Giving and Receiving
Photo courtesy of TOMS.
By Maggie Burkhart Evans
Peruvians welcome new friends they are just meeting with a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek. I am by nature a bit protective of my personal space. However, at first glance, kindness poured from the eyes of each person I met. My immediate and unexpected response was to open my arms wide and share the joy of meeting a new friend.
I had the great fortune to be a guest on a TOMS Coprodeli Giving Trip to Lima and Ica, Peru in June 2013. I was among the lucky non-employees chosen to accompany the TOMS team on this important venture where we visited Coprodeli, a nonprofit organization that contributes to the development of some of the poorest families in Peru. We join the team to learn about their work, the community and to help their team give new TOMS Shoes.
It has taken me quite awhile to clarify my thoughts enough to feel I can find the words to do justice to the significance this trip had on me and my new friends at TOMS. To say it was a life-changing experience feels weak and hollow compared to the depth of emotion, motivation and love those days in Peru elicited within myself, and I believe in my fellow TOMS travelers.
My journey to Peru began over a year earlier when as the Director of Residence Life for JMU I had a visit from a former RA and Hall Director, Bethany Diehl Clark (’03) who is the Director of Community at TOMS. Bethany passed along TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie’s book “Start Something That Matters” and I immediately knew it could make an impact on the ORL staff and in turn the residents of JMU. We shared the book with every member of the ORL student and professional staff and based our training and theme for 2012-2013 on Start Something That Matters. One of the highlights of RA training was surprising each member of the staff with purple and gold TOMS – a profound moment for all of us knowing that for each pair of shoes a new pair was given to a child in need.
Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that I would actually be able to join a TOMS Giving Partner to help fit a child in need with a pair of TOMS. I have spent my entire 28 year career working at universities – focused on being an educator, making a difference in the lives of college students and to some extent, their families. It is a rewarding vocation and I am passionate about my work. I am especially proud of the values in place at James Madison University. As I spent time with the TOMS and Coprodeli teams, I was struck with the similarity of values shared by the organizations. The sense of family, team, teaching and service was evident in all aspects of their missions.
TOMS and Coprodeli don’t waste any time. Less than 12 hours after landing at the Lima airport, we were placing shoes on feet.
The Coprodeli volunteers were amazing people- truly dedicated to the health, education and welfare of the children and families of Peru. They have accomplished incredible things in the community: they have built Coprodeli schools with their own hands, have run soup kitchens serving thousands of people daily, they serve as professional role models to other women in the community without a formal education, and proudly monitor, distribute, and administer humanitarian aid goods such as TOMS to those in need their community – all with a smile on their face. Each volunteers welcomed us with hugs and kisses, then put us straight to work. These special women will inspire me the rest of my days. They never forget to be awesome. Ever.
As we organized the shoe fitting and learned our tasks, the children lined up in the schoolyard. Their excited voices chattered. They couldn’t wait to take their places in the chairs. My anxiety began to climb. My inner voice started. “Why didn’t I practice some Spanish? Dang it! Will I be able to communicate with these beautiful kids? Oh, this is going to be awkward. I really, really wish I had practiced some Spanish!”
Then, the first child sat down in the chair in front of me. He smiled. We shared our names. Tomas. Maggie. And we were instant friends. With each shoe I placed on a foot, each hug given and received, I added a new family member in my heart. I am forever grateful to TOMS and Coprodeli for making my family both larger and global.
Child after child came to my station. School after school. Day after day. Nikola. Jose. Sami. Jinela. Kiara. Mhia. Nayely. They didn’t care that I sometimes spoke to them in English. Sometimes in French. And even a couple of times in Italian. Oops. They were just happy to be interacting with visitors from America.
On the last day, I fell in love with Dayanara. I had difficulty understanding her name, so I asked her to write it on my hand. She complied. Then all of her friends did the same. We were now a posse. We played with hula-hoops and soccer balls. Then we found the face paint. JOY! I painted their faces. They painted mine. Best. Day. Ever. That was the hardest schoolyard to leave.
Thank you TOMS and Coprodeli, for the week of a lifetime. I could not be more proud to represent JMU in this manner.
Maggie Burkhart Evans currently serves as assistant to the president for James Madison University. She came to this position after serving on the Office of Residence Life leadership team for 23 years. She teaches in the College Student Personnel Administration graduate program and is a 24-year employee of JMU.
For more information about Coprodeli: www.coprodeli.org
For more information about TOMS Giving Trips: http://www.TOMS.com
September 27, 2013