I know, I know. Irreverent title and gross picture. But did I get your attention?
Jiggers are a type of sand flea found in Uganda. They lay eggs inside of bare feet, and you can see from the picture what happens next. At the end of my second trip to Uganda, the HopeChest country director looked at my feet in flip flops and said, “You should wear close-toed shoes so you do not get jiggers.” Living in Georgia, I thought he said “chiggers,” which are painful but not worth ditching my flip flops. Then I found out what a jigger was. On my third trip, with my toes carefully tucked into close-toed shoes, I saw firsthand what jiggers can do to the feet of our kids at the CarePoint.
During the free afternoon on our high school retreat a few weeks ago, the girls and I threw a Sole Hope shoe-cutting party. The girls brought old jeans, their moms’ pinking and sewing shears, empty milk jugs, paper, and Sharpies, and I brought a slew of old scraps of cotton from my costuming days. The women in Uganda employed by Sole Hope will take the shoes that we cut and sew them into brand new shoes for children. I can just picture all the little brown feet running around in checkered fabric from the Guys and Dolls “Hotbox” costumes from my senior year in high school.
We had so much fun, and it felt good to spend the afternoon working with my amazing high school lovelies on a project to bless these precious little kids in the country I love. Several of us cut the denim, several cut cotton and milk jugs, and the third group served as “quality control,” matching the cut pieces, pinning them together, and labeling and bagging them.
When we arrived at our party host’s home, her ten-year-old daughter, Allie, handed me a ten dollar donation for Sole Hope (from her own money) and said that she wanted to cut a pair of shoes. I love this girl. The oldest of four, she has a heart for serving others, bright sparkly eyes that are always paying attention, and an old soul.
We kicked off the party by popping in the Sole Hope DVD that outlines the why and how of it all. Allie sat cross-legged in front of everyone, staring attentively at the screen, and watched as they documented the debilitating effect of jiggers in the feet of children. She watched unflinching as they demonstrated how they must remove the jiggers, using blades and cutting into the feet. She saw the solution, these shoes, as they were slipped onto de-jiggered, clean feet. And she got to work.
We broke into our groups, and Allie brought out all of her beautiful scraps of cotton from her crafty projects. She laid them on the pile, then began working on shoes.
We all fell into a rhythm. There may or may not have been show tunes and Disney music blasting, and some weirdo leader may or may not have performed the entire opening monologue from Aladdin in a terrible attempt at a Middle Eastern accent. And there may or may not have been a tender duet performed in the kitchen to “A Whole New World.” Allegedly. “I’m like a shooting star/I’ve come so far/I can’t go back to where I used to be.” Shut up. Aladdin rocks.
We got so into our role as shoe-making, Aladdin-singing elves, that we blew right past the number we were planning on making and ended up making three times as many shoes as we’d planned. When I noticed this, I realized that we needed more money to help get these shoes made and on feet. (Sole Hope asks for a ten dollar donation per pair of shoes, which goes to employ the stitchers in Uganda and the organization’s efforts to eliminate jiggers in feet and homes.) While we were brainstorming bake sales, Allie crept quietly back to her room and came to me with a fistful of cash. Everything she had.
I looked at her mom and mouthed, “Is this okay?” Allie comes from big-hearted, generous parents, so I wasn’t surprised when her mom affirmed, “Oh, yes, it’s her money and she’s allowed to spend it however she wants.”
I thanked her and accepted her whole savings. I swallowed. Several other girls added to the growing pile of cash, and we worked to finish up the shoes. Allie came back to me three more times with more money that she’d found in her room, including her special two dollar bill from Christmas. We cleaned up the scraps, loaded everything into the back of my van, and as I climbed in my van, she handed me the last of her money, everything that she’d found, down to a handful of coins.
Here’s what I love about Allie. She didn’t display a big, emotional reaction to seeing debilitating poverty and disease on the DVD and then become paralyzed with the enormity of the problem. She didn’t see and forget. She didn’t think, “Oh that was really sad. Someday I should do something to help.”
She watched the DVD, then got to work. She donated her fabric and cut shoes that will go on the feet of the kids who need them. Then she emptied out all that she had. She didn’t think about what she was going to buy with that money. She didn’t worry about where and when she’d get more spending money. She just responded. She just gave. Her actions displayed the sincerity of her heart.
What if we all lived like ten-year-old Allie? What if we all responded when we saw a need, instead of adding it to our growing list of need-tos? I wish I had sixty-five Allies right now who would step up and sponsor our remaining unsponsored children. What’s in my piggy bank that I’m saving for a rainy day when I could be keeping little toes out of the rain?
Hey, want an awesome party idea? Throw a Sole Hope shoe-cutting party. They send you a kit with everything you need to plan your own shoe-bash. Grab some friends, your bunko group, smoosh a few small groups together, take over your local coffee shop, library, or church. You can split everyone up into groups and rotate so no one is cutting milk jugs till their hands freeze up. This is such a great way to recycle, inform people of a huge need, then give them the opportunity to help. You don’t have to sing Aladdin, but I highly recommend it.