I can’t tell you how excited I am to bring you this wonderful outreach story. As you know, I’ve written about volunteering and charity work before. I pondered the virtues and pitfalls of developmental aid in Africa, and I reviewed a list of volunteer organizations in Johannesburg to make it easier for newly arrived expats to find their calling. Incidentally, the latter is one of my most-read blog posts of all time. And, of course, I’ve written about Alexandra Baseball too many times to mention.
But this story about finding bare feet around the world to be paired – no pun intended – with outgrown but otherwise perfect shoes puts all my efforts to shame. It had me want to root through all our closets the minute I finished reading, so that I could hurry up and find new feet for all those extra shoes in our house. Read it, and you too will want to contribute to this movement, there is no other name for it, that is living proof that one person, with just a moment’s inspiration, can change the world. One step – preferably not barefoot – at a time.*
Without further ado, here comes CJ’s story:
Finding New Feet for Outgrown Shoes
by CJ Bowry
There’s something wonderful about watching a child take its first faltering steps; toddling barefoot, not cramped by shoes or socks. But then, as confidence grows, there are leaves to be kicked up and puddles to splash in. And so, to their first pair of shoes. Before long, their little feet will outgrow them; and the cycle of replacing barely-worn shoes begins.
Just over two years ago, when faced with a collection of my son Sal’s outgrown shoes, I sought out charities who could donate them to those most in need. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a single organisation that could tell me where Sal’s pre-loved shoes would actually end up walking again.
Sal’s Shoes, Bantron Farm, Choma, Zambia
I decided to cut out the middle man. Having grown up in Africa, and with a network of family and friends scattered all over the world, I decided that if no-one was willing to tell me where exactly Sal’s shoes would end up walking again, I would arrange delivering them there myself. A parcel was sent to a friend overseas who distributed them on a children’s oncology ward in Zambia and sent back a photograph of a child wearing Sal’s first pair of shoes.
Sal’s pair of shoes had become another’s.
After collecting more outgrown children’s shoes from family and friends, and by subsequently harnessing social media for this good cause, word spread, and soon I was inundated with pairs of barely worn shoes.
‘Sal’s Shoes’ had been born.
Filling a need
There are an estimated 300 million children in the world for whom walking with shoes is a rarity. This makes them extremely vulnerable to infection by parasites, such as hookworm, while injuries to the feet and ankles can lead to ulcers and other conditions which are almost always left untreated. Without shoes, many children are not permitted to attend school, and thereby lose access to an often free education. It struck me recently, watching my own son thrive in the surroundings of his primary school, that it is not just the element of a formal education that he is benefiting from. Whilst there is a proven correlation between education and poverty, in that a lack of the first leads to an increase in the second, I don’t think this just applies to wealth in a material sense; an education received in a nurturing, stimulating environment can enrich the very well being of a child. Giving a pair of shoes a second life can give someone else a chance at a new beginning.
We are beginning to stamp our mark. In December 2014 we were featured in the Motherlode blog in The New York Times** as a charity that inspires children. As a parent, I think we have a responsibility to teach those generations after us about sharing and generosity. As well as providing the redirection of something that would presumably otherwise end up in a landfill, we are hopefully teaching all those children who pass on their outgrown shoes to us about their peers in different cultures all over the world. I find it interesting that there seems to be a consensus that the beneficiaries of charitable work are the recipients. Assured by the handwritten notes that now more often than not accompany the shoes we receive from donors, I can’t help but think the children who pass on their footwear are benefiting from their act as well. We can only understand others the more we learn about them, and seeing your shoes end up halfway around the world is bound to teach you something. I am so fortunate to have been able to have Sal accompany me to a couple of our shoe distributions in Cuba and South Africa.
How far we’ve come
The author’s son Sal, helping to hand out shoes in an orphanage in Pienaar, South Africa
To date, 28 months on, we have collected over 40,000 pairs of pre-loved shoes and found them new feet in 28 countries around the world, including in the UK. For too many children around the world, owning a pair of shoes is an unattainable luxury. Sal’s Shoes has got pre-loved shoes walking again in schools, orphanages and hospitals; in refugee, IDP (Internally Displaced Person) and migrant camps; and in rural areas and cities around the world. As such a young charity, the only real obstacle to what we can achieve is financial.
With your continued support we can get more shoes walking again.
We launched Sal’s Shoes in November 2013. The first place to host a Sal’s Shoes collection was Sal’s nursery school. One of the pairs of shoes donated at the school found themselves on the feet of Owen [blue t-shirt] in January 2014 on Bantron Farm in Zambia.
Two weeks ago, over two years on, we received a photograph of a more grown up Owen [on the left] wearing a pink pair of shoes (his choice) which he inherited from his sister (who received them at the same shoes distribution in 2014). Owen has passed on the first pair of trainers he received to Noah [pictured] who is just learning to walk . . .
And so the journey of the shoes continues!
** Note by editor: now called Well Family – I much preferred it as the quirkier Motherlode