One question: “Will you go?” While I was in Nashville, I met a staff member, Lisa Pointe, from Soles4Souls. She kindly gave me a tour after I expressed my interest in social enterprise. From that initial contact I was asked to join a team from Ohio State University that would be doing a shoe distribution in Costa Rica in May and cover the story. What an opportunity! What an adventure!
A simple request is about to change the lives of several and I get to watch it unfold live.
As I landed I was greeted by 10 student athletes, their advisors from OSU, and Taylar Proctor from Soles4Souls. We boarded the bus and headed to our host facility in San Jose. The first evening was uneventful, settling in and doing introductions. Although the students came from Ohio State, home of the Buckeyes, most didn’t know each other.
The next morning though, we boarded the bus early to head to our first shoe distribution at a local school. The team of OSU athletes were diving in, sorting sizes, fitting shoes on little feet, and putting smiles on the little faces. While the kids waited their turn some of our team played soccer, jump rope, and basketball with the Costa Rican children; others put Buckeye “tattoos” on the kids. This team came to serve and serve they did! In under six hours we gave out nearly 1000 pairs of shoes.
The following morning was much like yesterday. Except today we stopped on the way to the distribution site to see where these children lived. The “shanty town” was little more than tin boxes housing as many as 14 people in a home not any larger than a tool shed. Our host said it was one of the most densely populated “shanty towns” in San Jose. Heartbreaking.
These kids definitely needed shoes. The OSU athletes worked tirelessly and quickly. Today more than 800 shoes were given out in under four hours! Again, the athletes didn’t just put shoes on the feet of the students; they interacted and played with them putting ear-to-ear smiles on their faces.
Saturday we were up at 5:00 am to take a bus ride (fully loaded with students and shoes with barely enough room to sit!) for three hours before hopping in a water taxi to ride upstream for an hour. The rainforest was our destination for the third shoe distribution and this was the only way of getting there. By this time the students had become friends. They bus was a frenzy of music, lively conversation, and bantering. Part of the intrigue of the week was watching these students go from nearly strangers on the same campus to a tight-knit group that want to stay in touch when they return home. Somehow serving others will break through the cliques and bind hearts and lives.
After settling in at the rainforest lodge we board the water taxi once again for a short ride upstream. The town has 400 residents and this distribution is open to all; however, due to our shoe sizes remaining we won’t be able to fit men or larger women’s feet. The team sets up quickly and welcomes the throng of people into a small school room to be sized and fitted. We are seeing moms and babes coming together, many without shoes on their feet. Each leave with a pair of shoes and a smile filled with hope on their faces. Sadly, there were some who were so used to walking barefoot, they left carrying their new pair of shoes. But, for many, entire families lives were changed that day by a pair of shoes.
Our last shoe distribution was scheduled as we descended the mountain to return to San Jose. Unfortunately, the road was closed and our team couldn’t meet the delivery of shoes to get where we needed to be. The last distribution had to be postponed for another trip.
Serving others changes lives. As nearly 2,000 pairs of shoes were given out during our six days in Costa Rica we watched the hearts of the OSU students melt. We watched athletes who had never spoken on campus connect on social media and plan to meet regularly once they returned home. We watched as the team stooped on bended knee to share a small gift, a kind word, or a hug with a child that spoke another language. Language, age, and location should never be a reason not to serve. Serving makes all of those things irrelevant and will give you an experience you’ll never forget. I know I’ll never forget how humbled and honored I felt to be invited to write about and participate in a life-changing experience. I had a front row seat as many of these students shared that they had never left the United States to serve others.
Soles4Souls doesn’t just change the lives of those who receive shoes; they change the lives of all who take a few days out of their life to serve. One question: “Will you go?”