rio 2016 olympics logoThe Summer Olympics are in full swing. American swimmers & gymnasts, Jamaican runners, and Irish rowers have all won gold. Eyes will be fixated on Rio until August 21st.

The Olympic opening ceremonies were spectacular; could be the best ever. Of all the highlights in the opening ceremonies, one stood out to me the most; The Laurel Award. This is the first year this award has ever been presented. A man in a suit came running in with children dressed in white and they were flying white kites. The music playing sounded heavenly and created a sense of peace.

The Laurel Award was created to honor a person who has used his or her accomplishments in sports to make achievements in education, culture, development and peace. The award was presented in the opening ceremonies to Kipchoge, “Kip” Keinois.

I had never heard of Kip before. He was a star athlete before I was born. After reading his story, I knew why, of all the Olympic athletes who have ever competed, Kip was the first person chosen.

Kip’s life began in a small village in Western Kenya. He walked/ran 4 miles to school every day. At lunch, he ran 4 miles home. After lunch, he ran back to school and then, back home. He ran 16 miles a day to school… barefoot.

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In 1962, Kip began to run in many International races. Later, he started an orphanage in Western Kenya starting with providing homes to 2 children. Now, he and his wife provide homes to over 100! Read more Kip’s amazing story.

Scroll backwards a few weeks. My life, my day and my night are extremely busy with my multitude of projects, including running a community thrift store to benefit my community in Alabama. But one day in late July, I took the time to read a post from one of my Pollination Project brothers, Maulid Hamis Mschahame, that completely changed the way I look at life.

Maulid is the founder of Kishoka YOUTH Organization in Mombasa, Kenya and spends his days keeping kids busy with a positive influences instead of them falling into trouble. He has a heart very similar to that of Kip’s. The post had a picture of him and a boy named Samuel, an 11 year old who builds cars out of recycled waste.

Maulid and I have since had several exchanges about Samuel. Maulid said he first met Samuel at a play in Marafa. Maulid wrote, “He is the owner of that car he is creative because is recycling waste to build the car, he does not have time to do bad things but he goes with it to the grocer and it carries a few things.”

I was excited to see Samuels car made from recycled items! I too thought this boy is very creative. I wonder if he had more things to choose from what other items he could create?

I watched a video of Samuel walking toward the camera. What I believe most people saw was a young boy pushing his hand-made toy. What I saw was a young boy in a shirt, that was really a coat, shorts and he was barefoot! My head went side to side like a puppy hearing a high pitched noise. I could not grasp why this boy was barefoot and wearing a coat with shorts.

 

“I grew up in Alabama and spent my summers barefoot. It was a rite of passage. I got through a year of school and I earned the right to run wild through my neighborhood- maybe faster than Kip. I came home with more stubbed toes, bee stings, and skinned knees than anyone on my block. But I had 10 pairs of shoes in my closet.”

 


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Most of the world’s fastest runners in Africa do not start out with shoes. In fact, they run barefoot until the age of 15 or 16. Kip said he did not get a pair of shoes until he was at least 15. Holy moly!

So I sent Maulid a message asking him if Samuel needed shoes? It turns out Samuel has no shoes. The coat he was wearing is his grandmother’s. I also learned that when it gets down to 75 degrees in Eastern Africa, it is considered cold. Maulid made a special trip to Marafa to find out more about the family and their needs. While in Marafa, he called me through Facebook and I got to talk to Samuel. I told Samuel I was in America. He replied, “you are?!?” I could hear his excitement grow when I said yes.

An uneasy feeling came over me as I learned more about Samuels situation. Samuel lives with his mother and 3 sisters. One sister goes to boarding school as long as the family can pay the fees. Both Samuel and his sister were not able to finish their final exams, last month because there was no money to pay for them.

They live in a mud hut with dirt floors (aka the earth), and a metal roof. The walls of their hut do not meet the roof, so there are big gaps of open space. There is no electricity or bathrooms. The hut has one bed where he sleeps with his mother and sisters. They have a small charcoal cooker, jiko, that sits on the dirt. Their empty bowls sit on the floor around the cooker. Samuel has never been to a dentist, and, if he gets sick, the doctor and hospital are very far away.

unnamed (1)His father worked in Mombasa at an Industrial Plant and was killed on the job in 2005. I began counting on my fingers and realized that Samuel was a baby when his father died. Samuel’s grandfather owns the land they live on and he has many aunts, uncles, and cousins very close by. The town and the school are 2 miles away. That means he walks barefoot 4 miles a day.

Walking to school barefoot is something I could not wrap my head around. I frantically began looking for a shoe store in Mombasa to buy Samuel some shoes. Then I thought, it isn’t fair that he gets shoes, what about his family? What about his classmates? It turns out, over half of Samuels classmates have no shoes. That is 30 more students.

I found out that Samuel doesn’t have lunch at school, he goes without. When I asked Maulid what happens if he gets hungry, he said, “they get used to it.” My heart sunk. I asked Maulid if Samuel played any sports. Maulid said, “Samuel plays football.” I asked, “Doesn’t if hurt to kick the ball barefoot”? Maulid said, “No. But it does hurt when you step on a rock.”

I am the owner of a large thrift store. I could easily collect thousands of pounds of clothing and shoes for the entire village. I would love to fill a container full so every child in Samuel’s village had a pair of shoes instead going to school barefoot, but that takes money. I wonder- if I send Samuel new shoes could it change his life?

As much as I have enjoyed the Olympics, think how much money was spent for the event. The Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha, the stadium where the opening was held, cost $900 million dollars to build! I bet we could buy every shoeless child around the world a brand new pair of sneakers with the money spent on the Olympics.

My eyes were opened by one of my TPP brothers and for that I am thankful. Without Maulid and his project, I would not have a real human connection to people in Kenya. I would not know about a very creative and bright boy named Samuel. I would have never thought about shoeless children in Eastern Africa or how we are all connected.


“It turns out, Samuels story isn’t unique but a normal way of life. ”


Tonight, Samuel sits in his dark hut, with no T.V., to watch the Olympics. He is inspired only by his own thoughts. I hope he dreams big like Kip, like my brother Maulid, and knows that he too may be hero one day.

Today I am intimately connected to life in Marafa, Kenya; a place I had never heard of 2 weeks ago. My new family is a little boy with no shoes. It turns out, Samuels story isn’t unique but a normal way of life. I hope that my awareness becomes your awareness.

All of my TPP brothers and sisters are unique and we are a distinctive group. We are innovators with seemingly magical powers. We are wise men and women with gifts. We are scattered all over the earth to serve, to educate, to take blinders off. Our projects may be different but we are integrated with every step we take, shoed or un-shoed. We were all born barefoot.

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