Sunday, July 13, 2014

Toms Distribution

Ben and I love TOMS!

Have you ever wondered if organizations like TOMS really follow through on the charity work they say they're going to do with your money? Well, yesterday we got to see first-hand that TOMS does, in fact, do the “one for one” shoe distributions, as we got to be the ones who actually put the new shoes on kids' feet!
These TOMS actually have a thicker sole and are sturdier than the ones sold in the US

To give a little background on this—there is an excellent orphanage called Sheltering Wings in the town of Yako, about two hours north of where we live in Ouagadougou. This orphanage is one of multiple organizations with which Envision partners, and we often are able to take our visiting US teams there to spend a day learning about the orphanage and loving on the kids. Sheltering Wings has been a shoe-giving partner with TOMS for a year now, so they run shoe distributions pretty frequently. Often, they allow our teams to be part of their distributions, as additional volunteers to pass out the shoes makes the process easier. So yesterday when we took our current team of eighteen people from Appleton Alliance Church in Wisconsin and Stonecrest Community Church in New Jersey to visit the orphanage, we were all excited to learn that they had a TOMS distribution planned.
The group singing outside the church before the distribution

After meeting at the orphanage in the morning, we drove over to the distribution site, which in this case was a nearby church. While they aren't allowed to directly share the Gospel during a distribution, they are allowed to host it at a church building, so that was neat. When we got there, kids were already gathered outside, singing along with one of the Yako workers who played a guitar. It doesn't take long for word to spread here, and I believe it was the pastor that had informed the people of the surrounding area of the distribution. Inside the church, chairs for the volunteers were set up with benches for the kids in front of them and boxes of all different sizes of TOMS shoes lined up behind them. 
Some of the boxes of TOMS lined up by size

Our team members sitting in the blue chairs and running to grab the needed sizes

Before we started, the Sheltering Wings director briefly explained the process to us: the kids would get their feet measured outside for approximately what size they would need and then enter the building holding a slip of paper saying that size; a runner standing behind the chairs would grab that shoe size; the volunteer sitting in the chair would try the shoe on the child's foot and then adjust bigger or smaller as needed; finally, the recipients of the new shoes would walk back outside with their new shoes, getting their hands marked to show they had received their shoes. We also had to track what sizes we gave and what adjustments were made by collecting and marking each child's slip of paper.
Getting ready to put new shoes on two little girls' feet

As the kids came in, some of them were understandably timid about approaching the bench to sit down across from a foreigner to get fitted for the shoes, but there were also Burkinabé helpers who walked with the kids into the building and directed them with what to do. Also, if you're familiar with how TOMS fit, you can understand how it was a little challenging for us to pull the shoes onto another person's dusty feet and make sure they fit correctly. We often had to have our runner grab a size bigger or a size smaller than the ticket said in order to find the best fit for that child.

It was interesting to me that many of the kids took their TOMS off again before walking out of the church, but we were told that a lot of them want to save their nice new shoes for specific occasions, such as church, school, or playing sports. Everything went so smoothly, though, and it was obvious that the Sheltering Wings orphanage staff had the distribution process down to an art. I'm sure that there is more to it on their end with doing reports and such than I even realize, but they do a great job. 
Helping a girl get fitted for her shoes
Ben helping a girl get fitted with her TOMS

The thing that I now love most about TOMS that I didn't even know before moving here is that they try to give the same kids new shoes every six months until they turn 18. So instead of it being a one-time thing for them to have good new shoes and then outgrow them or wear them out, these kids have new shoes continuously growing up. More than that, TOMS helps offset distributing costs and encourages giving partners to hire temporary workers to help with the distributions. This means that some local people get extra income each time, and Sheltering Wings specifically looks to hire disabled people to help with this so that those who usually cannot find jobs can get some income. 
An adorable little boy watching the activity through the church window after he'd received his TOMS

Ben and I each have bought a couple of pairs of TOMS in the past, trusting that the company does what they say with donating shoes to those in need. We even had all the guys in our wedding party wear TOMS. However, getting to be on the distributing end of things was such a fun experience, and I ended up even more impressed with the TOMS company as well as with the staff of Sheltering Wings Orphanage. 


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dorcas House

Many (if not most) countries have some sort of "class" or "caste" system in which people are grouped.  Here in Burkina, men are highest, followed by women, then children, and lastly the handicapped.  There is more to it than that, but you have the basic idea of it right there.  Women are less likely to be educated and are more likely to have to find a way to provide for themselves.

Recently, we have been privileged to go two different times to visit a ministry called Dorcas House.  Dorcas House is a place for "at-risk" women to live and improve their lives.  The women taken in come from a variety of different situations from extreme poverty, teenage moms, or orphans. These women are taken in based on need, without discrimination of religion.  Dorcas House is a Christian and Missionary Alliance ministry which follows Biblical Christian principles.

The workers and founders of Dorcas House

The girls at Dorcas House receive a basic education, which they may otherwise not be able to get.  They learn skills that can be used to provide for themselves and their families.  The skills they learn include gardening, sewing, cooking, cleaning, raising animals, and running a grist mill.  They receive a variety of Biblical teachings to give them a strong and true spiritual basis.

Molly and Amy Nehlsen looking in one of the classrooms at the flour set out to dry

Our first visit to Dorcas House was with Steve and Amy Nehlsen, two of the founders of this ministry.  It was nice to be able to see the ministry through eyes that have been involved since the start.  They introduced us to the workers, while telling us the history of the ministry and the dreams for the future.

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The second time we were able to visit was with our first summer team.  We bring teams to a variety of different ministries in order for them to gain a heart for what God is doing in Burkina while being involved and loving on the people.  The girls at Dorcas House did a song and dance to welcome us soon after we arrived.  The girls have such life, hope and joy; it is hard not to love visiting.

Sitting for a song of welcome.

Molly and the team dancing with the girls.

After going on a group tour of the ministry, we hung out with the girls and played volleyball.  Volleyball was more fun than competition.  The goal was just to see how long the ball could stay up.  The game started with a volleyball, but then later we used a large beach ball.  The girls were overjoyed to have people there to love on them and spend time with them.

The whole group playing volleyball with the girls at Dorcas house

Dorcas House Overview Video