by ACAC Sports Writer Curtis J. Phillips
An avid basketball and volleyball player, Sam Hankins first visited Adana, Turkey in January 2015.
He could have watched the Adana Toros or Adanaspor, which are the men's pro volleyball and basketball teams situated in this city of nearly 2,000,000 which dates back to 6000 B.C.
He could have teased his taste buds with the various traditional meat dishes.
For a young man, then 23 years-of-age, no doubt the nightlife would be in mind.
Instead, Hankins followed a different path.
One of humanitarianism which was also on the edge of danger.
"Our pastor (Red Deer's Deer Park Alliance Church) was heading to Turkey for a conference and our church had raised money for the Syrian refugees living there, so I decided to go over and see how I could help out," said Hankins, who is now a student/athlete at Calgary's Ambrose University playing volleyball for the Lions' men's volleyball team.
With a background and training in firefighting, search-and-rescue and recently mountain rescue, Hankins believed his skills could come in handy.
"We were there (Turkey) for 10 days," recalled Hankins, who at 6-foot-5, played basketball and volleyball (2011-2013) at Prairie College in Three Hills, Alberta as part of the Alberta Colleges Athletic League. "Working for fire department we see people in times of distress but always in a small scale.
"The people involved here, in these camps, tent cities, were in the hundreds and sometimes thousands. Some were close to death from the cold and starvation. There was also a lot of violence from ISIS and local groups. It was difficult and a sad experience."
(ISIS is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is a Salafi jihadist militant group and terrorist organization that follows a fundamentalist, Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam. It is estimated that up to 220,000 Syrian refugees are located in Adana.)
Such was the impact of the 10-day trip, in that Hankins would return with another church volunteer to Adana in April of 2015.
"With the awareness from that I experienced from that first trip, I was pretty motivated to encourage other groups to establish relief and become involved with these camps as it was pretty time sensitive," said Hankins, who since 2013 has worked with "troubled youth" in central Alberta as part of Heritage Family Services.
Hankins was also surprised that both times upon arriving to Turkey, that his entry was "so easy."
He continues: "Too be honest, I was kind of amazed that I got in so easy as I was a 23 year-old young male and met a lot of qualifications as one of those joinees for ISIS. I met the criteria and they (Turkish customs) should have stopped me and questioned me at least. I don't know why? Perhaps it is because I am Christian and I believe in God and I was praying a lot."
Of his goal upon returning to Adana.
"When I returned, my primary goal was to work on a distribution system that other groups would feel safe using," said Hankins, a graduate of Red Deer Koinonia Christian High School. "What was happening prior was that a well-meaning church or mosque group would bring in a truck of rice and they (refugees) would just rip it apart...it was quite violent at times...they were so desperate in the camps."
Of the elements of danger imposed by the nearby ISIS and other groups in this complex political and human crisis, Hankins said: "A few times, during late night distributions, the local Kurdish would tell us to run to a waiting vehicle because of possible danger and they had caught wind once that some ISIS guys were coming to stab me.
"Was I scared? Absolutely. The sound of gun shots became so routine that I would stop asking people where they came from. They would be coming from ISIS in the distance.
"There was one section where there were 40 or 50 tents on a side of a hill, One day I came back in the morning and they were gone and I was told some Turkish men had come during the night and started shooting random shots into the tents which had families and kids inside them. It was a very complex situation over there...too much for me to understand."
Hankins said that having been involved in sports was also a factor in his decision to assist in this catastrophe: "I think sports can develop a person's ability to function under high stress and it can develop a person's ability to be part of a team and willing to work hard towards a common goal. They played part in my involvement in assisting where I could with the refugee camps."
His journey also helped him realize not to sweat the small stuff.
"Even I have to remind myself how incredibly blessed I am and privileged not to worry about starvation or a person shooting through a tent I am living in. Right now I have an Achilles injury, and was down on myself, so like you said, I should not sweat or worry about the small stuff."