She was only in the Republic of Liberia for six days, but Lori Harasem said her trip to the African nation was full of a lifetime's worth of memories and stories.
The Coalhurst resident returned home recently from her excursion with Right To Play, a non-profit organization that uses sport and play to empower children in disadvantaged areas of the world.
Her 36-hour trip home included flights from Liberia to Gambia, then to Belgium and England before she finally arrived in Calgary and took the bus to Lethbridge.
"It was worth it," Harasem said. "I guess because I had never seen their programs in action, I didn't understand to the degree of their positive outcomes. Each game and activity they do has a message behind it."
"They (Right To Play) talked to them about how the game's focus was maybe on some type of leadership skill, respect or paying attention," she said.
"Some of them were very much more specific to their area like HIV and AIDS prevention."
Harasem won the chance to accompany the group, which included athlete ambassadors and Olympians Clara Hughes and Rosie MacLennan, through an online contest with Right To Play's new campaign called "Level The Field."
The group arrived to Monrovia, Liberia's capital and largest city, at night and didn't get to see much of the surroundings. The next morning, their first program assignment was in an area called Westpoint - one of the poorest slums in the world.
"We were walking to where the kids were playing and that in itself was absolutely eye-opening to see," Harasem said. "It was very overwhelming."
The "playing field" for soccer was a rough area of sand, which was also heavily polluted, she said.
"At first I honestly thought 'I don't know if I can do this.' But as soon as the kids started, you forget everything," Harasem said, adding the age groups stretched from one-year-olds to local adult volunteers.
"They are so filled with joy and hope and happiness and have so much fun."
Liberia, bordered by Sierra Leone to the west, Guinea on the north and Cote d'Ivoire to its east, is home to about 3.7 million people - 85 per cent of whom live below the international poverty line.
The country has had two major civil wars since 1980 and the effects are still very present, Harasem says, as the United Nations and Liberian military are active throughout the streets.
"You'd see barbed wire on everything and security everywhere," she said.
"You realize that these people's whole lives have been affected by these wars. That was very unsettling."
But Harasem, who is also the City of Lethbridge's recreation and culture development manager, said the overall experience of working with Right To Play was very rewarding and that she will try to stay involved with the organization in whatever capacity she can.
"I honestly think it will end up being a lifetime involvement with them," she said.
"If we had those kind of outcomes here, when we put programming into place, we would be way further ahead with a lot of our issues. It is amazing what the organization is doing."