“I have seen no other place in the world like Rwanda. The experience of putting new shoes on the feet of these children has truly changed me.”—Kris Allen.
A few week ago several US based organizations joined forces to provide and distribute 1000 pairs of shoes to children in Rwanda.
TOMS Shoes, Bridge2Rwanda, Heifer International, and American Idol musical star Kris Allen teamed up to facilitate and promote this project.
The week was merely the preliminary stage of a much larger plan, consisting of delivering 1,000 of the 33,000 pairs of shoes intended to be distributed to Rwandan children.
The team will return this summer to complete this substantial mission and allocate the remaining 32,000 pairs of shoes to children across the country.
The project was made possible through TOMS Shoes, a for-profit business in America started less than four years ago and currently sweeping the nation with its trendy footwear styles yet philanthropic approach to business.
The philosophy behind the TOMS movement is “One for One”, meaning the company matches every pair of shoes that is purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need.
The TOMS One for One business model transforms the customers into benefactors and allows the purchasing power of individuals to benefit the greater good.
One of TOMS’ priorities is providing shoes for children in areas where volcanic soil is prevalent in order to prevent soil-transmitted diseases that can penetrate through the skin through bare feet, with potential for infection and long-term physical harm.
TOMS has supplied over 400,000 pairs of shoes to children in need all over the world, including Argentina, Ethiopia, South Africa, Haiti, Guatemala, and most recently Rwanda. This was the first shoe distribution in Rwanda and the largest distribution in any country to date.
During this initial phase of the project in Rwanda, shoes were purchased locally from a Bata distributor in Kigali and dispersed in the Musanze area with direction from John Rucyahana, the former Bishop of Shyira Diocese.
Along with representatives from each of the organizations involved, volunteers from the US came to Rwanda to carry out the task of literally sizing and placing new shoes on children’s feet. Many of the recipients arrived barefoot or with broken and ill-fitting shoes.
The distribution was not only focused on providing shoes to children in need, but also connecting and spending time with the individual children.
One volunteer stated, “The best part of the process was to see the smile on the child’s face as they walked away from getting their new shoes:” The children were able to participate in various play activities with the volunteers before and after they received their shoes.
Over 300 children in Shyira, a remote area of Northwestern Rwanda, received the new shoes last month. The distribution in this area focused on providing shoes to the Pediatric Ward and Ambulatory Care Facility of Shyira Hospital, children from the House of Hope Orphanage, and students from local Primary School.
Another load of approximately 700 shoes was delivered to Sonrise Primary School and placed on the feet of every Primary student. Sonrise Primary School, where the majority of the students are orphaned children, was founded by Bishop John Rucyahana in 2002.
The mission is to create a school that sets the standard for academic excellence and servant leadership development, even for the neediest children in the country.
One of the students at Sonrise Primary School, who could barely walk in his tattered and worn shoes, shared that he had been praying to get a new pair of shoes before he went home for the two-week holiday from school.
A special guest participated in the distribution of the shoes with the intention of promoting awareness and increasing knowledge about Rwanda upon his return to the US. Kris Allen, the currently reigning winner of the hit television show American Idol, and his wife Katy visited Rwanda for the first time to take part in the movement to give shoes to the disadvantaged children of Rwanda.
The musician took time off from his work promoting his recently released eponymous debut album, “Kris Allen”.
In an interview, Kris stated that he is overwhelmed by the beauty of Rwanda and its people, their joy, their hope, their vision, and their determination to achieve their vision.
Kris, who travels extensively, stated “I have seen no other place in the world like Rwanda. The experience of putting new shoes on the feet of these children has truly changed me.”
Both TOMS Shoes and Kris Allen were approached to take part in this project by Bridge2Rwanda, an organization that works for the overall economic and educational development in the country of Rwanda.
Bridge2Rwanda’s mission statement is “to build a bridge from the US to Rwanda and transform lives at both ends”. The non-profit organization based out of Little Rock, Arkansas has helped to facilitate various projects in Rwanda, including the building of Urwego Opportunity Bank and Sonrise School, the Rwandan Presidential Scholarship Program, and a “Borrowed Talent” program, and has recruited experienced and talented professionals to serve Rwanda in some capacity.
Bridge2Rwanda also recruited Heifer International, which is already strongly involved in Rwanda through providing livestock to families in need, to help sponsor the shoe distribution.
Several events are scheduled in the US after the shoe distribution to share the heart-warming experiences of the week and promote awareness about Rwanda.
In conjunction with Bridge2Rwanda, Heifer International, and TOMS Shoes, Kris Allen will host and perform at the “One Day Without Shoes for Rwanda: Barefoot Bash” in Little Rock, Arkansas to highlight his week in Rwanda.
Kris will also lead a group of US college students on a barefoot walk to help spread awareness of the impact that a simple pair of shoes can bring to a child’s life.