Lush green forests and snow-capped peaks. Bright city lights and desolate skies. Vibrant commerce and scarce resources. As the longest mountain range in the world, the Andes cut through a diverse natural and human landscape.
Otavalo, a town in northern Ecuador, is a microcosm of these contrasts. It’s famous for a bustling outdoor market displaying colorful textiles handmade by the local indigenous population. But beyond the vibrancy of the city center lie small rural communities left behind by progress, a harsh reminder of the nearly 30% of the country’s population living below the poverty line.
That’s where we headed in May to distribute shoes with a team of student athletes from The Ohio State University.
We focused mostly on schools, which are small and spread over long distances. Education is free, but families are responsible for uniforms (or the permitted traditional dress)—including shoes. Empowering children to go and stay in school gives them a real opportunity to rise above their circumstances. And for children like Sebastian, these circumstances are rough.
Our team met Sebastian on a cold and rainy day, not uncommon weather for this area. Sporting long pants and jackets, the student athletes set up for a distribution in his classroom. He and his classmates, all wearing thoroughly worn shoes and many even sandals providing them little to no protection from the elements, eagerly awaited the experience we were there to create for them. Sitting across from a friendly face. Enjoying the feel of the clean water on their feet. Taking comfort in the fit of a brand new pair of sturdy shoes.
We distributed nearly 200 pairs of new shoes that day thanks to the support of our donors. Our team had fulfilled its mission to serve those in need, at least for a moment. But another group of people—the children’s parents and elders—had yet to realize theirs.
It was then when, after asking our volunteers to sit, they placed basins at their feet. Sixteen plastic buckets filled with fruit, avocados, sugar cane stalks, potatoes, corn. All in humbled appreciation. Not unwanted extras, but sorely needed staples given as an act of service towards those who had come to serve. All that is good in our common human condition.
Will you help children just like Sebastian? $1 = 1 pair of shoes. How many lives will you change by donating?