Tears welled up in Pau Gasol's eyes following a Lakers shootaround back in May, 2012.
Gasol was to receive the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, recognizing his efforts in promoting programs aimed at children's nutrition and education, later that evening and even though the Lakers were in the midst of a playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Gasol got emotional when he thought about the children with whom he’d come in contact through his charitable work in places like South Africa, Angola and Ethiopia, as well as in hospitals throughout the U.S.
"Every time that I visited, it's been an experience that stayed with me," Gasol said at the time, recalling his memories with a group of reporters. "You always meet a patient or several patients that are very inspirational or get into you in a way that's shocking. So, every time there's a child, there's a family, there's several of them that are obviously facing a very tough situation, a very tough time in their lives and you're just there to contribute a little bit, make their day, get a smile out of them, inject them some strength, some energy so they can hopefully have a better chance. As much as you can do, nothing is really little. That's why I encourage everyone in their means to have an impact on somebody else's life."
As part of that commitment, in recent years, Gasol has devoted some of his time in the offseason to travel the world as a UNICEF ambassador and he recently visited a Syrian refugee camp in Dohuk, Iraq in that role.
According to UNICEF, more than 1.7 million Syrians have fled their war-torn native country, with approximately 160,000 settling in Iraq. Gasol said he was deeply moved by the sense of unrest and fear he encountered while visiting a camp in Dohuk that was meant to hold 15,000 refugees but was crowded with some 50,000 inhabitants.
“It’s difficult because all of these people had good lives back in Syria,” Gasol told ESPNLosAngeles.com in a phone interview last week. “So, it’s a unique situation from what I’ve experienced with UNICEF because these people had a good life and now they had to leave their homes because they didn’t want to get killed, basically. They had no choice. They’re educated, but they’re just frustrated.
“We talked to several families there, children, to tell us a little bit about what they went through. All of them left because of the war. Some of the children witnessed people dead on the street. Tanks. Shootings. Their school got destroyed by a bomb. Their (family) businesses also got destroyed by attacks. So, they all had a traumatic experience to share.”
Inspired by his work with UNICEF and other organizations and along with his brother, Marc, Gasol recently has decided to establish his own charitable trust. The Gasol Foundation, with the mission to empower young people to live healthier lives, is due to launch in September.