The rubbish dump children
I was 25 when I took my first trip to Mozambique. I stayed at a children’s centre where my friends Jonny and Becky then worked as dorm parents.
But they were keen to take me beyond the perimeter of the centre to visit the neighbouring community. Despite my emotional preparations, nothing could have prepared this naive, English girl for the experience: I was going to the rubbish dump.
The stench of burning rubbish caught the back of my throat. The heat of the sun only made me feel more queasy. Mountains of trash rose and fell as far as the eye could see. I decided I was going to stay close to my friends, I did not want to get lost on my own in this place.
Breaking through my internal conversation came the sound of shouting children, welcoming us. These were the ‘rubbish dump children’. They actually lived here. Many were orphans, their homes were shacks, their work was sifting piles of waste to sell on the roadside. Their soiled, torn clothing took the meaning of second-hand to a new level. From the newborn swaddled on the back of her four year old sister to the eldest, this was their life.
And yet, to this day, I am provoked by how happy and thankful these children were. They had sweet hospitable hearts. I couldn’t help but be moved by them.
Oh, their precious feet
Their big smiles dwarfed the trash mountains, their shining eyes made the rags they wore seem to sparkle.
But their precious feet; it was their vulnerable little toes which broke my heart. I wanted to bathe them, nurse their weeping sores, tickle them and then hide them away safely in their own special shoes.
The gift of shoes
Several years and numerous visits to Africa later, the dream of Oppi emerged. The importance of new shoes for these children was clear to me. Shoes would protect them from diseases, some that could actually kill them. Shoes would enable them to walk to get clean water. Schools required children wear them, so shoes meant access to learning.
But there was more to it than that. Shoes hold meaning.
Shoes have been used to describe a person’s significance and value. Through history and in some cultures, wearing shoes communicates the difference between being a part of the family, and being a servant.
Oppi started by giving shoes because we wanted to meet practical needs. But more than that, we wanted these children to know that they were significant and valuable - no matter where they lived.
Shoes didn’t seem enough. Giving the gift of home
It was during my last trip to Mozambique that I came to the challenging realisation that many of these children needed more than shoes: They also needed a family, a home, an education and sustainable life skills. Hand outs are good, but we wanted to do more.
Shoes are very important. I had started a business around giving a pair of new shoes to these children for every pair of Oppi baby shoes sold.
I needed time to think about what to do. After a year of thinking, I decided these shoes weren’t going to stand still. Oppi was going to transition.
Now partnered with Tutela Africa, a charity established by Jonny and Becky Wakely, Oppi is better positioned to learn the real needs of children and families in Mozambique. We want to give what we can through the sales we make.
You can read more about why Oppi has chosen to support Tutela Africa.
Do continue to journey with us as we venture out into the next phase of Oppi. It is much more fun when others come along too!