Tiger-Cats Lineman Marwan Hage War-torn Childhood Inspires His Own Charity
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As a young boy back in Beirut, Lebanon, Marwan Hage, now the Hamilton Tiger-Cats offensive lineman and founder of the charity Hage's Heroes, often drifted off to sleep to the echo of gunfire.
During the day, he couldn't just step outside on a whim to visit with friends. Instead, the basement of his childhood home often served as his playground, especially when the war outside got too close. It was there that family members would try their best to distract the youngest of four children from the fighting on the streets.
Hage contends he's a better man for what he lived through in Beirut. Those images of smashed windows, houses trembling and the sights and sounds of rockets sent screaming from the mountains, lighting up the night like fireworks, now serve as daily reminders.
He moved to Montreal with his family just before his 10th birthday. “War's not pretty,” Hage tells Samaritanmag.com. “I remember those early days very well. It was an ugly time — countrymen killing each other on the streets. As a kid, you don't understand it all, but you know something isn't right. Luckily, my family shielded me from the uglier aspects or it may have been different. I wasn't scarred by war and I believe to this day that's a big reason why I give back.”
It was upon his arrival in Canada where the 6-2, 291-pound Hage discovered battles weren't exclusive to his homeland. Here, he found children and families fighting for basic necessities.
“It didn't take long to realize every country has its own problems,” he says. “There's struggles everywhere you go.”
Hage's first taste of charity came through Sun Youth, a non-profit community centre in downtown Montreal. In order to play football, he was required to volunteer at the centre, be it washing dishes in the kitchen, picking up and delivering food boxes, mopping floors ... whatever needed doing at the time.
“Marwan got very involved as a teen and from there went on to start Hage's Heroes, which is the whole premise behind our program,” Sun Youth co-founder Earl De La Perralle tells Samaritanmag.com. “It makes me feel so good to see kids from our program continuing to help others. It makes you feel proud to know that we made a difference and now they too are making a difference in people's lives.”
Like the man after whom it is named, Hage's Heroes has grown from humble roots. What started in 2006 as a way to allow underprivileged children exclusive seats inside Ivor Wynne Stadium for a TiCats game, has since evolved into an initiative that has distributed more than 6,000 food boxes to needy families at Thanksgiving. Hage's Heroes has also organized Christmas toy drives and made numerous donations to local charities, including McMaster Children's Hospital.
“Poverty is a problem everywhere, you just have to open your eyes,” says Hage. “Some people need help and you have to help when you can. That's been my mantra, 'If I can help I will.’ I don't do charity work to feel good about myself; I do it because I'm able and I'm privileged to do it.”
That said, the big-hearted Tiger-Cat was almost reduced to tears when he was stopped in a high-end restaurant last season.
“I got up to go to the bathroom and a couple at another table waved me over,” recalls Hage. “They said, 'You don't know us, but a few years ago, we had no money and nothing to put on the table for our kids and Hage's Heroes got us through the most difficult times in our lives. That Thanksgiving food box fed our family for two-or-three weeks. We just want to say thanks.' I just got chills right there. I'm not an emotional guy, but that really touched me.
“To see them eating at this fancy restaurant only a few years later, I knew they were obviously doing a lot better. You can't help but feel good when you hear that. That moment means so much to me. I think for the first time it really sank in how much we were affecting people.”
For his efforts, Hage was honoured with the Tom Pate Memorial Award in 2009. It's given to the Canadian Football League (CFL) player who demonstrates outstanding sportsmanship and dedication to the league and the community.
Helping the CFL all-star spread his goodwill is Speroway. The Guelph, Ont.-based international relief organization provides aid to needy children in Canada and around the world by partnering with Canadians to provide food, medicine, education and other essentials.
“The sky is the limit to what we can do,” says Hage. “Hopefully, we can expand it league-wide throughout the CFL. All I know is we have to grow it. That's my goal, to get bigger every year.”
* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.