By Christine Lena
Approximately 300 pairs of gently used shoes were hand delivered to families in need in Gigante, Nicaragua thanks to the generous donations, and fundraising support, of the Daniel Hand High School (DHHS) community, the Madison community, and many families from other communities.
At the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year, four DHHS students: Amanda Rubano, Kendra Lena (current student at Miss Porter’s School), Ellie Stryker and Kate Adams embarked on a mission to raise gently used shoes for families in need in Gigante, Nicaragua.
Rubano, a frequent visitor of Nicaragua with her family, was exposed to volunteer work in the small village of Gigante (approx. 400 residents) by her Aunt and Uncle, Dan and Geri Rubano, owners of Aqua Wellness Resort www.aquanicaragua.com located in the neighboring town of Tola, Nicaragua. Through the family’s relationship with ProjectWoo (Project Wave Of Optimism) www.projectwoo.org, a Gigante based non-profit organization, Rubano (Amanda) recognized the need for shoes. Per Rubano “Due to the village of Gigante’s borderline poverty, many go without shoes. This raises many health risks such as soil transmitted diseases. Parents must buy their children’s shoes two sizes too big so that they can, hopefully, keep them for the next several years. For many, their shoes deteriorate throughout one season and the kids must go barefoot. So an item that is overly indulged in our country, and taken for granted, is sure to be much appreciated in their country.” Upon returning from one of her visits, the donation drive idea was brainstormed, given the name “Soles for Nicaragua”, and the work began.
With support from DHHS Assistant Principal Dan Zittoun, the project began to see a community wide outpouring of shoe donations, including gently used sneaker donations from Sound Runner of Madison. Financial donations for shipping costs were raised through various fundraisers, through community and retailer donations including Bella Perlina, Madison Wine Shop, and Attitude Plus.
Finally, this April, a group of the girls, accompanied by two dads, Matt Rubano and Rich Lena, traveled with ten extra large duffle bags of shoes destined for the families of Gigante.
Upon arrival, a second Gigante based non-profit organization, Sweet Water Fund, Inc. www.sweetwaterworld.org stepped in, with ProjectWoo, and organized a one day event
with festivities scheduled for Saturday, April 21, when the shoes would be offered to the community and the Madison group would personally reap the benefits of seeing the shoes distributed. The combined groups spent days preparing for, and promoting, the event.
Per Stryker “once we had everything set in stone, we realized we hadn’t even gotten through the biggest part of the project yet. These kids were tough as nails! We realized during the fair that these kids deserved anything and especially something as simple as shoes”. Every pair of shoes went by the end of the day! According to Lena “The sense of satisfaction we all felt when the shoe drive was finished, and so immensely successful, was unfathomable. Our year long efforts into this project were repaid through grateful looks and interactions with the villagers”.