Faces of Peru

09/24/13

Shoe-giving moves alumna

Stephanie Jankov won’t soon forget the faces she saw in Peru the week of Sept. 9.

They were the faces of many of the 1,802 children—from toddlers to teenagers, in daycare and schools—who received new shoes from a group, including Jankov, on a “giving trip” for TOMS Shoes. For every purchased pair of its shoes, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company gives one free pair to a needy child in nearly 60 counties worldwide.

Some of the Peruvian children were talkative, while others were shy, but all were “beaming,” said Jankov, a 2010 Bluffton University graduate who won the trip as one of the top 50 vote-getters in an online TOMS contest last spring.

She particularly remembered one boy, about 12 years old, who, after his fitting, “took off running because he was so excited.” Children get shoes every six months after their first pair, so new recipients’ shoe sizes are written on their hands to show volunteers who record the sizes. When the boy was reminded to do that, he turned around with “the biggest grin you’ve ever seen,” she added.

“Their faces totally made the trip,” said Jankov, noting that she saw children with laces tied tightly around black and blue ankles to keep their previous, ill-fitting shoes from falling off.

The Shelby (Ohio) High School English teacher was among 12 contest winners in her group, one of five contest-related contingents distributing shoes in Central and South America this year. Her companions also included a trip leader, an interpreter and three TOMS employees.

Their travels began with a roughly 12-hour journey to Peru, followed by a Sept. 8 tour of the capital city of Lima, where Jankov was surprised by some of the sights. “I just didn’t expect so many places to be run down or abandoned,” she said, acknowledging that she didn’t expect the level of poverty she saw in the city.

After four nights in Lima, the group went south along the Pacific coast to the city of Chincha Alta and then further south to Ica, before heading back north for a day in Pisco. At some of their school stops along the way, the travelers spent time playing with children, whom she called “absolutely wonderful.” 

Jankov, a Mansfield, Ohio, resident, also enjoyed meeting women who work as volunteers for Coprodeli, an organization that serves as one of TOMS’ “giving partners”—locals who assist with the logistics of distribution. Coprodeli also provides services such as education, housing and health care for poor families near Lima.

The volunteers—mothers, grandmothers and women who “just want to make a difference”—handle the documentation that accompanies shoe distribution, Jankov explained. “They do what we did (for five days) every single day,” she pointed out. She was inspired by that thought, she said, when the group was at a school with 800 children awaiting shoes and she wondered how the job would get done.

Some of the women have landed jobs because of their volunteer work, she added, describing them as “awesome women with stories of overcoming hardship.”

Having read with her freshman English students about people who generally “live without,” the Wooster, Ohio, native looked forward to sharing her stories of seeing it firsthand and how the trip changed her. “It made me think of my students and how I wanted them to see it,” she said about the “emotional” experience.

She’s starting a blogging project as a way to tell the stories—to the students, the entire school and the communities that motivated and supported her participation in the TOMS contest.     

The company is making short videos on each of the contest winners. Jankov’s video will appear with the others at some point on TOMS’ YouTube channel, under “TOMS Ticket to Give.”

“They treated us like we were part of their family,” she said, noting that she was told to keep in touch. The 50 winners will be “spokespeople for TOMS for the rest of our lives,” she continued. “We’ll always advocate for them.”

The 12 contest winners in Jankov’s group are taking their advocacy a step further—they decided to jointly sponsor a child to attend one of the Coprodeli-run schools.  

As with TOMS, she said, “it’s about the human connections.”

-B-