A Simple Pair of Shoes Becomes a Symbol of Pride











Photographer: Roopa Gogineni

I’ve already started thinking about back-to-school. And my daughter is putting the list of things together she will need–the first thing on the list is a pair of shoes. But those shoes are just shoes for us.

Not so in Senegal.

Imagine being a child, forced to beg to earn your keep and food. These barefoot children of Senegal are among the poorest and most vulnerable children known as the “talibés.” Born in a country to families that cannot send all of their children to public schools, many children are sent to Koranic schools known as “daaras” where they learn the Koran and little else, leaving them at a distinct disadvantage when they get out.

Dr. Guitele Nicoleau, Chief of Party for the USAID/Senegal BASIC Education Project said, “The “talibés” represent approximately 25 percent of the total number of children in school. Many are known for walking barefoot night and day, which leaves them vulnerable to cuts and bites from insects and animals. There is little access to health care or hygiene services for these children. And the children are forced to beg, often taking some of their money and giving it to the local pharmacy as a safe guard for their future medical needs. In addition, the children live and learn in precarious spaces.”

But with funding from USAID, FHI 360 and a consortium of international and local NGOs in partnership with the Ministry of Education have joined forces in a landmark effort that provides these children with a basic education in a renovated classroom space that often double as dormitories.

Alongside the teaching of the Koran, the children are taught French, math, and life skills, but most importantly there has been a direct impact towards eliminating begging and the use of corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure.

Dr. Albert Siemens, Chief Executive Officer of FHI 360 said, “This program is designed to improve access, quality and governance of the Senegalese middle-school education system, the project focuses on providing vulnerable children, including girls, with a quality education; introducing information and communication technologies; improving management of schools; increasing parental involvement; and increasing partnerships between the public and private sectors to support quality education.”

And the program is working. So far the vulnerable children program has impacted 355 Koranic schools and over 28,000 children who have gone through the basic education program. Every child is tested at the end of the three-year program and 65% of those tested qualify to enter regular school; and those who have transferred often do better than their peers in those schools.

There have been two distribution ceremonies of the TOMS shoes. The US. Embassy, USAID, and the Ministry of Education presented the children with TOMS shoes in envelopes with their names on them. Dr. Nicoleau had this to say, “The shoes are the cherry on the top of the sundae. TOMS shoes cap a five-year program that has had a tremendous impact on the lives of the children and the communities in which they are located. Yes, the shoes protect their feet from the rugged Senegal terrain, but most importantly, the shoes allow the children to resemble other children attending public schools.  They no longer have to envy these children and can now hold their heads up high.

“By providing them with shoes, we can help preserve their health and well-being, which directly impacts their time and success in school,” says Nicoleau. “And something as simple as a pair of shoes cannot only protect the children’s feet, but they can be the key to making it easier to enter a regular school, where wearing shoes is a requirement for attendance.”

Since 2006, TOMS has distributed millions of shoes through partnerships with various humanitarian organizations. Sebastian Fries, Chief Giving Officer for TOMS aid, “As we embark on this initiative together in Senegal, we trust that our shoes will have a positive impact on the lives of thousands of children in need and inspire hope among the many who care for them.”

Photographer: Roopa Gogineni

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