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By Gord Montgomery
Sports Editor
Stony Plain Reporter

Anytime you can go somewhere to work on one task but return home having accomplished more than that single chore, youíre a winner.

Such was the case for a group of tri-area residents who recently returned home from Mexico and a trip built around Operation Amigo, where the initial game plan was to school kids there in the sport of basketball.

What actually happened though was everyone on hand, both instructors and students, learned a valuable lesson about cross-border friendship building.

"Initially we went to do a basketball camp like we do up here but itís really important to be able to communicate well so that people can understand," Roch Weigl, the head of the local entourage explained. "The school we went to didnít understand the terms "basketball camp" and "skills development camp." What they thought it was, was a tournament."

As it turned out, that misunderstanding actually paved the way for bigger and better things.

"In their minds we were coming to play their secondary school, their high school boys and girls teams in games," Weigl explained. "Then the teachers said, "Why canít we play them?" and the kidsí parents asked the same thing.

"It developed into not so much a skills camp as a relationship building, friendship building experience."

Weigl said that in terms of talent, the Canadians were far superior to their southern hosts but winning wasnít the over riding factor here.

"We used this experience as an opportunity to introduce the sport of basketball to this community. Theyíre soccer people down there. Now they have this gym though," which was partly constructed through volunteer help by the Canadian delegation on past trips, " but what do they use it for?"

The answer to that, it would appear is to play hoops thanks to this trip in particular, especially with the one-on-one contact that was established.

In the past with Operation Amigo, those in Mexico to work did exactly that with little to no contact with the children of the village. This time though was different for Tony Cherfan, Megan Rhodes, Kyle Palmer, Brayden Tegart, Roc, Laura, Rocky, Rochelle, Laurelle and Laurissa Weigl.

"The adults that went down in the past were sort of removed from the students. This time, we took 200 basketballs with us and gave them out to the kids in high school, secondary school and the Grade 6 kids.

"We couldnít communicate verbally but we communicated through our actions," Weigl said.

In looking back at what happened, misunderstandings or not, Weigl said this trip was perhaps the best ever for the group in relation to exceeding expectations.

"We went down with the expectation of doing basketball skills development and we did a bit of that, but instead we played. In that play incredible friendships were made. As for expectations, we sort of altered ours.

"We modified what we were doing to fit into what they were doing. By doing that an incredible relationship was built. It blew away our expectations, totally."

An offshoot of that bond that began developing was shown when the Mexicans invited their Canadian guests to be part of a celebratory parade for a special day.

Weigl said the fact the Canucks werenít just involved, that they were second from the front of the procession, was touching.

"Itís an annual national celebration and what the school did was hold their own parade in conjunction with that.

"They had a huge celebration Ė they fed 1,800 people and celebrated in song and dance.

"There was a group of girls holding the Mexican flag in front of us, then we came next, holding the Canadian and Mexican flags."

From this visit, four Mexican teachers have said theyíll travel here next summer to be part of the Stony Plain Basketball summer skills camp.

"That way they can see what weíre doing and the communication becomes a little more clear. This wasnít my idea Ė this came from our team of kids. This was their suggestion," Weigl said of the July clinic.

In the future, Weigl said these exchanges will continue for a simple reason: it builds bonds between global communities both on the basketball court and off.

While the trip sounds idyllic, it was not in a serene part of the country, Weigl said.

"We were three kilomteres away from that big farm where they found all of those bodies plus when the police did their investigation they found 80 more bodies in there. Here we are, in the midst of that whole story that was developing yet there was this oasis of loving people who are so caring, so kind. We never had any fear.

"What we saw was itís really who you want to hang your hat with.

"If you hang your hat with the druggies and those dealers, whatís going to happen is you get sucked into that culture, you become a target. We as tourists werenít targets.

"I think itís because they see the vale of the work being done. Thereís a protection thatís provided Ė Iíll say a divine protection but also people protected.

"This is like a sacred place to the Mexican people and they wonít defile it. Itís an amazing transformation thatís taking place in their community," brought about in part by a caring group of tri-area residents.

That was shown by the original founder of Operation Amigo, who told Weigl, "These kids have absolutely touched the lives of the Mexican children and made an incredible difference."



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