A few days ago, we did three shoe drops in the San Pedro area of northern Argentina. On that day, we spent nearly twelve hours traveling from village to village. Usually we’d start in buses, driving along paved roads created by the government, then we’d transfer to jeeps built for handling tougher conditions of the inner jungle’s terrain.
On the second and third drops, our jeep parked on the side of the road and we hiked the rest of the way through the wilderness. Walking through the jungle was awe-inspiring, and we were all totally floored by what we saw. We imagined out loud what it was like to grow up there.
The second TOMS shoe drop was one of the smaller ones, and while there were many kids seemed to go by in an instant. Like many of us who were new to the experience, we could tell that some of the children weren’t sure what to expect at the beginning. But by the time we left, they (and us) all had huge smiles on our faces.
I cannot even describe the emotion felt after placing a brand new shoe on a child’s foot. A lot of the time, their feet were dirty, swollen, and blistered with sores – sometimes their feet were even different sizes. Some of the older kids blushed and dusted their feet off before we fitted them with TOMS. Some were outgoing and eager to play with us right away. Others were shy, seemed embarrassed, or unsure about all the activity.
After giving them their pair of shoes, the expression on their faces would completely change to reflect satisfaction, happiness, and joy. It was their moment – and many of the special moments I witnessed over the past few days will be in my heart forever.
Many of these special moments were connections I had with several of the young girls.
As we were fitting the last of the children, I noticed one of the older girls hanging off to the side. I went over, gave her one of my wristbands, and we played a few games. She was reluctant to communicate at first (and kinda reminded me of myself at that age!).
I learned that her name is Jasmine. When it came time for us to leave, I gave her a hug goodbye. She pulled back at first. Then, she hugged me hard and burst into tears.
The hardest thing, after making a connection with one of these kids, is not knowing if she, or he, is ultimately going to be ok. I learned to savor the moments, however brief – the connection that we had with the kids, and the happiness we both experienced.