Until recently, 14-year-old Carmen suffered from what she called “much abused feet.” Living under the blistering sun of Tuxtla Gutierez, Mexico, her long walks to school without proper footwear left her vulnerable to sunburn, cuts and infections. Not only that, but the fact that she felt poorly dressed negatively impacted her self-esteem and performance in school. Now, thanks to a new pair of shoes made possible through a partnership between Salesian Missions and TOMS, Carmen is experiencing better health, increased self-confidence, and greater success in the classroom.
These things are crucial for Carmen as she strives to improve her chances and hopes for the future.
Tuxtla Gutierez is a city plagued by endemic poverty, widespread unemployment and vast social and gender inequality. As Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions points out, “girls and women here are challenged by deeply ingrained cultural norms that label them as second-class citizens. Because of this, they face diminished access to education, healthcare and basic public services.
“For girls like Carmen,” he continues, “the ability to attend school, and to do well, becomes one of the sole lifelines for breaking the chains of poverty and despair.”
At first, such a lifeline seemed out of reach for Carmen. Abandoned at the young age of 7 by her recently widowed mother, Carmen found herself in an abusive foster home before being rescued by a government agency that placed her at Casa Hogar Copainalá—a home for abandoned and at-risk girls ages 3-12 run by Salesian Sisters. Here, she was welcomed into a new family and a safe and stable environment where her basic needs were met. She also attended an on-site primary school where she laid the foundation for continued study.
Once old enough, Carmen transferred to Maria de la Casa Hogar Nazareth, a Salesian-run home for older children and teens. The Sisters here cover the full cost of the girls’ living expenses, which is often a financial stretch. New clothing and shoes, especially, are a precious commodity that the Sisters often can’t afford. As a result, students who attend the off-site high school, as Carmen does, rely on donated and usually worn-out shoes to wear as they walk back and forth to class.
“My shoes were always synthetic and very hard, and I’d get blisters from the poor fit and the heat,” says Carmen. “They were so uncomfortable that I would take them off and go barefoot, but then I’d step on things and get infections, and my feet would get sunburned.”
Since 2012, Salesian Missions has proudly served as a Shoe Giving Partner of TOMS. Through the TOMS One for One™ initiative, many thousands of children like Carmen in Salesian-run programs around the globe have received a brand new pair of shoes. And, as with each of TOMS’ more than 100 other Giving Partners, their relationship with Salesian Missions is ongoing and sustainable—meaning that children continue receiving new shoes as they grow. This ensures that the positive impacts—on health, education and confidence—are not lost simply because a child’s shoe size changes.
“When TOMS gives shoes, we ensure that we integrate those shoes into our full range of programs, especially those centered around education,” says Fr. Mark. “That means the shoes literally become a vehicle by which youth find better opportunities and new hope for the future.”
Patricia Cruz Alcántara, director of Maria de la Casa Hogar Nazareth, elaborates that “Carmen and the other girls who received TOMS Shoes have new confidence in the world, and we can see that they’re performing better in school and in their relationships with others. Their joy and enthusiasm when they first saw the shoes was wonderful to witness.”
For her part, Carmen is thrilled by her new shoes—which now carry her comfortably to and from school.
“They give me great joy,” she exclaims. “I’ve never had shoes like this before. The main thing is that they make me feel well dressed no matter where I go, to school or anywhere else. But they are also comfortable and fit me well. I am going to take very good care of them.”
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