March 2nd was one of the best days of my life. I got to work early, checked my email, browsed some social media websites, and probably made some Good Earth tea, the kind that smells like Christmas. It was also an extremely stressful day because I was planning a huge production the very next day for Teen Star Santa Barbara. Emails regarding the show, and all of my footwear reps, were bouncing back and forth all morning long.
About a week before this day, I received an email from Sydney, the amazing TOMS Advocate Program Coordinator, informing me that I was eligible to be entered into the drawing to win a Giving Trip. TOMS Giving Trips provide the chance to visit TOMS Shoes Giving Partners and help them hand-place new shoes onto the feet of children who are in need. These trips allow people to see first-hand how TOMS supports children’s health and education. A year before this day, I became extremely passionate about the One for One Movement, for every pair of shoes purchased, TOMS gives a pair of new shoes to a children in need. I wanted to get involved and travel to a village to give children new shoes, but quickly learned it takes a lot of time and hard work to earn a Giving Trip. Not just anybody can go. So, I was completely shocked when I found out how close I was to this experience! I had put in a lot of time and effort, but this seemed too good to be true…
Again, back to March 2nd. I managed to spare some time to check the TOMS Advocate website to see what they posted for the day. Sydney had posted a video for the day (her videos are always entertaining), so I decided to watch it. I was completely distracted, so I had one ear listening and the other focusing on something completely different. All of a sudden, I heard music so I decided to watch the video more closely and, to my surprise, they were announcing the winner of the Giving Trip! The video had a giant chalkboard in it with random letters on it, almost like a word search. They slowly, and extremely painfully, erased random letters until it spelled a name. My name–DANISE! My mouth immediately dropped and I remember saying to my co-workers who sit close to my desk, “I think I just won a TOMS Giving Trip…” with complete shock in my voice. Like I said, it was the best day ever (at that point). One of my biggest goals actually became something that I was about to achieve. Hard work pays off!
Some time went by and I found out that I was going to El Salvador and meeting the TOMS Giving Partner, Save the Children. Save the Children is the leading independent organization creating lasting change in the lives of children in need in the United States and around the world. El Salvador, the smallest Central American country, has faced some of the region’s greatest challenges. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, conflict and gang violence, plus epidemics have wreaked havoc on the Salvadoran people for decades. Save the Children has worked in El Salvador since 1979 – just prior to the onset of the country’s 12-year-long civil war. They have been working in the poorest departments of the country, where more of the communities are classified, according to the Country Poverty Map, as extreme poverty areas, being agriculture, poultry and cattle the principal income. On Save the Children’s website, they share some challenges that children face in El Salvador:
Extreme rural poverty – living on less than $1 per day in shanties without running water or electricity – creates chronic problems for some of El Salvador’s children. Too often, toddlers aren’t read stories or taught to sing ABCs. Slow to speak and even play with toys, kids who grow up without early childhood development activities can be disadvantaged for life. That’s why Save the Children supports programs for families.
Access to health and education services are limited, made worse by under-resourced institutions that struggle to meet basic technical and operational capacity. Violence plagues children in both urban and rural El Salvador. As families left rural villages after the Civil War, a generation was uprooted or brought up by extended family members. With little opportunity in the cities and growing school dropout rates, gangs and a child-trafficking crisis have emerged.
In 2011, Save the Children programs benefited approximately 436,614 children and adults directly and 687,010 children and adults indirectly, mainly through protection and education initiatives.
I knew I was going with a great organization and a special company. As a matter of fact, I was the only non-TOMS employee to be joining this trip. I felt honored, but extremely nervous about leaving the country with people I had never met before!
Saturday, June 23rd arrived very quickly. It was the day that I left Santa Barbara and the TOMS Giving Trip journey started.
Follow my adventures by checking back on my next blog posts! You’ll hear it all, from my first day hand placing shoes onto the feet of the most beautiful children, to planting trees and painting murals, to the amazing stories from some of the locals, and to meeting the national El Salvador soccer team. There’s so much to share, including photos!
And, my favorite story of all–the day I met Carlos Amilcar. The little boy I’ll never forget.