This week, I have had the absolute honor of working with WOGO on behalf of Soles4Souls. Their main mission here in Arusha, Tanzania is to rebuild knees. Surgeons, Nurses, Anesthesiologists and Physician’s Assistants from all over the US came together in Arusha for this special trip. They performed over 40 knee replacements this week. In addition to their medical work, they always look for opportunities to serve the community and this is their third partnership with Soles4Souls to give children shoes.
We distributed shoes this week to three organizations, each with a unique mission. We made sure that 55 children in Plaster House had shoes. The children are there because they are recovering from serious surgeries and they can complete the recovery and rehabilitation process at Plaster House. We played with children with cerebral palsy, learning to walk strongly, little boys with club-feet and bowed legs, who will be able to walk normally after surgery and when they do, they will be walking in the shoes we gave them. Little boys and girls with burns from falling into fire pits, their severely burned faces peeking out at us with timidity, until they saw their new shoes and their smile lit up their faces.
Our shoes made them feel normal again.
We went to Glorious Orphanage, deep in the slums of Arusha. Glorious is not an orphanage, but rather a school, a place for 140 children to eat and a refuge for them to play and have community. I watched children take off shoes that were barely even intact; only to reveal socks with holes galore.
After several little ones were fitted, they started hopping and dancing in their new shoes, just like kids do in America when they get something new-it’s exciting, it’s fun! They have new, sturdy shoes now with NO HOLES! What a treat for them!
The director pointed out one dancing little girl to me and said, “she’s a ragamuffin, she has no family, no home”. A ragamuffin with no home, those words haunted me long after I left. I hope that we made her feel beautiful and loved in her new shoes.
Shoes made all the difference to the children at Glorious. They can now walk to school on top of a thick sole, their feet protected from the elements.
For now, shoes are one less thing they have to worry about.
We went an hour outside of Arusha to the village of Mbuguni, Tanzania to STEMM. STEMM works with the community to provide various needs, from agricultural programs, medical care and an orphanage. They invited the local school and some of the village children to come over and receive shoes and clothing. In Tanzania, they require you to have a uniform to go to school, which is around $18. Roughly 8% of children here in Tanzania graduate from school. This made my head swim. A uniform and some shoes could LITERALLY change a child’s path. Eighteen dollars stands in the way of children learning to read and write, to learn there are other planets and continents, math and so much more. We made sure over 500 children had shoes and clothing that day, in hopes that they can learn and dream and grow. One little girl came up to be fitted with only one shoe on. I guess to her one shoe is better than no shoes.
The kids sat in the grass after they were done, inspecting and comparing their new shoes, giggling, smiling. Some of our team arrived later and said that nearly two miles back, they saw the children walking home with their shoes!
Three very different experiences all with the same purpose, children need shoes desperately in Africa and that’s what we are all about.
It was my first trip to Africa and I had heard time and again how beautiful it was and how much I would love it. I pretty much love everywhere I go, but there is a wildness to this country that reels you in. It’s in the air around you; you feel its vastness. You can’t help but feel it and get sucked in; it takes your breath away with both its beauty and its need. The last full day we were there we went to the Nogombroro crater. Before we got to the crater, we stopped at a Maasai village for a tour. My new friend Jane and I sat in Changa’s hut. Changa showed us where he slept, his 5 children slept and the pen where they kept their baby calf…inside the hut. This hut may have been 10X10. I bought a copper bracelet from his beautiful young wife and she coiled and bent it around my wrist, custom made for me. I sat and watched the tribe dance for us, men leaping 3-4 feet in the air, all of the them harmonizing together with such strange chords, but so beautiful. They all had on bright blue and red wraps. They were lined up outside of their village ready to dance for us in the bright colors, next to this beige hill, the colors of their wraps a stark contact to the mountains behind them.
We drove down into the crater and saw hundreds of flamingos fly off of the lake. I couldn’t get a photo, nothing did justice to the beautiful pink birds flying off of the water. There was this tree at the base of the lake…I could have laid underneath that tree all day, or at least until the hippos came out of the water.
The trees in Africa are something to behold! They have souls and they look like they were going talk to me at any moment.
I am so blessed to have had this experience. The WOGO team was a joy to work with. I spent some time with them at the hospital, in surgery and I am inspired by the dedication and love they have for their work. The patients who received new knees literally have so many opportunities before them now that they are mobile! And in Africa, mobility is everything! If you can’t walk to get water, food, or to work, you have nothing. One gentleman is 3 inches taller with his new knees! What a miracle WOGO brought to these people!
Being with so many people this week dedicated to serving others just rekindled so much of the passion in my heart to continue to find ways to serve and help people help themselves. Sarah at Plaster House said it best, “You can learn the job, but you can’t learn the love”.