How a Renegade Shoe Can Change a Life
Perhaps you have had a moment like this, but in a very different setting: The air around you is heavy with anticipation, suspended by the anxiety of the unknowns – with everything inside of you praying desperately for this to work. This was exactly that kind of moment. Oddly enough, I never really expected that it would have happened in the middle of a garbage dump in Dominican Republic, with a crowd around us, and with me down on one knee in front of a little Haitian boy.It was the first year we had ever committed to something like this on Hero Holiday. Each day I found myself at this garbage dump, with different Canadian teenagers, all of us working alongside of these amazing people. Always, there was a new adventure, a new challenge, and a new face. Life here is very transient and often difficult. This garbage dump was a place that was full of stories, heartache, anxiety, and at times, resignation. Yet, it would also become the place where we would learn many valuable life lessons from those who were unaware that they were our teachers.That day seemed like the perfect day to hand out shoes. Here, like most of the developing world, a pair of shoes is a coveted possession, never to be taken for granted. In a garbage dump, you are continually aware of the value of your shoes: Those shoes are what keeps you one step away from possible wounds, parasites, and diseases. Those same shoes represent the ability to work, to stay a little safer, and to be able to continue to provide what is needed for survival. When we show up at this place with a truckload of used shoes, we are not just showing up with castoffs – we are showing up with a valuable asset. Fashion is a luxury of the rich, and those whom are hard at work in this place don’t have the luxury of worrying about fashion. They are focused on survival.I was so sure I had counted the pairs before we loaded our truck that day. We had worked so hard to organize them into sizes and types, but despite our best efforts, life still happened. We had just finished handing out the women’s shoes, and many ladies hugged and kissed our cheeks in thanks as they walked away from our huddle. On their tired feet were their “new” shoes, and it somehow made life a little easier. Finally, it was time to hand out the shoes to the men that worked there. They had been quite patient up to this point, and I was humbled by their gracious smiles as we handed them shoes. Some pairs were nearly new, some were well worn, but all were better than anything else they could afford. I could hear a rumble from somewhere in the middle of the crowd of men around us. The volume was raising, and bodies were being pushed and shoved. Suddenly, from under the tangle of arms around us, a small face poked out. He had big brown eyes, looking into them made me sad. Angry and scared, he seemed to be daring those around him to try to make him go to the back of the line again. I loved him instantly.My translator was speaking quickly in my ear as we were trying to control the commotion, explaining this boy’s story, allowing me to understand who was standing in front of me. His name was Gregory, and he was an orphan – one of many at this garbage dump. He was 11 years old and he was living on his own with his cousin, who was 14. They provided for themselves by foraging at this garbage dump, eating what they could and doing their best to learn how to read and write. I looked at his feet. They were tough, calloused, dirty, and had broken and mismatched rubber flip flops, both meant for the same foot. My heart squeezed as I hoped against all hope that we would be able to find a special pair of shoes for him; a pair that would not only fit him and protect him, but a pair that would make him feel special. I could see a shoe poking out from the now chaotic pile behind me. It was a white leather basketball shoe, and it caught his eye too. I pointed to it and he smiled in anticipation. But, to my horror, the unthinkable happened. As I pulled it from the pile, I realized there was no partner for this lonely shoe. Heartbreak. Awkward stunned silence. Deep disappointment…again.In a frantic effort to smooth over the feeling of defeat, I tried to offer him another pair of shoes, but they were too small, and were not white leather basketball shoes. Tears spilled over from my eyes and I caught a tiny glint of moisture in his as well. This was cruel irony, and the stab of injustice cut deep. I grabbed his hand, got down in front of him and looked him in the eye. With the help of my translator, I made a promise: I would find the other shoe, and I would return. I would come find him again, because he was worth the effort.When I returned to our storage room that afternoon, the search began. Digging under piles of clothing, shoes and gifts, I finally found the missing shoe. It was treated like a national treasure that night – it was not getting away again! The next morning, as we pulled into the garbage dump, I scanned the scene, looking for Gregory. I found him at the base of a mountain of garbage, still in his mismatched flip flops. I was so anxious to give him the shoes that I ran to him, and the people with me had to run to keep up. And it was here, on one knee, in the middle of a dirty and smokey garbage dump that I saw a miracle. I helped him put his feet in them, laughing and crying as he jumped up and down in the shoes, in awe of how white they were, how expensive they must have been, and how special they made him feel.That day, I was honored to be a part of something so simple yet so profound. Some may have only seen used shoes, but that day, I saw love.Like millions of children around the world, Gregory is stateless. He has no papers, no official identity, and therefore no rights to education or a future. This summer, Hero Holiday is returning to his village, helping to improve the standards of living and together with the people that live there, working for a future for kids like Gregory. Though the world may not know of his existence, we are determined that they will know of his need: that he is not alone, he is not forgotten, and that he has a future. You can join us! Check out our upcoming trips and see if one works for you. Why not try a Hero Holiday?