To understand another’s life, we are sometimes admonished to figuratively “walk a mile in another’s shoes.”
Thanks to a troop of Girl Scouts and a troop member’s soldier father, children in Afghanistan will literally walk many miles in the shoes of local children and teens.
Junior Girl Scout Troop #53 stepped up to tackle a problem.
Major Jeff McCarter, the father of troop member Brianna McCarter, was serving in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, with the Jalalabad Provincial Reconstruction Team last year.
“Our job was focused on reconstruction, economic development and security of the Islamic Government of Afghanistan. We were comprised of Air Force, Army, Department of State and other U.S. civilians,” McCarter said.
His unit was introduced to children in an orphanage by representatives at the Department of State. McCarter saw that the children there needed shoes. “Many of them have no shoes at all, and the ones who do, wear them out quickly because of the rocky, harsh environment they live in,” McCarter said. McCarter said that often what the children get are a pair of plastic sandals made in Pakistan. With the terrain being rough and rocky, they wear out and break quickly, then the children have nothing.
McCarter e-mailed home to his family that an orphanage in Afghanistan needed shoes.
Girl Scout Troop #53 sprung into action.
“Major McCarter was deployed to Afghanistan for almost 18 months, and he let us know just before Christmas, via e-mail through his wife, that they were working with an orphanage and they didn’t have shoes and he wondered if the scout troop would help. As soon as we mentioned it, the girls were very excited. First, it is children, and then it’s a troop member’s dad who’s asking,” said Diane Pezick, leader of Troop #53.
The troop consists of 14 fifth and sixth graders at Maryville Intermediate School. Pezick said this is the age when scouting troops really begin to practice leadership skills. “The girls have been very enthusiastic and took this on with a lot of ideas of their own,” she said.
The first thing troop members decided to do was enlist some more help. They had friends on the MIS Student Council and immediately took their idea to them. From there, they were able to get their MIS classmates to help out.
“I can’t say enough about Angie Norris at MIS (faculty advisor to the student council) who guided them by asking the right questions. She was very helpful and wanted to make sure throughout the whole process the scouts got the credit. They met with Mrs. Click (MIS principal) and made posters, wrote a daily announcement and got it on the website,” said Pezick.
Their plan of action worked and within a week they had collected 204 pairs of shoes. “It was amazing to me how well people listened to what they needed. They asked for gently used, close-toed shoes of any size,” said Pezick.
The troop bought new shoelaces with troop money and met in two work sessions to clean and sort the shoes. Then they faced their next big hurdle. They had to earn the money to mail the shoes to Afghanistan.
The troop went to work and sold Girl Scout cookies to raise the funds for postage. The five boxes of shoes they sent weighed 238 pounds and 6.2 ounces and cost a total of $218.47. That equals 436 boxes of cookies sold. They mailed the boxes of shoes along with a box full of candy on April 11.
McCarter said many of the children in Afghanistan are malnourished and as a result are smaller for their age. “However, even though their life is very hard in Afghanistan, the children still smile and wave when coalition troops roll through the villages and provinces,” he said.
“Major McCarter is back but he said this is perfect for the new unit to continue the work his unit did. This way they have something very tangible with which to build relationships and trust in that particular village,” said Pezick.
The shoes are expected to arrive in Afghanistan within the next few weeks and Girl Scout Troop #53 is anxiously waiting to hear how the children respond to their new shoes. “The new team that took over from us will be able to bring the shoes with them when they first meet the village elders, allowing them to meet an immediate need, which will enable them to build rapport quicker,” said McCarter.
“The children will sincerely appreciate what the Girl Scouts have done for them,” he said. “The people of Afghanistan show their appreciation in their hospitality. I can’t remember a time that we went into a village and the elders did not at least offer Chai tea. In fact, on most occasions, the elders would invite us for lunch or for dinner. This is amazing to me since they have a hard time feeding themselves and would sacrifice to make us happy and feel welcome in their villages,” McCarter said.