew back home in Cincinnati (Hi Ethan... I love you!).

I had a really nice sit down interview with Rey Maualuga today. We talked about the death of his father 4 years ago. His father was a military man that was a strict disciplinarian. Obviously Rey got in trouble with the law recently. He also addressed that in our interview... apologizing to everyone in the Bengals organization, his family and the people of Cincinnati. He says he made an error in judgment and will NEVER do it again. He will be seeking professional help after this trip to Samoa.

Tomorrow we are going with Domata Peko to his high school and some other high schools. He will speak to the kids there and he has a huge surprise for them (I know I keep teasing you with this... but I promise, the surprise will be revealed soon). It's so funny to see our Samoan Bengals in Samoa. I say that because they stick out in Cincinnati with their size and hair, but here they fit right in with the crowd.
Tuesday, 7:01 am Samoa... 1:01 pm Cincinnati

I'm sorry to see on www.local12.com that you guys are having another round of snow. I'm in the complete opposite... intense heat... which I am sure you would be happy to trade spots with me. Walking outside in Samoa is like walking in to a heat wall. And most buildings only have 3 sides, so you feel like you are outside even when you are inside.

We are waiting for Domata's aunt to pick us up... I probably should hurry. I just wanted to make sure to write about how the $40,000 is going to be used by the people of Samoa. Emergency relief dollars only go so far, and sometimes only the bare minimum is done with that money. For example, a house is rebuilt with one or 2 rooms... but here in Samoa, it's not unusual for 2-3 families to live together. Brothers and sisters sometimes share homes with their respective families. There simply isn't room for people to live.

There isn't much that goes in to building their homes... they aren't living lavish lifestyles... but they do need the space. We are off to witness Domata change some football players' lives! 

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