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Changing Your Life While Changing Theirs

From the account of Soles4Souls traveler, Briana Marie. She is a lifestyle commercial and event photographer based in Napa Valley, CA. She travels internationally for multiple non-profits.

Last fall I traveled to Haiti with Soles4Souls as their photographer.  At the time, this was the fourth trip I had traveled with them.

From previous experience with Soles4Souls and a former trip to Hait, I somewhat knew what I was getting into, but I wasn’t prepared for the joy that balanced out the challenges of traveling in a developing nation.  Haiti is a beautiful island, with rich scenery and culture and wonderful people. The poverty runs deep, and this country has endured more than its fair share of economic and environmental disasters. 

I was eager to help the country after the most recent hurricanes and from the moment we arrived we were met with so much need.  

When Soles4Souls says, “Give shoes. Give love.” they couldn’t be more accurate. Many times when traveling to a country where the demand is so great, you are left with a helpless feeling; knowing there is so much more than you can do.

But that feeling is greatly diminished by the fact that the group spends quality time with the children and forms deep connections with the on-the-ground non-profits, thus doing much more than only giving out shoes. 

But sometimes, it is just as simple as giving someone new shoes. Tiffany Turner once said to me that you could tell a lot about the poverty one experiences by looking at their feet. It’s an emotional realization when you arrive at a local school and see first hand the degree to which they struggle.  

Here a girl waits her turn for shoes.

In addition, their micro-enterprise programs are looking to tackle poverty long-term; enabling more people, especially women, to help themselves. Using the “give a man a fish” metaphor, Soles4Souls is teaching the women to fish by providing their first fishing pole –  the knowledge and tools to take the first steps to independence.

Anyone that knows me knows that I rarely do well sitting still; I like to move, engage and help. Whenever I am on these trips, I sometimes swap the camera out for an opportunity to hop on the van and help load the new shoes.  I love wandering the pathways of a village to visit with the people and absorb the culture.  I find it so interesting to see the differences of cultures; noticing the ways that food is collected and prepared, the homes, clothing or celebrations.

Notice this young father’s shoes. 

But sometimes the richest experiences are those small moments where you share a similar life experience and feel so connected. The ways that we are alike are far greater than those differences. 

Traveling is always a cultural exchange, and trips like these are especially rich because not only are we meeting people from other countries where we go, we are also meeting travel participants from all over our own country. We all know that the best antidote for ignorance and judgment is understanding…which comes naturally on these types of experiences where we may endure a long bumpy drive, share an emotional experience with a fellow traveler or share a laugh with the local villager.

In the end, you have to walk away knowing that for just a few days, you made someone’s life better. Whether it was new shoes,  (enabling them to be healthier, more comfortable and safer in their life), a shared moment or the feeling that someone across the world cares enough to help them. 

Anyone that works in developing countries knows that the gifts that the people give to us are sometimes far greater than anything we can do for them. I feel fortunate to have had my sense of understanding, compassion and desire to travel increased with every opportunity. 

Thank you Soles4Souls for the continued opportunity to travel and photograph for you!