Haitian Benefit-A School Campaign To Travel 'A Mile In Their Shoes'
A School Campaign To Travel âA Mile In Their Shoesâ
By Susan Coney
Karen King, a Rotarian and Reed Intermediate School teacher, has undertaken a challenging new project â a drive to collect 1,000 pairs of shoes to be sent to Haiti by June 10.
It all started over spring vacation after the fifth grade teacher joined a team of dentists and dental hygienists who traveled to the remote village of Jeremie, Haiti. Along with Ms King, Newtown High School English teacher Kathy Swift and Russell Denniston, the son of Reed Intermediate School Principal Donna Denniston, also took the trip sponsored by the Norwich-based group Haitian Health Foundation (HHF) for the purpose of addressing the dental needs of the Haitian people.
Haiti, a small island only 200 miles off the coast of Florida, is an extremely poor country where the people suffer from sicknesses and diseases that they get from walking barefoot everyday. Many people live their entire lives without owning shoes and without access to medical care.
While in Haiti, a grandmotherly woman indicated to Mrs King that she wanted her shoes, not food or anything else, just her shoes. âNobody begged or stole in this country. They are a very generous, loving people. I was in love with this whole island, they are beautiful people,â Mrs King said. âI wore my oldest tennis shoes because I knew the traveling conditions would be difficult and they were the only pair of shoes I had with me except for some flip flops,â she said. She could not part with her shoes but vowed to make a difference.
Upon returning to the United States, Mrs King enlisted the help of the Reed School service group called the Interact Club to help collect 1,000 pairs of closed toed shoes. They are calling the shoe drive A Mile in Their Shoes.
In addition, Newtown Middle Schoolâs Interact Club has gotten involved in the drive as well as groups from Sandy Hook, Head Oâ Meadow, and Hawley Elementary Schools.
Mrs King stressed the need for new tennis shoes in every size, but extra wide sizes are especially appreciated since many Haitians have wide feet. All shoes will have a message attached to them in Creole saying, âA special gift to you from Newtown.â
There will be collection boxes in the lobby of Reed until June 10. The number of shoes collected will be posted on the Reed School website everyday along with photos of the trip to Haiti. Don Droppo of Curtis Packaging has generously offered to donate one pair of socks for every pair of shoes donated; up to 1,000 pairs of socks.
While visiting Haiti Mrs King observed how poor the people were. âIâve never seen anything like it. Children die from the simplest things; malnutrition is a huge problem. There are no bathrooms, no electricity, no running water,â she said. âThe people are very calm. They donât have anything. What is most important is to stay alive,â she added.
Mrs King was at a loss as to how she could help when she was there. âIâm not a doctor, dentist, or hygienist,â she said. Other volunteers clipped fingernails and toenails, which are breeding grounds for infections. Others scrubbed under the nails to disinfect them. Mrs King, prior to leaving for Haiti, paused during her last minute packing to pop a dozen or so bottles of nail polish into her bag. She brought every color imaginable and decided to give manicures to all the children after they had their nails clipped. People of all ages waited patiently in line to have their nails painted. âI gave manicures to everyone all week long. I brought every color of nail polish â green, purple, sparkly. The boys got their nails done too. They didnât know it wasnât cool,â she said.
While in Haiti the HHF group assisted in dental care, general hygiene instruction, nutritional needs, prenatal care, record keeping, and labeling supplies. Russell Denniston traveled to Haiti in hopes of making a documentary about the Haitian people. He commented, âGoing to Haiti with HHF was an incredible experience. It was heart breaking and uplifting at the same time. The people have so little and are so appreciative of basic necessities such as food, shelter, and medical careâ¦things that most of us take for granted. In my documentary I hope to show the difference HHF makes in the lives of the Haitians.
Mrs King indicated other ways the Haitian Health Foundation is helping. Since 1995 the HHF has been providing housing for the homeless and for poor families residing in appalling hovels in remote areas of Haiti.
The Happy House program replaces and renovates shacks into concrete block buildings with a cement floor, a tile roof, windows, and doors. When funds allow a small porch is attached and a latrine is added behind the house. The construction cost for one of these homes is approximately $500 or $700 with porch and latrine. Recipients are chosen by a vote of a village committee to ensure that the most needy receive them. Those wishing to sponsor the building of a house will have a plaque placed on the home stating their name.
For $150 a sponsor may purchase a goat for a destitute family. The Goat Program distributes goats to the poor villagers of Jeremie (where the Haitian Health Foundation is located) as a means to provide them with milk, cheese, and financial income.
A Haitian child may be sponsored for as little as $300 per year. With that they may go to school, where they will receive a balanced meal and a school uniform. A child must pay to attend school in Haiti and they must have shoes in order to attend.
Mrs Kingâs desire is to make a difference. When speaking of her trip she said, âThey donât have all that stuff we have. It made me think of what is really important in life. We can make a world of difference. At night you heard music, praying, and chanting all night. It was very peaceful and very different.â
For more information log on to the school website at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Haitian Health Foundation website, email@example.com.