Ryan Hinds’ Guyana trip shows how CFL players can make a global impact

It's notable how much time many CFL players spend helping people in their communities, whether that's through team initiatives or a variety of personal projects. Most of those efforts take place in the city where they play, of course, and those are incredibly valuable; many of these guys are heroes in their communities and can put that celebrity status to good use with community outreach. However, CFL players can also do a lot of good around the world, even if the people in their destination don't have a real feel for Canadian football. We saw that with the Huddle For Haiti trip last year, and the story of Hamilton Tiger-Cats' defensive back Ryan Hinds returning to his native Guyana to officially open a neonatal intensive care unit and gather information for future fundraising illustrates just what kind of an impact CFL players can make globally, even in areas where people have no idea about their league.

Hinds has been doing an informal internship at McMaster Children's Hospital, so his involvement with this project fits in with his career interests, but the trip to Guyana (a small country on the northern coast of South America) was also personal for him. He grew up in Guyana, but left the country when he was eight and had never been back before this. Hinds went with Dr. Narendra Singh (founder of Guyana Help The Kids, the non-profit organization that set up the trip), but his father also came along, and they even visited their old house. As Hinds said in one of his video blogs he filed from Guyana, his arrival in the country felt unreal given his long absence.

"As we got off the runway, it was real dream-like," he said. "I had imagined what it would be like when I finally got here, but it was like walking in that dream."

Here are the video blogs Hinds filed while in Guyana:

The neonatal intensive care unit Hinds was on-site to open was very impressive, but as he wrote, there's still a lot of work needed in the rest of the hospital:

The next day, I got a chance to see the pediatric ward at the hospital. This was the most moving part of the trip. We went to the NICU, a unit that GHTK has spent the last two years improving, and it shows — the infant mortality rate has already dropped 35 per cent, through equipment and staff training. Aside from the size, we can proudly say the NICU is now comparable to those in North America.

We then made our way to the current pediatric ward — the real focus of the trip for me. About 30 seconds after arriving, Dr. Singh told me "Ryan you can close your mouth now." There's a reason I don't play poker — lack of a poker face. I just couldn't help it. I saw what looked like 50 scrap cribs and beds, sardined together, making infection control problematic, to say the least.

I then got a chance to see the isolation rooms — I made a conscious effort at that poker face this time. But the feeling was much the same. Sick children will always get a reaction, but the condition of the ward and feeling I got won't be leaving me anytime soon. Comparing the NICU with this ward, I saw first-hand how much help is needed and more importantly, possible.

Guyana's badly in need of help in pediatric medicine, as the country only has two certified pediatricians (both who work in the private sector) for its population of 750,000. It also ranks 130th in the world in infant mortality, with 48 deaths per 1,000 births. Guyana Help The Kids looks to be doing excellent work there, and Hinds and Singh will be hosting a dinner in Hamilton on April 22 to raise funds for future projects in the country, which could certainly help improve the situation.

What's particularly notable about this story is that Hinds made an impressive impact despite the local population's lack of familiarity with his status as a CFL player. Most people in Guyana probably haven't heard of Canadian football, and even gridiron football in general likely isn't that big there; the country's president, Donald Ramotar, told Hinds, "Before you leave we'll have to teach you about 'real football' (soccer)." That didn't matter, though; Hinds was able to put his medical training and local background to work to accomplish some impressive things, and plenty of kids in the hospital were thrilled to receive hats the Ticats' organization generously donated. CFL stardom may not translate around the world, but caring certainly does, and Hinds' story shows that CFL players can make an impact wherever they find themselves.