Sept. 19, 2013
Abby Carr was one of 21 student-athletes selected to travel to Africa this summer as Vanderbilt athletics paired with Soles4Souls to distribute shoes in Tanzania. A senior on the Vanderbilt women’s soccer team, Carr wrote about her experience for the September issue of Commodore Nation (subscribe).
In sports terms, our trip to Kigoma, Tanzania was one giant head-fake. You see, we thought we were going there to give shoes to those less fortunate. Instead, we received more than we had imagined or gone to give. We learned the value of a simple act of kindness, seemingly small to us, but for those who received it, insurmountably significant. We saw a kind of love that has no limitations. And lastly, our lives have been forever changed, as we now understand that because of our many blessings, we have a duty to care for, and more importantly love, those less fortunate.
In typical athletic fashion, everyone was excited to hit the ground running when we arrived and luckily, the process of handing out shoes was relatively simple. There were four jobs: foot sizers, foot washers, shoe sorters and shoe givers, and we all spent time doing each of them at our multiple distributions. It is painstakingly difficult to put the experience into words, because I feel as if no words can do it justice. However, I did my best to journal while there, and here is a small taste: The first distribution we did was a profound experience. On that day I had the job of sizer, which meant that after someone put their foot on the mat in front of me, I would measure the size of their foot and write that number on their hand. The first person to come up to me was a little girl, about five years old. She placed her toes on the mat but kept her heel in the air. I went to push her heel down and quickly realized it would never lie flat. Her foot was deformed so that only the ball of her right foot touched the ground. Her ankle was distorted and it was evident she would never be able to walk regularly. That was the moment I realized the weight of what we were doing—it was about much more than giving a pair of shoes.
The second head-fake of the trip: it was not just about giving shoes, but also giving love. The bedroom wall in an orphanage there said it best: “Those who love each other fully, truly are the happiest people in the world. They may have little, they may have nothing, but they are happy people. God bless them.”
This is why it was equally as important that wherever we went, we not only gave shoes, but also spent time interacting with those who were receiving them. Being a soccer player, I always sought out the group that was kicking something, whether it was a true soccer ball, a ball made of fabric, or anything plastic. Usually we would stand in a circle and kick the “ball” back and forth; on two lucky occasions, we even started a pick-up game. I would be remiss not to mention how loving they all seemed when I was kicked in the shin, no holding back at all! When we arrived, they did not see just the shoes we brought; they saw that we loved and cared for them. And in them, we did not see hopeless children but rather a loving children of God who just needed some shoes.
And now for the third, and perhaps most important head-fake of the trip: because we have seen first-hand how truly blessed we are, we now have a duty to help those less fortunate. Two of the most humbling moments of my life occurred in Kigoma. The first was when an orphanage and school director showed us their library: eight books on a shelf in a tiny room, but to them it was a library. The second occurred while we were eating lunch one day. Some of us had befriended several of the local village children, who then insisted on us meeting their grandmother. Through our guide, we learned that the home she lives in with her five grandkids cost 5,000 shillings a month—about $3.
It is facts like these that break my heart and prompt me to wonder if enough is being done. There is so much need across the world, and even right here at home. Now, thanks to Vanderbilt athletics giving me this experience, I am determined to continue sharing love with those around me, particularly those less fortunate.
Whether that is putting shoes on someone’s feet or simply just being there to listen to them talk, I am not sure. I may not be always know the next best thing to do, but I will always find the next loving thing to do.
Archive: Commodores in Tanzania Journal