Giving Dignity, Pride and Hope to Children through School shoes – by Anna Sacks

Soul2Sole is all about giving back to the local communities of South Africa, up until now specifically in KwaZulu Natal with a National campaign set for 2021. We aim to provide as many children as possible with a pair of brand new or previously loved shoes every year. Year on year the project has grown and, in some way each year, we have pushed the boundaries of what we are doing to make more of an impact; be it collecting more shoes, purchasing more new shoes, engaging with other incredible NGO’s doing great work or the selection process of the recipient schools.

As we look ahead into the winter months, when we will be visiting schools handing out the shoes, it will be cold and crisp in the mornings. Many if not all of these learners are living in deep rural communities, not with their parents but their grandparents. Their parents are in the cities trying to make a living and sending what money home they can, which is often very little. Most of these learners do not have shoes that fit them, or even socks without holes. They are walking long distances to get to school, many as young as 4/5yrs old on their own along the rough, uneven ground and with winter approaching the need for shoes is even greater. This pair of shoes and socks gives them protection from the elements, as well as instilling hope, dignity and pride so they can go to school and focus on learning. They look at you puzzled when you place on this pair of brand new shoes on their feet, it is not happiness at first. At first it is disbelief as if you might take them back, but when you wave goodbye the smile that spreads across their face is one of joy!

I am just a small part of Soul2Sole, I am the ‘behind the scenes’ and I love my job! My role as Project Manager of Soul2Sole is to create and develop the project with a vision of the outcome. Effectively engaging with partners, suppliers and sponsors to ensure that the project is executed to the level and expectations of all involved. Although Soul2Sole is a Blue Sky Society Project it is currently funded by our soul sponsor The Lion Match Company. Milena Domiro, The Lion Match Companies Group Corporate Affairs & Marketing Manager is so passionate about the project, that is what really makes a difference. We are so fortunate to have a client that really wants to make an impact and wants to do as much as she can to be involved, being hands on in all parts of the project. Then we have Aramex, they are our transportation partner for Soul2Sole and again their support and dedication for the project makes them a dream to have on board! In the beginning when there was no Aramex, there was just Carla (Founder of Blue Sky Society) and I. We would spend many hours fetching and transporting items, driving around in our cars picking up boxes of shoes, shoe polish, socks and delivering them to the various rural schools and for me often getting lost in the process! The project has come such a long way in the past 6 years it makes me really proud.

I joined Blue Sky Society Trust in 2016 at which point Soul2Sole had been running for a year. My role was to come in and facilitate the operational logistics of the project as well as constantly seek to drive and push it further. The project has grown exponentially since 2016 and it is something, we are very proud of. In 2016 Soul2Sole donated just over 250 pairs of shoes, in 2020 we will donate a total of 3741 pairs of shoes. There are a lot of people in the world doing their bit, giving back in some way and if you are one of those people you will know it really feels great.

People always tell me how lucky I am to be able to do what I do, and I totally agree. It is incredibly rewarding to be a part of something that is making a difference in the lives of children every single day.

In 2019 we once again engaged with learners from schools all over KZN calling them to donate their previously loved school shoes. The previously loved section of the project came about in 2017 when we wanted to grow the project but were not sure in what way! It was then we decided that we could approach schools throughout KZN to donate their “previously loved” (so much better than the term old or second hand) shoes to the project at the end of the school year. So many learners wear their shoes for such a short space of time as their feet grow constantly and these shoes are in great condition when they get tossed in the bin. So rather than them hitting the landfills we take them and give them a scrub and a polish ready to be donated to a new owner. This is not to say that all the shoes we receive are able to be passed on! Some have definitely seen better days and do not make the selection cut! Many of the schools who have donated over the last few years have also joined us when we have gone out to deliver the shoes, it just enables them to see where the shoes are going and have a full understanding of how much these shoes are appreciated.

On break up day we position teams of volunteers across all these schools to help facilitate the collection of the shoes, in 2019 this was a total of 15 schools, and we received a staggering 2241 pairs of shoes, compared to the first year 2017 we did this with just 3 schools and we collected 449 pairs of shoes. We are always looking for volunteers to help so if you ever want to donate your time we would love to have you on board!

At the beginning of 2020 we called for The Lion Match Company and Aramex to bring their staff and come and assist us in sorting and packing all of the previously loved shoes that we collected. In previous years we have sourced staff to assist with this, but what is the point of a corporate company donating money/product to fund a Corporate Social Responsibility project if they do not get their own staff involved where they can? One thing we do know in todays working environment, staff like to know what their companies are doing to give back and let me tell you there was not one staff member who didn’t love being a part of that day! The vibe was electric as we got into teams and started to pack 2241 pairs of shoes together with a pair of socks and a tin of Lion Quality Shoe Polish into bags to be donated to their new owner. If you want to see this in action, follow this link to watch the video from last year…. https://youtu.be/NAtX28jB0x8

When it comes to the delivery of the shoes and other items we have to move around, as I mentioned before our incredible transportation partner Aramex is there to facilitate all of this. Such a mammoth task for us but made so easy by having them on board. For the distribution of the previously loved shoes we like to link in with other organisations, orphanages, schools, or even people who know of a good home for these. In 2016 we linked up with a Peace Corps Volunteer who was working in the North West Province and we distributed 1600 pairs of previously loved shoes to over 11 schools, our furthest reach in terms of distance to date. We have also sent shoes down to the Transkei to a local community whose children walked many kilometres to get to the school every day as well as the Midlands. We totally believe in the power of collaboration, so for us working with like minded organisations is what creates this ripple effect and makes sure we are pooling our resources to reach more people together.

For the distribution of the new shoes we have been working with a wonderful organisation called Partners For Possibilities, PfP – they are ‘a creative solution to South Africa’ education crisis – it is a co-action, co-learning partnership between School Principles and Business Leaders, enabling social cohesion through partnerships, and empowering Principles to become change leaders in their schools and communities.’ PfP have introduced us to some incredible school Principles who are really trying to make a difference, it has been a great way to ensure that the new shoes are getting to the right people. Again, we are always looking for new schools to connect with, there are an abundance of children in need, so if you know of a school we are always happy to hear from you. We are currently busy helping a school in Zululand called Manyoni Primary School where we will be donating approx. 520 pairs of new shoes in 2020, one of 5 schools set to receive shoes this year.

Another fantastic organisation that we love working with is Uzwelo; Expand a Sign formed Uzwelo Bags with the intention of focusing on what we can instead of what we can’t. They use their waste fabric that normally goes into landfills to make functional, stylish and affordable bags of all shapes and sizes, they are incredible. We purchase their draw string bags for our new shoes to be delivered in, these drawstring bags can be used as a great school bags for the learners and are so bright colourful. Please check out Uzwelo and all the great bags they are producing, you might be surprised what Christmas or birthday presents you can pick up from them knowing you are supporting a local NGO in the process.

So in a nutshell that is Soul2Sole, we love it and want it to continue to grow from strength to strength enabling more children to go to school every year with a pair of shoes. For more info please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on anna@blueskysociety.co.za