January 15, 2019
Through your support of our mission, you’ve traveled with us to many countries outside our own. And although the realities of life in extreme poverty may be harsher than you could’ve imagined, they may be a bit easier to accept under the guise of a “developing world.”
But how willing are we to turn that lens inward to acknowledge poverty in our own “developed” country? Perhaps these realities are a bit more uncomfortable and challenging.
We met 12-year-old Davanne in Whiteriver, Arizona. Winters in this town are unforgiving and with the chill comes a reality check: many children like her will suffer in the cold. Their homes are ill equipped for the season. Cardboard and plywood provide little protection from the elements, and the lack of electricity and running water worsen the situation. The high rate of unemployment means their parents have a tough time making ends meet, so warm meals and warm clothes and warm shoes are the stuff of Hollywood. On some days, life doesn’t seem so far removed from Haiti sans the climate.
There’s one more thing about Whiteriver. It’s the largest settlement in the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, where many of our native brothers and sisters have been left behind. And realizing that, much less doing something about it, may prove harder than we’d like to admit.
Fort Apache is home to the White Mountain Apache Tribe. It’s only a three plus hour drive from Phoenix, but it’s a window into a whole different world.
This is a land rich in history and tradition. The land of a proud and dignified people who guarded the surrounding mountains long before they passed onto other hands. Not all of them have remained here, but those who have are doing their best to preserve a heritage fading into the modern world.
This is also a land battling complex issues. Pundits will argue the details, but it’s hard to deny that the colonial settlement experience here has produced lasting implications and negative stereotypes. The resulting trauma has led to limited opportunity, addiction and a loss of hope.
Davanne embodies the complexity of life here. She’s bright, really bright, and has worked herself to the top of her class. She has a loving mother and a beautiful younger sister. And she is determined to earn a Harvard education. But there are much darker sides to her experience. Her father isn’t in the picture, so money (and all the basics it affords) is more than tight. Her mother battles a severe drug addiction. And the grandmother who took care of her for weeks at a time during her mother’s worst days is now gone. Davanne has no one to turn to. That is until the kindness of a stranger changed her life.
Davanne was one of 200 children at one of our shoe and Macy’s coat distribution. They were all smiles, save her. Her guard was up. Maybe she was suspicious of our intentions. After all, she’d been burned more times than someone so young should. Or she could’ve been scared. She’s been hurt by those closest to her, so why would we be any different? And then something little short of miraculous happened. She slipped on a brand new pair of shoes…and let someone in.
Sophie was one of our youngest volunteers on this domestic trip. And her kindness melted Davanne’s shell to lay bare a vulnerable girl full of promise but clouded by doubt. The two instantly connected. They smiled as Davanne tried on shoes, much like two girlfriends in a shop would. They hugged and posed for pictures. They talked about dreams, hope and opportunity. And they exchanged a phone number that came in handy later that week when Davanne’s mother once again disappeared. All this thanks to you—you whose support led us to that moment.
Davanne and Sophie will continue to stay in touch through letters. We’ll continue our distribution trips to other Reservations, each time gaining a new appreciation for a people working hard to heal and knowing the power of a pair of shoes will help them along the way. And you? Will you make a donation today to transform the life of a child like Davanee?
Together, we’ve distributed over 30 million pairs of shoes in 127 countries and all 50 U.S. states since 2006. Together, we’ve kept children safe from injury and disease, helped them stay in school and given them hope. Together, we can change a life!