Monday, March 21, 2011

Shoes For Ghana & the Joy of Giving

We took over 3 suitcases of shoe donations to Ghana – 50 pounds each….and there are about 4 huge sacks full of shoes still in our garage awaiting our next trip! In America shoes are viewed as an item of comfort, even fashion, so maybe you are wondering, “Why shoes? Aren’t there higher-priority needs in Africa?” Well, at its most basic point, wearing shoes helps prevent the spread of parasitic diseases. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there are many hazards associated with going barefoot in contaminated sand, soil, and dirty water….obvious conditions in Ghana and most of Africa. In many developing countries where stagnant water is a problem, these diseases are almost a condition of life. Parasites breed in such water, with females releasing 3,000 to 200,000 eggs per day depending on their type. Children sometimes swim in parasite-infested waters, and in the absence of suitable drinking water, people may be forced to drink it and use it for cooking purposes. Amongst the poorest of the poor, treatment for parasitic infections becomes a vicious cycle. Parasitic infections often prevent adults from being able to work and children from being able to attend school. The relationships between illness, access to education, and poverty have been well-documented by organizations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). [info from]

As in most villages, the people of Asikuma go through their days working hard manual labor….without shoes on their feet. Children too are walking along the roads barefoot, working and doing what they can to help their family bring in some sort of income. Street hawkers line the side roads to sell their items, walking in the gravel and trash barefoot. We also passed by numerous men, women, and children laboring out in ‘the bush’ (collecting sticks, metal scraps, digging for snails, doing construction work)...all while being barefoot. You can imagine the conditions of the area with there being no good sanitation system….i.e. there are no garbage trucks making the rounds in these parts. There is broken glass, trash, metal, gravel, dirt, spoiled food and wrappers, animal feces, and junk all over the place. I cannot tell you how many feet I saw that were bandaged or cut open or roughened, calloused, and swollen. The reality of life for many individuals in these impoverished areas is that shoes are a rarity. It is not uncommon for children to grow up in these areas without ever having had a pair of new shoes - or any shoes at all.

Until we came to town that is. :) Here’s an excerpt from my journal on Day 1 of our stay in Asikuma as we prepared to make the rounds handing out shoes (journal excerpts will be in brown font):

In our hotel rooms we each loaded up our backpacks with the shoe donations we had brought in our extra pieces of luggage (we would do this numerous times throughout our trip, but this was the first). We also threw in gobs of crackers, fruit snacks, granola bars, and treats that would surely bring a smile to the faces of the little ones. Then we started walking. As we made our way to the main housing area in Asikuma we came across a young boy walking alone and barefoot in the dirt and gravel alongside the road.

Perfect. He was the first boy that we fitted with shoes. He walked off happily and almost in shock of how we sort of ‘ambushed’ him and pulled the perfect pair of shoes out of our packs for him.

Not even 1 minute after the boy ran off with his shoes we heard a loud uproar of commotion coming from behind us. As we looked over our shoulder we saw a flood of almost 50 children (not even kidding) running towards us – word was out – and now we were being ambushed! Michael, our native Isaiah 1:17 staff member led us into the housing area into a central and open spot where we fitted children and adults with shoes, and handed out crackers and other treats for over an hour.

When we handed them shoes or food items it was like that of Christmas morning x 100. I fit about 20 pairs of shoes in my backpack and shoulder bag. Once mine were all handed out I stopped to catch my breath and take a look around. This was the scene surrounding each of us as we reached into our packs and handed out donations...
It was pretty overwhelming…the children were frantic and did not want to miss out on the opportunity to receive ‘boots’ as they called them. As I looked around I had a bit of a breakdown and had to step away from the crowds. It took me a few moments and a few deep breaths to pull myself together. We couldn’t possibly have enough for everyone, and yet the thankfulness and excitement that these people showed in just getting a pair of used shoes was what got to me. Many of them would literally grab the shoes and then run off squealing with delight all the while jumping up and down. They will never know what it is like to pull new shoes out of a box, or to smell the new shoe smell, or to lace up crisp white shoes laces for the first time. But when we placed these shoes in their hands we knew we had given them a tiny thing that would make their physical pain more bearable. It’s funny to me how scripture jumps out at me when I am here. As we handed out items this verse ran through my head continuously: In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35). This is what I needed to learn today – the joy of giving.

Throughout our days in Asikuma we continuously loaded up our backpacks with donations whenever we headed outside of the hotel grounds. For me, this was what I loved. I wanted to be out there with the people, and I was thankful that we stayed in a hotel right in the town of Asikuma. We had the freedom to walk right into the village and market areas and hand out things whenever we wanted.

The Vanderweide family also brought along a load of soccer shoes and soccer balls to hand out, and Jake’s boxes of Isaiah 1:17 t-shirts and leftover tournament t-shirts were in high demand.

It’s a beautiful experience to allow Christ’s love and compassion to flow through you out to others, even in the smallest of ways. Helping to meet these villagers most basic needs was a unique way that God allowed us to begin to bond with them. I am praying that this will be the start of us creating some lasting relationships with the villagers of Asikuma. I am praying that we can get to know them on more intimate levels in the days we have left here.


Lori said...

Of all the things we did, giving out was my all time favorite also. With all of the grabbing hands, I would put something in their hand and push their hand to their heart when I gave something out. I would say a little prayer of protection and love to cover that little person. I'm right there with you. The village becomes a part of who you are!

Mindy said...

How Beautiful!!

Lisa said...

Janel, I was moved to tears. Lori, thanks for also sharing in your comment about how they would put their hands to their heart upon receiving a gift. I so want to go to Africa as a part of my heart is already there. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to hearing more.

Venegas Family said...

What a great trip! I can't wait to read more.
The embassy took Abi and Joseph's passports today in order to print their visas! We'll be going back to Ghana in the next couple weeks!

Tamara B said...

Can't wait to hear more. And of course I loved that soccer shoes and balls showed up :)

In about 10 weeks I'll be taking shoes with me to rural Southern Ethiopia. Can't wait.

Tamara B

Siri Vivienne Marie Khalsa Maglana said...

Oh this is such heartwarming photos.

Pauline Patrick said...

I usually donate my used shoes to those persons who won't able to buy their own shoes. I barely admire those individual who sent their quality used shoes to others. Thank you for sharing this heartwarming blog.