Back from TOMS Shoes 2008 Argentina Shoe Drop and still trying to recover! The other volunteers, or voluntourists as I guess we should call ourselves, were so amazing: smart, kind, caring, funny, energetic, hardworking, enthusiastic and (my favorite trait in traveling companions) EASY-GOING!!!Pepe Verdejos, TOMS Shoes Latin America Shoe Drop Coordinator deserves his own paragraph. Orphaned at 5, Pepe began mowing yards to take care of himself and his sister. Everything he has, he's worked very hard for - from his formal education to his growing English fluency. Working with TOMS takes him to the poorest, most remote areas of Argentina in order to find the kids in need of a shoe drop. The work he does with TOMS means that Pepe has come full circle. He was our faithful leader, our alarm clock, our mama, our sommelier! But most of all, Pepe was our friend. And hopefully always will be. Viva Pepe!
Lastly, and most importantly, the kids: hundreds of beautiful faces expressed a wide range of emotions upon our arrival: open smiles, shy shrugs, curious stares or distrustful eyes. One sweet baby looked at me, I smiled at him, and he burst out in a tearful wail. I'm hoping I don't get the same reaction at my 20th high school reunion this weekend.
A few things that stick out for me when I think about the kids in the slums of Buenos Aires or the remote regions of the Mendoza wine country, as well as those here in the USA:
-Like all of us, they are vulnerable and in need of love, support, a chance to grow and mature within healthy boundaries set up by loving parents, teachers and other role models.
-Unlike many of us, their futures limited by their access to the basics of health care, appropriate shelter, education (books, technology, teachers), and opportunity.
To some, my TOMS Shoe Drop may seem like an insignificant drop in the bucket (pardon the pun). But our open hearts and smiles, a new pair of shoes, a hug and some play time meant a lot to these children, their parents and teachers. It not only gave them a chance to see people care about them, know that they have WORTH in the eyes of the world, but it created an opportunity for them to celebrate their culture and honor its WORTH.
Learning about Argentina from the eyes of the children was an education I will never forget. Even though they have "little" by our standards, they are rich in their history, their indigenous roots, their dance and food, and of course, their most precious treasure, their children.
I am so extremely blessed by all of you whose love, support and donations helped make this trip a reality, a dream come true for me. God bless you!
Quiero agradecer a todos los argentinos para recibirnos, alimentarnos, convirvir y darnos todo su cariño! Siempre vivirán en nuestros corazones!