There’s no such thing as a free… pair of shoes – or is there? Thanks Tom!

Elspeth Dugdale | July 18, 2013

There’s no such thing as a free… pair of shoes – or is there? Thanks Tom!

Deliveries at WTA usually come by boda boda... and are either building materials from Wobulenzi town, monstrous bags of posho or supplies for the school shop. So we were all surprised and extremely curious to see a large DHL van arrive at school.... no one admitted to ordering anything from Kampala – it just doesn't happen! But after a few confusing conversations ... it became clear -it was a delivery of TOMs shoes – one free pair for each student.


This arose after a 'chance' conversation in a coffee shop in Kampala last month. I shared a table with someone who started chatting about their work; Manjit works for 'Strides Uganda' – a health charity that links with TOMS shoes. Over coffee, she asked me about teaching at WTA and offered to connect us with the TOMS distribution project.

TOMs shoes have a 'One for One' policy - if you buy their shoes in the US or UK, they promise to donate shoes to communities/schools where there is great need ...... You read about schemes like this, where companies talk expansively about connecting with projects in developing countries – and I sometimes wonder if they really do deliver – or is it all talk to make the website look good and the customers feel good? But less than two weeks after our meeting, the shoes arrived at school!

shoes-3.jpgThis caused an instant and welcome interruption to lessons for an impromptu assembly, where the Strides rep, Phiona, gave a brief 'adolescent health' talk to the school and explained about the project. Via health talks and promoting regular school attendance, the pupils are 'rewarded' with an unexpected gift. Shoes are only handed out to pupils who are in school on that day.

Then..... great excitement and the bit they had all been waiting for....... FREE SHOES! Class by class and one by one.....there were boxes and boxes of shoes. (And we did put in a request for few very large pairs for our tallest students with the biggest feet!) The photos speak for themselves. The biggest problem – how to name 387 identical pairs of canvas shoes - at that point, I left school to drive back to Kampala!

shoes-4.jpgAND PS.........As an aside to this story, we often meet other organisations, often other NGOs who talk about visiting school, giving presentations, running programmes or providing supplies. In reality very few want to work with schools outside Kampala. And 99% of them refuse to leave Kampala unless WTA provides transport costs or 'facilitates' the visit. Even the largest, most international organisations based in Geneva with huge, shiny white landcruisers, (no names mentioned), will still ask for 'transport money' from WTA -a school which does not have any spare budget - for 'visitors on the take'. It is enraging, frustrating and as a rule we either cannot or will not deal with them at this point.

Therefore, the response from Strides Uganda together with TOMS shoes was particularly impressive and greatly appreciated.

> Visit TOMS shoes
> Visit Strides Uganda