Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Glimpse Into The Traveling Shoes

It is easier said than done. So I discovered when I set out to purchase shoes for 124 students from a remote countryside call Chambellan in Haiti. A colleague of mine has been building a high school in this town and although it is incomplete, children have been attending classes. Since it is my desire to provide shoes for the very poor children who sometimes trek to school barefooted or wear shoes that can barely support their feet; I jumped at the chance to assist. Good practice I thought, while I go about the business of setting up an organization that would carry on this mission; to protect the feet of needy children and young adults by placing a new pair of shoes on their feet and a smile on their faces. Armed with a list of various sizes, I just knew this would be a breeze. "Please give me a size 6 and a 9 of this beauty in brown." What could be so difficult?

For a start, deals are hard to come by. On the good old internet I found a shoe store that claimed some incredible prices, right up my alley. When you get there, it is a different story. The lower prices are few and the shoes are unattractive and would not last a day on any terrain. The better looking ones are of a higher price and although more choices are available, there was not enough in one store to complete my shopping; it would take four evenings, four different stores in four different areas of town to do the job.

Then came the packing; in order not to separate the sizes, some helpful salespersons in two of the stores wrapped many of the shoes in individula bags and gave additional bags to finish the job at home. My colleague had the task of making sure the shoes reached their destination. She was the bearer of good tidings since she was returning to Chambellan to see about her organization's affairs.

This is the story she told. Before leaving JFK there was problem. She had to send back to her home in Brooklyn, eleven(11) pairs of shoes and even if she wanted to pay, she was not allowed to take not even one iota more on the plane. With airline restrictions, this was painful but understandable. The arrival in Port Au Prince, the capital of Haiti was not easy either. More money had to be paid. Although my colleague had papers to show that she was a legitimate non-profit organization, the custom agents let her know that may be so in the USA but it means nothing in Haiti. "How do we know that you are not going to sell the shoes?" they asked. On the custom agents' advice she has begun the paperwork that will allow the NY based organization to be also recognized in Haiti.

It was not over yet. The small plane that would take my colleague and her family to Chambellan wanted their share of the pie. Again she had to pay and again we understood. By the end of the journey the value of these shoes had risen and we had learned valuable lessons about transporting goods in a foreign country and having the gift of perseverance. Stay tune for more on the distribution process and maybe some photos. By the way, those eleven(11) pairs that were sent back home to Brooklyn, later found their way to Chambellan via a kind soul.

This first shipment is a dedication to my colleague, HELEN ADDERLY EBONG who departed from this earth some months ago. "Dear Helen, the plans we had in our youth to help the children of the world seemed so easy at the time. I promise I will do whatever possible to make a difference. just like we said we would. You a lover of shoes must be smiling down on our mission."