"Most of the people didn't know who I was. They didn't know what I do," Gasol told The Times on Friday via telephone from Spain. "They saw someone that cared for them who was there to help them. That was there to listen to them, to play with children and be their speaker and be their voice and carry a message for them. It was a great experience. "
Armed conflict in Syria has caused more than 1.7 million people, many of them children, to flee their homes.
Gasol, an ambassador for UNICEF since 2003, found his visit both challenging and heart-warming.
"It was difficult to see what the people are going through but at the same time, I was very happy to see the work that is done," he said. "Thanks to the contributions and the work of many people, the Syrian refugees and Syrian people are having a chance to move forward and survive."
"I'm just trying to raise awareness for these people and their children, and understand that they're in a difficult situation. They're living a very tough reality, having to abandon their country because of the war. Most of the kids and people have gone through a very traumatic experience and they're surviving at the camps. They obviously need our support."
Gasol, a two-time NBA champion with the Lakers, believes his responsibilities as a humanitarian extend well beyond the basketball court.
"I wanted to have a bigger impact and utilize my position to do good and help others, especially children around the world. That's how it all started," he said.
It was the Syrian children who made the biggest impact on Gasol.
"What I loved the most is that children are children, no matter where they're from. They just want to be cared for. They just want to go to school, get an education, have a chance to play and feel safe," he said. "Once they saw that I was there to help them and that I was gentle and warm, and I gave them initial confidence with me, they were just kids.
"We had fun together. We played, different sports. We sang, we clapped. It was a great feeling, especially knowing their situation and what they've gone through."
More information on UNICEF's relief efforts can be found on its website.
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